West Memphis, Arkansas, BACKGROUND
West Memphis Utilities (WMU) is a municipal power utility serving the City of West Memphis. The utility provides electric, water, wastewater, and fiber services to approximately 10,000 customers, and is governed by a 7-person board with oversight from the West Memphis City Council. The General Manager reports directly to the mayor, and all other utility employees report to the GM. The City Council approves the MWU’s budget and rates, otherwise, it is not involved in the operation of the utility.
The city has a peak load of about 80 MW. WMU owns 1% positions in Units 1 & 2 of the Independence Power Plant and Units 1 & 2 of the White Bluff Power plant. MWU’s share of the coal plant production is about 32 MW. In addition to this generation supply, WMU has a contract with NextEra to provide power. Included in the contract is 20 MW of solar power that will be coming online in 2024 from the Big Cypress solar project.
The Utility operates 4 sub-stations that are in good condition but some of the distribution service lines are undersized. Projects are underway to upgrade distribution wires to provide adequate power to areas that are growing and to better balance the power distribution. An electrical model of the system is nearing completion.
The Water Department has 5 water wells in production with a 6 th under development. It operates a looped distribution system with four elevated water tanks and has several million gallons per day of excess capacity. The disinfection system is currently being replaced and a second, off-site system is planned to increase the resilience of the system.
The community is currently under a Consent Order with the Arkansas Department of Environmental Quality (ADEQ) as a result of a series of wastewater treatment plant by-passes and manhole overflows. Much of the problem was caused by inflow and infiltration. The Utility raised $30 million through a bond offering and it plans to upgrade and expand the wastewater treatment plant, make point repairs, replace sewer mains and manholes, line sewer lines and upgrade server sewer lift stations has been approved by ADEQ. Much of the manhole repairs and point repairs have been completed and bid opening for the wastewater treatment plant is scheduled for June 2023.
MWU is deploying AMI electrical and water meters and should complete the project before the end of 2023. The system is currently designed to communicate by a radio mesh network, but the mesh will eventually be replaced by fiber.
The city provided WMU $2 million last year to design and construct a fiber communication network that would tie in its 42 sewer lift stations, water tanks, electrical sub-station and treatment plants. The system has been designed, material deliveries are almost complete, and construction should begin in June or July 2023. Once that backbone is constructed, the Utilities will begin extending services to homes and businesses.
The 2023 operating budget is about $41 million and in 2022 the Utilities generated about $44 million in revenue.
While the WMU system is well funded and in very good shape, the new General Manager will face several issues worth noting.
First, all four units of WMUY’s jointly-owned generation capacity is scheduled to be closed by the end of the decade and one challenge is to decide whether to continue as a co-owner in the plants that replace these, become co-owners in other ventures or drop participation in ownership completely. There will soon be a study underway to determine the feasibility of replacing both coal-fired plants with gas. Since being a co-owner in the existing venture has served the West Memphis rate payer well, with the third lowest electric rates in the state, continued participation in co-ownership of the replacement units is the preference until more information develops. A major challenge is to continue to provide the community with reliable and affordable power.
The second major challenge for the new GM will be succession planning. All the leadership at WMU has been in place for decades. Within the next 5 years, several managers will be retiring and there are no ready candidates available to backfill these positions. There is only one person licensed to sign the monthly water quality reports that go to the state and that is also the only person licensed to run the water treatment plant. The Engineering Department used to consist of an electrical, a mechanical and a civil engineer with two interns. By mid-June 2023, there will be no engineers and only one intern. Although WMU does a wage survey every three years and has given what seemed to be large pay raises, the pay for skilled employees has exceeded the utility’s current pay scale. Both the mayor and the Utility Commission understand this issue and are supportive of increasing pay; the challenge still exists to find and hire qualified staff.
Staffing up to operate the residential and commercial fiber operation will also be a challenge in 2024.
ABOUT WEST MEMPHIS
West Memphis is a charming small town just minutes away from the cultural amenities of Memphis, TN. West Memphis offers a wide variety of great restaurants, plentiful shopping, and endless opportunities for nature exploration along the Big River Trail.
West Memphis is the largest city in Crittenden County, Arkansas. The population is slightly over 24,000, ranking it as the state's 18th largest city. It is part of the Memphis metropolitan area, and is located directly across the Mississippi River from Memphis.
The demographics are 62.6% Black, 32.1% White, the balance 3.3% is other. The median income is $37,244, and median age is 33.1. The median home value is $125,535.
The most common employment sectors are Logistics/Distribution/Warehousing, Health Care & Social Services, Retail Trade, Manufacturing/Processing and Tourism. OVERVIEW OF THE ROLE
Under the guidance of the Mayor and West Memphis Utility Commission, the General Manager is responsible for directing the complete operations of WMU, which includes water, wastewater, electrical, and soon to be fiber services. This position is responsible for the budgeting process while meeting safety and environmental objectives. Additionally, the General Manager will work in conjunction with consultants, engineers, and environmental protection agencies to ensure the successful operation of WMU.
