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Edwards era at WG&L ends

ALBANY, Ga. -- Even as he prepared to walk out the doors of the city's Water, Gas & Light building one last time, Lemuel Edwards' concerns lay where they had for the 21-plus years he'd served the utility: the ratepayers and the WG&L employees.

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Joe Bellacomo

Lemuel Edwards, Water, Gas & Light Commission general manager, has retired after more than 21 years of service.

"Just like they have been since I came here in 1992, the customers are my main concern as I'm leaving," said Edwards, whose run as general manager of the utility ended Friday. "We're like a family here, and most of our employees are ratepayers themselves. I think that family atmosphere, working together as a team, is what I'll miss most.

"The politics, I've always left that across the street."

A certain level of politics at WG&L now appears to be inevitable. The Albany City Commission is pushing for a bigger role in the everyday business of the utility, and City Manager James Taylor has already taken on the role of interim GM while the Water, Gas & Light board searches for a permanent replacement.

"I want to allay the fears (of WG&L employees) that my plan is to come in here and upset the apple cart," Taylor said. "Lemuel and some of the other folks over there have been taking me around and showing me their operation, and it's quite an operation. Those guys really know what they're doing.

"I go back to the way the Marine Corps does things, and they change command every two years and mid-level command every three years so that they keep getting a fresh perspective. I don't know if that's what we'll get now with this change, but maybe by looking at things a little differently we'll be able to bring some things to the table that will help make WG&L a more efficient operation."

Edwards was working with the U.S. Department of Labor's Manpower Administration when he caught the attention of then-Albany City Manager Steve Roos. Edwards, an Air Force veteran, had been called to testify in the landmark Johnnie Johnson v. City of Albany civil rights case, and Roos asked Edwards to apply for an opening in the city's Human Resources department.

"I'd gotten out of the Air Force because I was tired of the travel, but with the Department of Labor I was traveling as much or more," Edwards said. "My wife had gotten a job teaching in the Dougherty County School System, so I thought taking a job with the city would bring more stability to my family."

Edwards had been working with the city for a decade when then-WG&L General Manager Walter Rodemann asked him to apply for a position as assistant GM that was about to open. He was hired, and when Rodemann took early retirement a short while later, Edwards was elevated to the general manager's position.

WG&L was operating under a $60 million budget when Edwards came on board as GM. Its current budget is $112 million. In addition to providing electricity, clean water and gas for customers in the city, the utility has branched out into telecommunications under Edwards' leadership.

He said providing those services with fewer than 300 employees is a daunting task.

"These aren't jobs just anybody can do," he said. "It takes specialized training, and it takes certified workers. We take providing safe drinking water and keeping the other utilities operating without interruption very seriously. You can't put just anybody in a situation where they're working on gas or electricity. We have to weld gas pipelines with gas flowing at times. ... Not everyone can do that."

Taylor credits his good friend with providing exemplary leadership at the utility and admits that Edwards is leaving some big shoes to fill.

"I've known Lemuel a long time and consider him a true friend," the city manager says. "He did a great job with the city for 31 years, with HR and with WG&L. He has a wealth of experience that will be hard to replace.

"He's told me that he'll answer my calls if I have any questions, and I expect to take him up on that offer."

But don't expect Edwards to try and keep a hand in the operations of the utility that he's helped run for the past 21 years.

"I don't plan to interfere," he said. "I will be available if they need me, but I am retiring. That means someone else will be in charge. I don't expect to be involved in finding a replacement or any of the other operations of WG&L. I expect to spend my time seeing about my farming activities and visiting my daughters and grandchildren. My wife's already retired; she's just waiting on me.

"It's been a privilege to serve the citizens and the ratepayers of this city. I don't regret anything about my tenure. It's definitely been interesting."

Comments

dickyboy 1 year, 1 month ago

You will be missed... I hope if they come to you for advice ....they listen..

