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Hardwick Electric Manager Resigns

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photo courtesy Hardwick Community Television
The Hardwick Electric Board’s March 18 meeting with a virtual Zoom option included (top row, from left,) Commissioner Nat Smith; in the Hardwick Memorial Building’s third floor meeting room, Hardwick Select Board Chair, Eric Remick; Commissioner Myles Kamischer-Koch, Board Chair, Lynne Gedanken; and HED General Manager Mike Sullivan; Controller and Business Office Supervisor, Beth Essary. bottom row, (Hardwick from left,) Commissioner Roger Prevot and Commissioner Michael Ambrosino joining by phone.

HARDWICK – Hardwick Electric Department’s (HED) Board of Commissioners announced “On April 10, 2024 the General Manager of Hardwick Electric Department resigned, effective immediately.”

Addressed to “Customers of and Residents of Communities Served by Hardwick Electric Department” and dated last Friday, April 12, the letter’s subject is “Transition of General Manager Position.”

The announcement continues, adding “The Board of Commissioners met on April 12th to plan an orderly transition that will involve interim coverage of the position followed by the hiring of a replacement General Manager. The Board will communicate when those positions are filled. In the meantime, please direct any questions that would have been handled by the General Manager to the very capable office staff.”

Sullivan has served as HED’s general manager for just over 10 years, joining the utility in 2013.

In addition to filling Sullivan’s position, HED Commissioner Roger Prevot said “HED is currently recruiting to fill open lineman positions. To the extent HED outage response needs or projects exceed the capacity of its staff, a system of mutual aid with neighboring municipal electric utilities exists.”

All five commissioners were at the regular meeting of HED’s Commissioners on March 18. They were joined, as usual, by Sullivan, and also by Town of Hardwick Select Board Chair, Eric Remick and HED Counsel Eli Emerson.

Sullivan asked to cancel the first executive session regarding an employee matter and to add “Procurement Policy approval/signature.”

A considerable amount of time at the meeting was spent discussing a Vermont Bond Bank loan for $1,257,000 to pay for flood repair work and authorizing those approved to sign loan documents and manage the loan.

At the Hardwick select board meeting several days later, on March 21, the minutes note, “The Wolcott Hydro-plant, which is owned by the HED, was heavily damaged in the July 2023 Flood. HED has applied for FEMA to help with repairs, however, the process is going to take some time before the funds are available. HED needs to start making repairs to help generate power and keep costs down. Therefore, HED would like to apply for a bond from the Vermont Bond Bank. To apply through the Vermont Bond Bank, the application must be through the Town of Hardwick. HED will be paying for the Bond with the available FEMA funds that they get.”

The select board approved that resolution as written for the Vermont bond bank loan to complete the flood related repairs to the hydro-plant. Danny Hale abstained from voting.

Sullivan told the board that a rate increase is likely to be necessary before the end of the year.

The general manager’s report was reviewed and Sullivan commented that he wasn’t worried about safety of the utility’s dam at the Wolcott hydroelectric plant following a recent recommendation by four consulting engineers.

Commissioners then approved a procurement policy, after which financial statements were reviewed.

Board Chair Gedanken expressed concern that invoices presented to new customers are very “customer unfriendly” and asked that Sullivan provide an improved policy before the next meeting.

The meeting’s last item notes that “Commissioner Gedanken made a motion to move into Executive Session to discuss a confidential employee matter.” Gedanken asked Sullivan to leave for that portion of the meeting and, after some discussion of turning off the recording and what to do with the video on Sullivan’s laptop, he said he was going home. The board then went into Executive Session” without General Manager Sullivan.

Draft minutes of that meeting do not indicate that the board exited the executive session, nor that the meeting was adjourned.

An emergency meeting was called on short notice for Friday, April 12, with the next regular scheduled meeting just three days away. That April 12 meeting’s only agenda item was “Management Planning.”

It was attended by four of the five commissioners; Vermont Public Power Supply General Manager, Ken Nolan; Hardwick’s Town Manager, David Upson and HED’s Controller and Business Office Supervisor, Beth Essary.

Draft minutes of that meeting, which lasted just over an hour, do not offer any details, or even mention that the management planning item was taken up, but only show “No board action was taken.”

On Monday, April 15, Remick said that, while communication between the town and HED hasn’t always been good, during the last several years the two organization’s have held regular meetings to align their goals and that is working well.

One of the important areas being coordinated between the town and HED is the town’s Yellow Barn project.

Prevot said, “As the service requirements and scope of the Yellow Barn Project have evolved over the past several months HED has adapted its plans to meet the changing service requirements. The plans have been reviewed in HED’s monthly Board of Commissioners meetings over this period which are open to the public, are recorded, and are available for review.”

Paul Fixx is editor of The Hardwick Gazette and lives in Hardwick.

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