The WMU General Manager will be charged with ensuring safety, maintaining reliability, improving efficiencies, and managing costs, all with an eye toward meeting the growth needs of the community. He/she will:
Establish current strategic and operational objectives and long-range goals, plans policies, through consultation with managers, outside consultants and garner the approval of the WMU Commission
Oversee power supply, generation, transmission, distribution and risk management, water supply, treatment and distribution, wastewater collection and treatment and fiber service offerings
Represent WMU in dealing with elected officials
Ensure WMU complies with all government regulatory requirements
Ensure adequate staffing, review compensation and benefits, ensure statutory compliance, and administer policies
Carry out negotiations with other companies, review and execute contracts/agreements on behalf of the organization and as authorized by the WMU Commission
Direct efforts for infrastructure improvements
Communicate and present operational reports and policy recommendations to the WMU Commission
Ensure internal controls, financial policies, rates margins and financial ratios are adequate to maintain a solid financial position and to provide timely and accurate reporting to the WMU Commission
Continue professional development by participation in conferences, training seminars and courses; stay current on industry developments
Participate in industry associations including Arkansas Municipal Power Association and the American Public Power Association
Perform additional duties, as assigned
The new General Manager will be a talented leader who is technically adept, maintains a strong safety culture, and has the desire and capability to lead a high-performing, customer-focused work environment. He/she will have a focus of continuing to ensure that WMU is a leader in the provisioning of high quality, low-cost electric and water utility service and building a values-based culture focused on service, collaboration, and accountability.
Ideally, this individual will possess the following experience and qualifications:
At least ten (10) years of progressively responsible experience in the electric and/or, water utility sector
Five (5) years of management experience
Exceptional business and financial acumen with a solid understanding of the electric utility ecosystem, including renewables and clean energy technology
Demonstrated experience leading and developing teams
Ability to work collaboratively, influence decisions and outcomes, and facilitate consensus
Exceptional service orientation
Excellent written and oral communication skills
Strong negotiating skills
Ability to motivate in a team-oriented, collaborative environment
Superior analytical, evaluative, and problem-solving skills
The finalist must possess the ability to:
Analyze complex issues and develop recommendations and solutions based on sound business judgement
Understand, interpret, explain, and apply local, state, and federal policy, law, regulation, and court decisions as they relate to WMU system operations
Lead, facilitate and/or participate in the strategic planning, organization design, implementation, and monitoring of comprehensive programs
Evaluate departmental practices and make sound recommendations for improvements; develop and implement appropriate procedures and controls
Establish and maintain effective working relationships with all levels of WMU employees, commissioners, elected officials, business and community leaders, media representatives and the public
Communicate and respond effectively to inquiries or complaints from employees, customers, regulatory agencies, or members of the community
Interact effectively through public speaking and presentations on complex topics to internal staff, the West Memphis Utility Commission, public groups and forums, and/or elected officials
Become actively involved in the community and help represent the city in advancing economic development, and promote the utility’s image with West Memphis residents
Explain and strongly support the benefits of a municipal utility
A Bachelor’s degree in engineering, business, public administration, or equivalent experience is generally required.
The next GM of WMU will possess a strong professional will and personal humility. The successful candidate will need to be a leader who is approachable and visible, brings a high level of energy and passion for the business, works effectively with the utility’s many stakeholders, and is able to drive WMU efforts to be a safe, reliable, and low-cost utility.
In addition, the successful candidate will need to possess the following critical qualities and capabilities:
Collaborative Leadership Style – The new WMU General Manager will lead a team of 85 FTEs and interact with employees, community officials and customers at many levels. The successful candidate will have outstanding people skills, being able to inspire and motivate people across all levels of the organization. He/she must be skilled in developing strategies and programs that advance the goals of the utility, but confident, emotionally mature, and resilient enough to accept (and seek) input from others and adapt strategies/plans accordingly. He/she must also understand and appreciate that within a small utility, the GM needs to wear many hats and at times pitch in wherever help is needed.
Power Market Knowledge – Since the utility is going to lose a portion of its power supply due to the retirement of two jointly-owned coal facilities, the new GM will need to source new supplies for WMU. As such, a working knowledge of the power/RTO markets is essential, and an understanding of the MISO market would be ideal.
Communication Skills – The selected candidate will be an extremely effective communicator. The new leader should be an individual who is approachable and ensures that critical information flows throughout the organization and that people feel like they are being heard. He/she will have experience developing and enhancing stakeholder relationships and be passionate about promoting WMU within the community, and the regional economic development efforts. This person must embrace being the “public face” of WMU.
Honesty and Integrity – The successful candidate must demonstrate a high level of personal integrity and honesty and demand the same from anyone associated with the utility. These qualities will be essential for building and maintaining exceptional working relationships with the Commission, City, workforce, and the community.
Involvement Outside the Utility – The successful candidate must have a willingness and desire to be actively involved in the community, participating and supporting organizations such as the local Rotary, Chamber of Commerce, etc.