The picture on the front page of last week's Spotlight tells us everything we need to know. Hands raised in unanimous approval, the members of our Columbia River People's Utility District board voted: (1) to change the provisions of their governance policy for the express purpose of (2) approving John Nguyen as permanent general manager.
Why now? That is the unanswered question.
Mr. Nguyen was appointed to the interim general manager position in August 2015. Just a few weeks after assuming the position, he made a decision he says was unilateral and fired four long-term managers. The immediate cost to ratepayers was a payout of approximately $430,000 to the fired four because the PUD violated a retention agreement they had with these managers.
The PUD is now also defending a $7 million lawsuit as a result of these firings.
Let me say that again: Mr. Nguyen fired four established department managers three weeks after assuming an interim position. He claims he did not consult his board nor did he consult with the Special District Association of Oregon, whose oversight is protocol in these matters. It would seem by all appearances that Mr. Nguyen went rogue.
Had this happened elsewhere I have little doubt Mr. Nguyen's board of directors would have terminated him for his lack of good judgement. However, Oregon PUD's are entities that answer to no one but themselves. That isn't necessarily a bad thing but if, as in the case of the Columbia River PUD, they govern erratically by ignoring, enforcing or changing rules capriciously, it is cause for alarm.
This board changed a policy that mandated an open recruitment process before hiring a new general manager. The change allowed the board to appoint Mr. Nguyen the permanent general manager and give him a $52,000 raise. The justification for this action was simply it is time to "get on with it."
We don't know why Mr. Nguyen remained on interim status for almost two years. We don't know why the PUD chose not to follow their required hiring process for recruiting a permanent manager. We don't know why they suddenly changed their governance policy and lowered the bar in order to "get on with it." And, because we don't know, we are left to speculate. Rumors run rampant and gossip takes the place of facts. Over time rumors and gossip undermine an organization, public trust is eroded and the foundation becomes unstable.
Our PUD needs someone on the board of directors or in a management position who is capable of leading with an unwavering sense of duty. Someone to advocate for ethical decisions based on sound business practices, willing to risk becoming an outlier as a result. Someone with such a strong moral compass they will not be tempted to lower the bar in order to expedite process.
I look forward to seeing a picture on the front page of the Spotlight of one lone hand raised in opposition to continuing down this road to perdition.