Jefferson County Public Utility District commissioners remove general manager

Need for different direction cited

Larry Dunbar

Larry Dunbar

PORT TOWNSEND — Jefferson County Public Utility District commissioners have removed General Manager Larry Dunbar from his position, saying he isn’t a good fit for the organization.

Kevin Streett, former assistant general manager, will return to the role he had before he left the organization last month, effective Thursday.

After the Wednesday night meeting, the commissioners had a verbal agreement from Street that he would accept the position. Streett was the first electrical employee of Jefferson PUD.

Dunbar was put immediately on paid administrative leave not to exceed 30 days.

The utility planned a company-wide meeting Thursday morning to announce the personnel changes.

Dunbar began work for the utility April 23. He was hired on a three-year contract but with a clause that gives him severance pay of one year’s salary — $175,000 — if the PUD commissioners decide to let him go early.

In discussing the decision to remove Dunbar, commissioners Jeff Randall, Kenneth Collins and Wayne King all said that the organization needs to take a different direction. All said they had significant concerns about the direction the utility was headed, without providing details.

During an extended executive session of almost 90 minutes, the three commissioners reviewed Dunbar’s performance and each expressed their opinion. The issues were summarized and discussed in the open public meeting.

“Jefferson PUD is unique as in we are brand new and we expanded significantly and we have a lot of debt,” Randall said.

“Larry came on and knew it was going to be a big challenge. The contract we have reflects that. There is a clause that states if the board decides that the general manager is not the right one, if we decide to go in another direction, there is a clause in there that gives him one-year severance.

“That acknowledges that Larry took a big risk coming here.

“The Jefferson PUD is a young utility and grew by a factor of five to 40 employees, and from a $2 million budget to a $35 million budget,” Randall continued. “It was a really challenging situation and Larry gave it everything he had.”

Collins said he felt that the organization needs to take a different path.

“I say that with a great deal of regret,” Collins said. “I’m glad there is a provision in the contract that fairly compensates you for the risk you have taken to come here and struggle with this organization.

“I’ve come to the conclusion that the fit just wasn’t right.

“There’s no question that you’ve brought strengths and talents into your position and you’ve worked very hard,” Collins continued.”We are not looking at a ‘for cause’ situation.

“It’s in recognition of that that we want to move forward.”

King said that “we are getting away from what my belief is that the PUD needs to do to move the utility forward for the customers and the PUD.”

Randall said there is an urgency in dealing with some of the issues the PUD faces.

“The PUD has significant challenges and to proceed in the direction we need to go to be successful there are challenges we need to face,” Randall said.

“I would say to meet those challenges, we need to go in a different direction. I feel we are in a strong financial position right now and Larry has had success in helping us professionalize our public meetings and in working with our staff, especially our customer service representatives.”

Randall told Dunbar that there are a lot of relationships that are unique to the position compared to the positions he previously held with cities where there was a large city council and “someone above you and between them.”

Dunbar was an energy advisor for the Snohomish PUD before moving to Richland where he spent 18 years as a resource manager for that city.

He worked for the city of Port Angeles as deputy director of public works and utilities for 12 years. From 2012 to March 2018, he served as energy services director for the city of Ellensburg.

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Jefferson County Editor/Reporter Jeannie McMacken can be reached at 360-385-2335 or at [email protected].

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