July 10, 2003 – The Water and Power Authority has a serious shortage of engineers, according to executive director Alberto Bruno-Vega, and the need to avoid such problems in the future is one reason he proposed changes in the utility's administrative structure that the WAPA board approved at its last meeting.
"There are many, many vacant engineer positions," Bruno-Vega said in an interview this week. "The ranks have been depleted in recent years. Some who were with WAPA before for some reason resigned, and we need to strengthen that division."
"Imagine if you had a hospital without doctors," he said. "WAPA without engineers is similar."
A key to avoiding such a crisis, as any successful corporate executive knows, is planning.
In Bruno-Vega's reorganization, what had been WAPA's Engineering Division has been merged into its Corporate Planning Division.
What had been the Human Relations Division has been moved under the Corporate Services Division umbrella.
Other restructuring that the WAPA board approved includes:
– Eliminating the position of director of customer services and placing those functions under the direction of the chief financial officer.
– Eliminating the position of director of communications.
Bruno-Vega said he proposed the changes "to have what I call checks and balances. Previously, too many functions of responsibility that should be separated were all under one officer. To have proper controls, you need to segregate different functions so that they do not provide even an appearance of any conflict."
Human relations, he said, includes the functions of personnel, labor relations and workplace safety. The expanded Corporate Services Division encompasses all of those plus information technology, general administration including purchasing contracts, warehouse, garage, insurance and revenue protection.
The human resources director resigned recently, so "there is not going to be any change in personnel there," Bruno-Vega said, and he is now interviewing candidates for director of corporate services.
Having a territorywide director of human resources "didn't seem to be working," he said. "Then we had a manager of personnel traveling back and forth between St. Thomas and St. Croix." That person, Denise Nibbs, lives on St. Thomas "and she does an excellent job," he said, "but it's a very difficult assignment to do by remote control, especially when you have union grievances and complaints."
The reorganization includes creating the position of personnel manager for St. Croix so someone will be working full-time in that capacity in both districts, he said.
The current director of customer services, Edward Milligan, who also had territorywide responsibility, will become manager of the St. Croix customer service office, also a new position, Bruno-Vega said, so there will be managers in each district.
"We need to have customer service managers on the spot so they can take care of customer complaints and services and deal with day-to-day concerns," he said.
As far as the director of communications, he said, "basically, the title has changed to corporate communications officer." The person in the position — currently Cassandra Dunn — will "respond to the executive director" rather than being an officer of the authority who reports to the board.
The internal auditor, on the other hand, "used to answer to the executive director but now will report directly to the board," Bruno-Vega said. The reason, he explained, is that "we want the internal audit to include the executive director, so that there is no one in the organization who is outside of the auditing umbrella."
Bruno-Vega also said that WAPA's Environmental Affairs Group, which previously was under the Engineering Division, "now reports directly to me." And the infrastructure security manager, who used to report to the Human Resources Division, also "now reports directly to me."
In the new structure, the No. 2 position of assistant executive director becomes the chief operating officer. Glenn Rothgeb is moving from the old position to the new.
The third in command under the reorganization is the director of corporate planning and engineering. The head of corporate planning has been on leave since December, Bruno-Vega said, "and I am in essence directing that division in the meantime."
At its June 30 meeting, the WAPA board approved the organizational changes and amended the utility's bylaws as needed. With the changes, the authority's officers consist of the chief executive officer (Bruno-Vega), chief operating officer (Rothgeb), chief financial officer (Robert Vodzack), director of corporate planning and engineering, director of corporate services, and general counsel (Cathy Smith).
Continuing cash-flow concerns
The board at that meeting also discussed continuing cash-flow concerns. According to a WAPA release, the utility as of June 30 was looking at $8 million in government accounts receivable and had under-billed customers by another $8 million in its monthly Levelized Energy Adjustment Clause surcharges.
In February, the Public Services Commission approved increases in the LEAC surcharges for electricity and water. At that time, Bruno-Vega said, "the price of fuel was projected to go down. Instead, it has come up. We are tracking it on a daily basis."
In March, the PSC approved a 9.6 percent hike in the electric rate.
WAPA buys all of its oil from Hovensa, which gets most of its crude from Venezuela, Bruno-Vega said, "but the world market determines the price, and Iraq has kept prices at a high level."
With the LEAC increases, WAPA had hoped to recoup the $8 million in underbillings in a year, he said. "But if oil doesn't drop, that means we are not going to recoup the money, and we'll have a serious cash-flow problem."
The board also approved a $250,000 change order to Pirelli High Voltage Systems Submarine Group. The company is laying undersea water pipes from St. Thomas to St. John and an underwater high-voltage electrical cable from St. Thomas to the privately owned island of Little St. James. The water pipeline, when operational, "will eliminate water rationing on St. John," the release stated.
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