Clark PUD general manager and CEO announces retirement

In a regular public meeting May 7, the Clark Public Utilities Board of Commissioners selected Lena Wittler as the new general manager and CEO and recessed to executive session to discuss compensation. Before adjourning, the board reconvened to introduce a resolution to adopt the general manager and CEO’s employment agreement, with an annual salary of $240,000, a $400 car allowance and all benefits currently afforded regular employees, for consideration during the June 4 regular meeting.

General Manager and CEO Wayne Nelson will retain his role as general manager and CEO through June 4 and will remain in the role of general counsel through the end of June.

Following public discussion and comment on agenda item “Consideration of Selection of CEO/General Manager,” Commissioner Jane Van Dyke proposed elevating Wittler to the role of general manager and CEO, which was seconded by Commissioner Jim Malinowski. The resolution was approved in a unanimous vote.

“This utility is respected in the industry and by our customers and Ms. Wittler has been instrumental in both fostering and nurturing relationships with our various stakeholders,” said Commissioner Barnes, board president. “Ms. Wittler has a deep and unique understanding of the opportunities ahead as well as the challenges our industry is facing and provides a measured, data-driven approach to leadership as we execute our priorities going forward.”

Wittler is a 20-year veteran of the utility industry, having served in a variety of finance, human resources and communications roles, most recently as the director of Communications and Employee Resources, overseeing all communications, public affairs, utility-wide research and analytics, human resources and loss control.

Noting the utility’s unique culture of customer service, the board chose to interview and evaluate only senior internal leaders in the succession planning process.

“Much like the broad perspective Mr. Nelson brought to his role, having served as general legal counsel prior to serving as GM/CEO, Ms. Wittler has a unique 360-degree view of the utility. She’s led utility research and analytics for more than a decade, overseeing all customer and internal communications, and managing legislative policy and public affairs,” said Commissioner Van Dyke.

Prior to her work with the utility, Wittler worked in education and judicial support. She holds a BA from Willamette University and an MBA from the University of Portland. Throughout her career, Wittler has established a reputation as an advocate for employee culture as a driver of customer service, and is active in the industry research community, providing a deep and comprehensive understanding of the challenges and opportunities ahead.

The board acknowledged the profound legacy Nelson will leave. In the course of his nearly 30-year career, he led the utility through significant transitions during which it has been widely regarded as best in class and ranked highest in customer satisfaction among midsize electric utilities in the West by J.D. Power for 11 years in a row.

“As commissioners, we have been fortunate to have steady leadership at the helm of this utility, in addition to consistency and experience among my board colleagues,” said Malinowski. “The employee culture of this organization is uniquely customer-focused and as a board we believe it’s important to maintain our tradition of high customer satisfaction through consistent leadership and cultural cohesion. For that reason, an elevation of a current employee to the general manager role was a natural path.”

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Joanna Yorke is the managing editor of the Vancouver Business Journal. She has worked in the journalism field since 2010 after graduating from the Edward R. Murrow College of Communication at Washington State University in Pullman. Yorke worked at The Reflector Newspaper in Battle Ground for six years and then worked at and helped start ClarkCountyToday.com.