New WG&L Board Members Judith Corbett and Chad Warbington take the oath of office Thursday.
ALBANY ALBANY, Ga. — There's nothing like being the new kids on the block with a sea of controversy swirling all around you.
Judith Corbett and Chad Warbington were sworn in as city Water, Gas & Light commissioners at a special called meeting of the board Thursday, taking up seats on the commission with the spectre of a multimillion-dollar environmental waste cleanup looming and the need to fill the general manager's office that will be vacated by Lemuel Edwards on Feb. 15.
The board took the first step toward addressing the latter issue Thursday, meeting in executive session for a half-hour before announcing its recommendation that City Manager James Taylor serve as interim GM of the utility for a six-month period.
"We felt that since there is sure to be some current employees who will be candidates, to make the process cleaner we suggest using an interim who is not part of the organization already," Albany Mayor Dorothy Hubbard, who also serves as chair of the WG&L Commission, said. "We haven't discussed this possibility with Mr. Taylor in depth, but I know his position is that he will do whatever is best for the city.
"I expect we'll look at the best way to conduct a national search for a new general manager, but I propose that we do both a national and local search. There are certainly some qualified candidates already in the organization."
Taylor said Thursday morning that he'd been contacted by Edwards (about the proposal) but that he hasn't spent a lot of time thinking about the matter.
"My job is to serve the citizens of Albany, Georgia," he said. "If this is a way I can help, I will help. I know this will be a monumental undertaking. I've managed companies larger than (the city and WG&L) combined before, but I've never managed two companies at one time.
"We're fortunate that they have a good team in place over there. I've been meeting with them about the manufactured gas plant cleanup, and I think I have a good working relationship with most folks over there. I think what we've got to do first is decide what being an interim general manager means in this case. I have no preconceived notion of what it will involve."
Corbett, who owns the Stage Presence consulting firm, and Warbington, who owns Shutters Plus, said they were aware of the major issues facing WG&L.
"I've certainly read about what's going on with the manufactured gas plant," Warbington said. "I am an engineer by trade and I have a business background, so I think I can contribute to making decisions that are in the best interest of the city.
"I believe WG&L's day-to-day operations are run by its employees, and that's not our job as commissioners. I believe our main concern is oversight. Our motion today (to name Taylor interim GM) is, I believe, a short-term, stop-gap solution. I believe everyone wants to move quickly to stabilize the administration here."
Corbett said she plans to do her homework as she prepares to work with the commission.
"Certainly I'm familiar with the gas plant; I've read the headlines," she said. "As a new commissioner, though, I'm going to do my homework, find out everything I can about that situation. We have to make some important decisions, and I love being in a situation where I can hopefully help improve the bottom line.
"Having lived in Albany for 30 years, I'm sure there will be some who will question whether what we do is the right thing. But I believe this is a group interested in doing what's best for the city."
Sitting Commissioner Morris Gurr, who previously served on the Albany City Commission, praised that body for its efforts to get more involved in WG&L business.
"I think that's a good move by the city," he said. "I think we'll all know more after the Carl Vinson Institute issues its report (on the relationship between the city and WG&L). That will help us make decisions as we move forward."
Current WG&L Assistant General Manager for Operations Keith Goodin, who has worked in utilities for 43 years, the last 25-plus with Albany Water, Gas & Light, said he's considering applying for the general manager's position, but that he's undecided right now.
"I am looking at my options," Goodin said. "I've spent a lot of time doing what I do, and I don't know if I want to rededicate my life to a new position with new responsibilities. I do know that I would not apply for that position with plans to retire in a year. That wouldn't be fair.
"I'll just look at my options now and see how things go."
Edwards said the gas plant cleanup and the city's plans to have more oversight of WG&L did not enter into his decision to step down.
"It was just time," he said. "I think I'm leaving with the utility in good hands; we have excellent people here. There are things I'd like to do while I still have my health, so now was a good time for me to walk away."
The City Commission will address Taylor assuming the WG&L general manager's position at a special called meeting Tuesday. The WG&L board will then formalize the matter at its regular January meeting next Thursday.