Community Engagement

Rounding third and heading home

I have been watching a lot of baseball this fall. The Washington Nationals’ amazing comeback to get into the World Series, after having been left for dead this spring, has been awe-inspiring to watch. Dancing in the dugout, turning an entire ballpark of uptight Washingtonians into “Baby Shark” fans, and shaking off decades of bad karma to beat the Brewers, the Dodgers, and then the Cardinals has been wonderful. “Stay in the Fight” indeed! Having done it all without Bryce Harper makes it extra sweet. Regardless of whether the Nats win the Series, the team has already won my heart.

Much of the time, I have been following the team from the road because of member visits. In August, I was in Williamsburg, Virginia, to speak at the ElectriCities of North Carolina Annual Conference, and then went on to Bretton Woods, New Hampshire, to speak at the New England Public Power Association Annual Conference. In September, I went to the Association’s Business and Financial Conference in Minneapolis, Minnesota, and then to Wichita, Kansas, for the Kansas Power Pool’s Fall Planning Retreat. After that, I traveled to American Municipal Power’s Annual Conference in Columbus, Ohio. That was a notable event—Marc Gerken, CEO of AMP, is retiring next spring, so he and I did a talk moderated by Steve Dupee, AMP’s Board Chair, that AMP billed as “Marc and Sue Unplugged.” We two short-timers had a great time dishing; I hope the audience enjoyed it too (I was glad they gave us armchairs and not rocking chairs for the session!).

After that, the Association’s senior staff and I decamped to Niagara Falls for our Fall Board Meeting. The fall meeting is the “long” board meeting of the year (The winter and summer meetings are held in conjunction with other Association events, and therefore are only half a day). In addition to the meeting itself, which usually lasts a day and a half, we onboard a new crop of board members elected at the June Annual Business Meeting. This year was no exception: we welcomed Kevin Maynard from the City of Bryan, Ohio, and Michael Peters from WPPI Energy in Wisconsin from Region 2; Troy Adams from Elk River Municipal Utilities in Minnesota from Region 3; Ellen Burt of Stowe Electric Department in Vermont and Nick Lawler from Massachusetts’ Littleton Electric Light & Water Department from Region 8; and Dave Alvey, Mayor, Wyandotte County/Kansas City, Kansas as an Ex Officio member and Chair of our Policy Makers Council (The new board member from Region 9, John Haarlow of Snohomish PUD, WA, had to miss the meeting). Many significant decisions are made at the Fall Board Meeting that guide the work of Association staff as we go into our fall budget meetings and develop the next year’s workplan.

This year was no different. The board reviewed the Association’s financial reserve policy, set corporate associate member dues levels for 2020, and charged the Association’s Advisory Committee to update and revamp the process the Association uses to develop its policy resolutions. The change that will be most immediately noticeable to the membership is the decision to end the current practice of holding a second Legislative and Resolutions Committee meeting at the June National Conference. In recent years, attendance at this meeting has declined markedly, and very few new resolutions have been offered. This contrasts sharply with the L&R meeting held at the Legislative Rally, which is well-attended and produces quite a few policy resolutions. The Advisory Committee (which is composed of all the state and regional public power associations) will also develop a proposed method of “sunsetting” older resolutions and updating them in a more useable format and will bring those proposals back to the board for consideration in 2020. The board also elected Dan Beans, Electric Utility Director of Redding Electric Utility in California, to a recently vacated seat in Region 6.

But the biggest decision the board made at its Fall meeting was to name my successor. The board has appointed Joy Ditto as the organization’s new President and CEO, effective January 13, 2020. Joy is currently the president and CEO of the Utilities Technology Council (UTC), a Washington, D.C.-based trade association that creates a favorable business, regulatory, and technological environment for electric, gas, and water utilities of all ownership types. But she is already well known to public power. Before joining UTC, Joy worked in advocacy for our Association for 15 years and was the senior vice president for legislative and political affairs from 2014 to 2016. In that position, she led the Association’s advocacy efforts on a range of issues such as cybersecurity, environmental legislation, and distributed energy resources.

In Joy, the Board has chosen a proven trade association professional who already knows public power’s issues and members, and who is well-respected in Washington energy policy circles. I have no doubt she will do a great job when she returns to public power in January 2020 to lead the Association.

Of course, that does not mean I am slacking off in my final months. I went straight from the board meeting to the New York Association of Public Power’s October meeting in Albany. NYAPP was kind enough to honor me with the Wallace L. Duncan Public Power Award. I love that NYAPP has named its top award after its long-time energy lawyer, and having known Wally Duncan from my early years in private law practice, I was all the more honored to receive it. And as I write this, I am on a plane out to Portland, Oregon, to speak at our Association’s Legal and Regulatory Conference. Maybe it is an acquired taste, or maybe it is because I was one, but I really like hanging out with public power lawyers!

Going back to baseball, at this point I feel like I am rounding third and heading for home plate. I intend to “finish strong” (a line I have shamelessly stolen from Dave Walters of Grand Haven, Michigan)—although I am not nimble enough to slide into home without injury. We on staff are now working on the Association’s 2020 budget, which our Executive Committee will approve in early December, and starting to plan the leadership transition. And I will be traveling to more member meetings in December.

Finally, I have a big personal transition happening this October—my daughter Annie is getting married. That obviously is a big moment for her, but also is for me, since I spent so many years balancing work and family obligations (with varying degrees of success!) to try and raise her right. So it seems like everything is coming together for me at once, personally and professionally. I confess to feeling very sentimental and bittersweet about all this, when I actually have a moment to think. But in the coming days, it will be all about the Nats and the Astros! Finish the fight!