Community Engagement

Looking ahead to what's next

As I head into my final two months with the American Public Power Association, I’ve been thinking about where I have been and what’s next.

I’m working to “finish strong” before retiring at the end of December. I continue to visit members and represent public power at conferences and meetings. We on staff are getting the Association’s 2020 budget ready for the Executive Committee’s review and working on the leadership transition. And on the personal side, as of this publication, I will have just seen my daughter Annie married to her longtime boyfriend — a big moment for her, but also for me, since I spent so many years balancing work and family obligations (with varying degrees of success!) to try and raise her right.

As I have traveled around the country to meet with members this year, I am reminded why I decided to dedicate my career to public power: It’s the people. I was first drawn to consumer-owned utilities when I was only two years out of law school, working at a large corporate law firm here in Washington. As I started to learn about the energy industry, I observed that there were different kinds of utilities, and I saw even then that consumer-owned utilities were trying to do the right things for the right reasons. So, I left my corporate law firm to represent consumer-owned utilities for more than 35 years, because I, too, wanted to do the right things for the right reasons. Your dedication to running your utilities — so that everyone in your community benefits from what you do — has been inspiring to me. It also makes visiting your cities and towns fun — I get to glimpse the quality of life you support for your neighbors.

I will watch with great interest how public power takes on the challenges — new and old — facing us. From dealing with cybersecurity threats and climate change to integrating new energy technologies into the public power business model, the coming years will be an exciting and critical time for our industry. I am looking forward to seeing how a whole new generation of employees, customers, and community leaders will take on these challenges and transform the role that public power utilities play in your communities.

I sincerely hope you will continue to work with your communities to make them aware of the benefits of public power. If communities don’t appreciate the value their public power utilities provide, eventually they will be at risk of selling them — and as Joni Mitchell sang in Big Yellow Taxi — they won’t know what they’ve got ‘til it’s gone. While it might not always be “paradise,” a public power utility is a great benefit to the community it serves and should not be thoughtlessly paved over to “put up a parking lot.”

To inoculate against the loss of community ownership, you need to educate your customers and your city leaders about the value (economic and intrinsic) of having a public power utility. If there is a disconnect between how you are currently operating and where you’d like or need to be, then work with your community to develop a strategic plan that will get you there. I know from seeing it firsthand that you are passionate about public power and doing good work in your communities — you need to share that passion far and wide. Your dedication has inspired me, and I hope you can transfer it to the next generation of public power leaders.

Leading the Association has been an unforgettable experience. I want to thank the Association’s Board and Executive Committee for allowing me to serve as your CEO. And thanks to you, our members, for all you have allowed me to do on your behalf, and for your friendship, support, and constructive feedback. I am excited that Joy Ditto is returning in 2020 to take the reins of the Association as president and CEO. She already knows public power well and is well-regarded in Washington energy policy circles. She will do a great job for you.

As for me, I am looking forward in January to taking a much-needed break from technology — what I am calling my “cellphone detox” — and traveling abroad with my husband. I honestly am not sure what I will do after that. I wish I had a dollar for each time I have been asked this year “What are you going to do next?” It feels similar to when I arrived on campus at the University of Missouri for my first semester of college. The first question out of everyone’s mouth was, “What’s your major?” I thought everyone else had a plan all worked out, while I was still trying to figure out what I wanted to do “when I grew up.” As it happened, though, I enjoyed being an “undeclared” arts and sciences major and sampling all the subjects on offer. And compared to some of my peers who seemed to have their plan all worked out on day one, I was one of the few who actually graduated within four years.

So, as I start retirement, I’m looking forward to sampling all life has to offer and again finding out what my major is going to be. Right now, I am still “undeclared!”