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Madison Water Utility seeks top leadership positions, mayor names interim general manager

Madison Water Utility seeks top leadership positions, mayor names interim general manager

Madison and its Water Utility Board are searching for a new general manager following Tom Heikkinen’s announcement in September that he will be stepping down from the position next year.

Heikkinen’s last day will be Jan. 9, 2021.

“My greatest privilege over these past 12 plus years has been to witness the level of care you all have for the people we serve,” Heikkinen said in a message to Water Utility staff last month. “The best part of my job is reading the complimentary letters you get from our customers.”

At a Water Utility Board meeting Tuesday, Deputy Mayor Christie Baumel announced that Water Quality Manager Joe Grande will serve as interim general manager beginning Nov. 16. Baumel said she expects the city will make an offer for the next permanent general manager in January but that the person won’t begin the job until March.

Baumel said Grande will provide “continuity to make as smooth a transition as possible” and that he does not plan to apply for the permanent position.

“Joe’s long-time role as a respected and trusted senior manager at the Water Utility will help create continuity among the Water Utility leadership team and a smooth transition for the utility,” Mayor Satya Rhodes-Conway said in a statement Tuesday. “I appreciate his willingness to step up and support the city and utility in this role.”

Baumel said the city is working to develop a position description, which will be reviewed through the lens of an equitable hiring tool. She said the position will remain open through December before the interview process begins.

The Water Utility Board, which does vote on the hiring of a general manager, will score applications and develop interview questions. The final candidate will be interviewed by the mayor and confirmed by the City Council.

Additionally, the board is seeking a new chief financial officer after Jeff Stanek left his position in May.

“Having multiple leadership positions vacant at one time is not ideal,” Baumel said.

12-year stint

Rhodes-Conway said in a Sept. 17 statement that she will work with the Water Utility Board to begin a search for Heikkinen’s replacement.

“I wish Tom the best of luck in his future endeavors, and I thank him for his twelve years of service,” Mayor Satya Rhodes-Conway said in a statement from September.

During the past few years, Heikkinen has led the Water Utility through challenging financial times. Most recently, the Water Utility applied for a rate increase in May because of a significant investment in major projects in 2019.

The utility has also seen declining sales and water use and dealt with PFAS contamination, which led to the temporary closure of a well. Heikkinen also led an effort to build a house that showcases water conservation technology. 

In 2018, Heikkinen’s contract came into question when the Madison Water Utility discovered a $6 million deficit, stemming from a decline in revenues from the budgeted $45.6 million to about $38.1 million.  

However, the City Council approved the 5-year renewal at the time with four conditions set by then Mayor Paul Soglin to address the financial state of the utility. Later that year, Wisconsin’s Public Service Commission approved a rate increase and required the utility to produce a financial improvement plan. 

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