The Thomas Bay Power Commission (TBPC) voted Wednesday to fire the general manager of the Thomas Bay Power Authority (TBPA). It was one step in a complicated management change for the Tyee Lake electrical power plant, which once served only Wrangell and Petersburg.
The unanimous decision comes after TBPA General Manager Michael Nicholls missed TBPC meetings in June. He also failed to turn over documents to the commission and the Southeast Alaska Power Agency (SEAPA).
SEAPA owns Tyee Lake, one of the hydro projects that powers Wrangell, Petersburg and Ketchikan. But the TBPA, funded jointly by Wrangell and Petersburg, has a contract for the operation and maintenance of Tyee. The TBPC, which oversees the authority, voted last month to turn operations and maintenance over to SEAPA. These groups, along with the borough assemblies of Wrangell and Petersburg, are working to finalize the transfer of Tyee.
Nicholls managed the Tyee Lake facility for the Power Authority.
Commission member Clay Hammer said the TBPC terminated Nicholls’ contract but will follow its requirement of a severance package of 3 months’ wages.
“That was probably deemed the most hassle-free manner for which the commission could move forward with accommodating the desires of the two communities, Wrangell and Petersburg, and moving forward with this transition of O&M of the Tyee hydro project to the owner, SEAPA,” Hammer said.
As part of the transfer deal, SEAPA was planning to let Nicholls keep his job, at least until his contract ended in May 2015. SEAPA has always reimbursed the TBPA for Nicholls’ salary and will cover the severance package.
At its June 27 meeting, the commission discussed Nicholls’ absences. Commissioners voted to place Nicholls and TBPA office manager Rhonda Christian on paid administrative leave.
Hammer, Police Chief Doug McCloskey and Wrangell Borough Clerk Kim Lane went to the power authority office to collect keys and passwords from the manager and office staffer.
Wrangell Borough Manager Jeff Jabusch said that is when they found memos from Nicholls ending Christian’s employment that same day.
“One memo was directed to Ms. Christian, and that memo basically said, ‘You are laid off effective today, the 27th. The reason given is that your union position will no longer exist when SEAPA takes over the operations and maintenance of Tyee.’ And then there was another memo there that directed me to make her final payment and pay her everything she had coming,” Jabusch said.
Christian was the only employee at TBPA whose salary was paid by Wrangell and Petersburg. But SEAPA had apparently budgeted to let Christian keep her job, too, at least for a while after the transfer.
Along with Christian’s salary, the municipalities also cover travel costs for commission members.
If the transfer to SEAPA is completed, Jabusch said Wrangell and Petersburg will each save about $55,000 per year, and Wrangell city staff will have a lighter workload.
“The city of Wrangell–it will assist us in several ways, both manpower and cost, so that will be I think a positive for the city,” Jabusch said.
Steve Beers, the foreman at Tyee Lake, is continuing to run the hydroelectric facility. Beers and Nicholls both declined to comment for this report. Christian has not returned phone calls.
Jabusch said after many months of negotiations, the municipalities and SEAPA are very close to finalizing the transfer.
“Wrangell and Petersburg are kind of negotiating, not completely as one, with SEAPA, but both of us have concerns, and those have been addressed, we believe. I think SEAPA has been very fair in the process,” Jabusch said. “I think it’s all going well.”
The transfer of the operations and maintenance at Tyee Lake from the TBPA to SEAPA still needs to be finalized by the borough assemblies of Wrangell and Petersburg, and by the TBPC. All three entities plan to review transition documents at the end of July.
The Petersburg assembly meets July 21, and the Wrangell assembly meets July 22. The TBPC will meet in Petersburg July 24.