Wednesday, April 11, 2012



From the on-line edition of the Courier. Note the time that Mark Spivey's story was posted. This should appear in the print edition Thursday morning. I also expect that the Ledger will catch up on this breaking news.

PMUA chooses new executive director

Williamson, currently Plainfield's corporation counsel, to take over July 1

6:20 PM, Apr. 11, 2012 |

PLAINFIELD — The day after the City Council took what might be a first step toward dissolving the Plainfield Municipal Utilities Authority, the authority’s Board of Commissioners voted to name longtime city attorney Dan Williamson the second permanent executive director in the organization’s 16-year history.

Some might call that unfortunate timing, but Williamson doesn’t see it that way.

“I’m not afraid of the controversy,” he said Wednesday, “and I’m not intimidated by having to address the concerns of the public.”

Still, he added, “I don’t want to do anything that will serve as a lightning rod for controversy, either.”

There might be no more accurate description of the authority itself during recent years, when drastic rate hikes, exorbitant discretionary spending, the sudden resignations of two top executives and a recent award of $1 million in post-employment compensation to those former executives created a powder keg that finally blew during recent weeks. Amid a state Department of Community Affairs investigation into the payouts to former Executive Director Eric Watson and Assistant Executive Director David Ervin, the council via a split vote decided to issue a request for qualifications to identify an entity to examine the PMUA’s inner workings with an eye on possible dissolution.

A split vote on the authority’s Board of Commissioners also led to Williamson’s appointment, which takes effect July 1. Malcolm Dunn, Cecil Sanders and Alex Toliver voted in favor, while Harold Mitchell and Carol Brokaw dissented — constituting the exact same 3-2 split that approved the $1 million payout several months earlier.

Members of the City Council have excoriated that trio of commissioners, Dunn and Sanders in particular, for apparently circumventing an arbitration process to approve the payouts. But Williamson said he believes he can help smooth out what has become a volatile situation.

“I really believe that I can bring something to the authority that can be helpful. I may even be able to bridge the gap between the authority and the city,” Williamson said. “I do believe it can work; it just means there has to be the political will on both sides.”

A 37-year resident of the city, the Ohio native has pulled off similar miracles before. He worked at City Hall as solicitor and corporation counsel under three different administrations during the last 30 years.

“Let’s hope it’s not as difficult as people say it is,” Williamson added.

Williamson was hesitant to discuss at length any changes he might try to make at the authority, but he said bringing rates under control would be a top priority. He added that while his background is in law, having managed his own private practice and been involved in municipal law for decades, he feels that he’s ready for a new challenge.

“I will analyze any way and every way possible to address the rates, which ratepayers have to be able to afford,” Williamson said. “It’s all kind of new for me, but in the past I’ve been in a management-type position. I certainly believe in my abilities to manage folks.”

Williamson said he will resign his position with the city to accept the PMUA’s highest office.

“I wish good luck to him and good luck to the PMUA,” Mayor Sharon Robinson-Briggs said Wednesday when asked about Williamson’s pending departure.

The authority’s interim executive director, Duane Young, declined to comment at length about the appointment. Young repeatedly had said that he was interested in having his interim tag removed, having drawn praise for his efforts to stabilize rates since he stepped in for Watson and Ervin last year, but apparently fell short despite drawing support from both Mitchell and Brokaw.

“Allow me a couple of days to digest this,” Young said when reached Wednesday, adding that he would be willing to comment soon, “because it happened very fast.”

Toliver declined to comment on the record Wednesday, but Mitchell slammed his fellow commissioners’ decision, agreeing with Young that the decision was made in a hurry.

“I didn’t support it and I still don’t support it,” Mitchell said, adding that two commissioners still were preparing to interview new candidates when Tuesday night’s vote was held. “These three guys (Dunn, Sanders and Toliver) are intending to do whatever they want. They don’t care about what anyone else says.”

Mitchell asserted that Williamson testified on behalf of Watson and Ervin during the arbitration process arranged to determine post-employment payments for the pair, but Williamson described things differently.

“I was subpoenaed ... to testify about my recollections of a press conference I attended, and the only reason I was there ... was that the mayor had a conflict and asked me to attend for her,” Williamson recalled. “I don’t consider myself as having testified against or for anybody.”

Robinson-Briggs declined to comment Wednesday about who she might nominate to succeed Williamson.

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