The Traverse City Light & Power board gets good marks for wanting to look locally for a new executive director. Hiring from within can save money, boost morale and bring cohesion to an organization.
But board members must put the short- and long-range needs of the city-owned utility — which has gone through some tumultuous times in recent years — first.
Light & Power is going to need strong leadership to deal with a slew of challenges, including finding new sources of power, whether to get into the generation business and how to put more renewable energy into its power portfolio.
All that is going to take someone who has strong communication and good management skills — traits the board listed among the qualities it wants to see in a new director — but also enough technical knowledge and industry savvy to provide leadership and vision down the road.
City Commissioner and Light & Power board member Jim Carruthers recently said he didn't want to hire a national head-hunting firm that could cost the utility up to $45,000. Carruthers said Light & Power should instead rely on city staff, with assistance from a local human resources firm, to find someone to replace former executive director Ed Rice, who was fired by the board in October.
Given the board's experience with Rice, the desire for someone with strong communication skills is understandable. Good management skills are also a must; the board is awaiting a draft report from a firm studying its management structure.
But more crucial issues await: what to do with its aging wind turbine; how to replace energy from downstate coal-fired power plants that will be phased out in coming years; whether Light & Power should get into the power generation business; and how to re-establish its role as a leader in the renewable energy field.
In 1996 Light & Power built what was then the largest operating wind turbine in the country. While it was never able to pay for itself, it was a symbol for a future without coal or nuclear power.
Now, Light & Power is a minor player in renewable energy; but given the utility's history and Traverse City's reputation as a leader in environmental awareness, it seems a natural fit for Light & Power to champion new renewable energy strategies for Michigan.
All this will require a strong leader who can take the utility where city residents want it to go. Finding local talent would be a plus, but finding the right person is a must.