Bob Lewis, former general manager of the Marietta Board of Lights and Water, abruptly retired from the utility, working his last day on Friday.
The BLW, which is chaired by Mayor Steve Tumlin, officially accepted his resignation at a Monday meeting.
A Marietta native, Lewis is 64 and said it’s time for him to retire.
“I think it’s a good time,” Lewis said. “I will have been there 10 years.”
Lewis gave notice of resignation two weeks ago, intending to work until June 30, but was released last Friday under a mutual separation agreement signed by both him and city officials. That agreement includes a clause that prohibits the city and Lewis from making any critical public statements of each other.
By signing the “non-disparagement” clause, both sides agree that they “shall not at any time before or after the separation date authorize the publication of any statement or authorize the making of any statement critical of” the other, “or in any way adversely affecting or otherwise maligning” the other, according to the separation agreement.
On Monday Lewis had only good things to say about his former employer.
“That provides the city really an opportunity to look things over, bring somebody in. The BLW is in good hands. We have great management and leadership,” Lewis said. “I’m available to consult with them in any way, and I’m just going to be enjoying my two young grandsons.”
Last May, Lewis, who was paid a salary of $127,500, came under fire for cursing and uttering obscenities at another city employee during a March City Council meeting.
He was suspended by City Manager Bill Bruton for three days without pay for cursing at Sam Lady, the city’s finance chief.
Bruton said no more official disciplinary actions against Lewis had been taken since last May. The MDJ has filed a formal open records request for Lewis’ personnel files.
A successor will be recommended by Bruton and presented to both the utility board and City Council for ratification. Bruton plans to assemble a panel to help with the hiring and interview process and said the position will be open to both internal employees and outside applicants.
In the interim, Bruton will assume Lewis’s duties. The BLW has an annual budget of $169 million and employs 203 people.
“We’re going to go through a little bit of time where I’ll wear both hats,” Bruton said.
Utility customers won’t see power rate hike
Tumlin called Lewis a “good friend.”
“I’m delighted we had him,” Tumlin said. “He has 40 years of experience and 10 with us.”
Lewis recommended both a power and water rate increase. The utility board approved hiking water rates by 40 cents a month, or $4.80 a year, at the beginning of this year, but a power rate increase has been more controversial.
A $5 million deficit has left the utility weighing whether to absorb a financial hit versus passing on rising costs from its wholesaler to electricity customers.
Lewis proposed increasing the base charge levied on power customers by $2 and decreasing a discount offered to ratepayers who pay their bill within the first 13 days from 10 percent to 5 percent.
That would mean an increase of $7.11 on an average bill. Cutting the discount in half alone raises $4.3 million, but leaves the utility looking for another $700,000.
But the utility board opted on Monday not to pursue a rate increase.
A rates committee recommended absorbing most of the deficit but also wanted to ask the City Council to soften its common practice of transferring money from the BLW’s accounts to the city’s own general fund, which pays for most city services.
The committee recommended the City Council reduce the BLW’s transfer, which was $11.5 million last year, by $750,000.
“We do want to start discussions with the city on the payment we make to them,” said Bruce Coyle, a member of the rate committee and a Paulding County engineer.
Utility board members agreed on Monday to enter into talks with the city about the transfer.
If City Council agreed to lessen the transfer of the utility’s cash immediately, it would mean a budget cut, Bruton said, because the city is in the middle of its fiscal budget year.
Still, Bruton said now is a good time to consider reducing the transfer as the city is beginning to prepare its budget for the next fiscal year.
Tumlin pointed to Lewis’s leadership as a key reason the utility can take on rising costs without a rate hike.
“The reason we can forego even a rate increase is because we’re in good shape and I think that reflects well on his 10 years of management,” Tumlin said.