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FryarTuk 1 year, 1 month ago

What absolutely deplorable political and civic leadership led to Lem Edwards' departure. This has been a transparent plot engineered by the dynamic duo of Commissioners Langstaff and Postell with Milquetoas Maretta and Chris the Piker in tow. What a group. Not one of them approaches the intellect or character of Edwards. Now our utilities will be just a reliable and satisfactory as Mediacom, the Commissioners piece de resistance. James Taylor is right to say of Lem Edwards and staff "Those guys really know what they're doing." Too bad the commissioners do not. Good luck to you in retirement Mr. Edwards, you deserve golden years with your family and avocations.

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agirl_25 1 year, 1 month ago

Maybe he really is looking forward to retirement. Who knows? He said his wife was already retired and he looked forward to spending time with his children and grandchildren. My husband has been retired from the military since his early 40's and has been very content. He has piddled in 2 other careers for a few years but enjoyed retirement more and is now in his mid-70's and still enjoys his farming interest and his piddling around. Maybe some "absolutely deplorable political and civic leadership led to Lem Edwards' departure"......as you said, really didn't occur. I hope he has as enjoyable a retirement as my husband and I have had these past 30+ years. Best to you and Mrs. Edwards..........!!!!!

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RedEric 1 year, 1 month ago

Thank you Mister Edwards. I hope you enjoy your retirement. It takes a while to adjust, but that is part of the fun. I would sit on the front porch with my morning coffee and watch people go to work. I still wake up at 5:30, but I can take a morning nap if I like. Elimination of stress does amazingly good things for you and your family. You have done your work.

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Cartman 1 year, 1 month ago

Mr. Edwards was a victim of his own successful business practices. The MEAG funds and the income generated at WG&L was too tempting for the City Commission. Once they spent out their available funds through mismanagement, they wanted the money from WG&L to spend as they wished.

I hope the WG&L doesn't turn into an organization run like the City of Albany.

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FryarTuk 1 year, 1 month ago

Cartman: "I hope the WG&L doesn't turn into an organization run like the City of Albany."

But it will. Already the Postell and Langstaff group eye the millions belonging to WG&L customers to pay for their profligate management style. When WG&L becomes just a utilities department for the city it will have all the earmarks of the good law enforcement we enjoy in Albany. The earmarks will come from the brainless skulls atop the inadequte commissioners of Postell, Langstaff, Mayretta (the Milquetoad) and Chris the Piker. All of whom are famous for being self-made men of success and achievement. Ha! That bunch of political quacksalvers will have squandered over 60 million dollars before it's finished and not a single word is being spoken by the media other than to encourage them. Nor is there any response from the community exhibiting the outrage that most Albany WG&L consumers feel. If the skullduggery against Lem Edwaurds was happening to JuneBug Griffin, the entire collard and neckbone community would set up a hue and cry the likes never seen but with Postell and Piker as poster boys for the plan and there being no response from Madame Mayor and John Howard silence becomes acquiesence and the guillotine falls as no leaders protest anticipating the largesse from the pillage.

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Abytaxpayer 1 year, 1 month ago

Thank you for the Great Job Mr. Edwards. Proof of your great work has been growing WG&L from less than $60 million to $112 million while still maintaining some of the lowest rates in Georgia plus making a profit. Sadly low rates and profit is LOST on the City Commissioners (one of highest property tax rates and $5 Million in the red this year despite stealing MEAG funds from WG&L.)

Those who know Mr. Taylor could also see the backhanded comment to the Commissioners when he said “Those guys(WG&L) really know what they're doing” and you have NO F….ing clue how to run a business.

Mr Edwards has done a great job despite the sticky fingers of the City Commissionersand he has shown his superior intelligence over the Commissioners by retiring before they would run WG&L into the ground.

As FryarTuk pointed out. It was nothing more than absolutely deplorable political and civic leadership that has led to Lem Edwards' departure.

Thank you again Mr. Edwards for a job “WELL DONE” you have set the benchmark for Albany Leadership.

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Ihope4albany 1 year, 1 month ago

Thank you Mr. Edwards. For such a time as this for Albany, God is calling you to a new work. He will need your expertise in a new way. You bridge the mighty past to a mighty future. He is giving you a much needed sabbatical for yet a little while. Then, He will need you for a New Work in Albany!!!

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