Traverse City Record-Eagle

December 6, 2012

Traverse City utility lays off HR director

Proposed change would return job functions to the city


TRAVERSE CITY — The interim head of Traverse City Light & Power didn't wait for the conclusion of an organizational efficiency study to prune the administrative ranks of the city-owned utility.

Tim Arends, the utility's controller and interim executive director, terminated the employment of Human Resources Director Denise Kuschell on Nov. 30. Arends said he will ask the board in January to eliminate the position in a proposed restructuring that will return human resource functions to the city. Arends' predecessor, Ed Rice, hired Kuschell four years ago because he wanted a human resources person on site for the utility's 44 employees.

"I was just floored," Kuschell said. "I didn't think we were going to have any changes until after the efficiency study."

Her layoff was immediate and without severance because she worked 32 hours a week, making her a part-time employee.

Arends said the move was for efficiency reasons but unrelated to the ongoing efficiency study. The study was pushed by the city commission due to concerns Rice had overstaffed TCL&P. The study will audit management and operations.

Rice was fired by the TCL&P board Oct. 23 and replaced by Arends on an interim basis with oversight by City Manager Ben Bifoss.

Arends said Bifoss concurred with his decision to eliminate the position. Arends notified the board after he laid-off Kuschell.

"I'm surprised," said Mike Coco, TCL&P board member. "We don't have a lot of turnover so it's not a common thing. I don't know what drove the decision, but it's not my role to get involved in the internal stuff."

Board Chairman Pat McGuire said if Arends sees a way to do something more efficiently he would not expect him to wait for the study.

"He is our interim executive director," McGuire said. "If he sees something he needs to act."

Arends said he won't be acting "at this time" to eliminate any other positions at the utility.

Kuschell said there's no sense in dwelling on the reasons behind her lay-off. She's a single mom with three kids and Christmas is just around the corner.

"My goal now is to find a job as soon as possible," Kuschell said. "It's the holidays and (there is) no time to mope about it."