Speaking as a citizen at Monday evening's Independence City Council, Power & Light Deputy Director Andy Boatright explained the multi-faceted negative impact he believed eight potentially axed IPL positions would have on the department's operations.
With one flipped vote, the council later voted 4-3 to reinstate the positions, reversing an 11th-hour amendment to an already-balanced budget from last week that one council member said constituted a City Charter violation.
Boatright, who joined the city in April 2016, served as IPL's acting director nearly a year and continued to have direct oversight of the utility, submitted his resignation the following day – a decision he said was not easy and not made hastily.
He resigned to pursue other opportunities, the city said in a release, but Boatright confirmed he does not know where and when that next opportunity might be.
“I really enjoyed working here, and the team at Power & Light is amazing,” Boatright said Wednesday. “The utility is a gem for the city of Independence, and I wish them the best going forward.”
Boatright, who recently served a term as president of the American Public Power Association, wouldn’t say if he had decided to resign before or after his address Monday, during which he had the affected employees stand from where they sat scattered across the council chambers.
City Manager Zach Walker said Boatright's leadership has been vital to helping set IPL's future direction and he will be difficult to replace.
“He met with me yesterday, and it was obviously devastating,” Walker said. “He's a very, very highly respected leader, and he brought a lot of positive attention to the city.”
“He had knowledge (of the business) that was unparalleled in this area.”
Boatright oversaw a digital-smart-meter installation for an electric utility in Westerville before coming to Independence as the city began to explore its own smart-meter project. The council voted last October to table smart meters, then voted 4-3 in April to pass on the project – which studies showed would pay for itself in less than 10 years and save millions more in the following years – with the idea of possibly revisiting it in the future. In spite of that, Walker said, Boatright had overseen the “most thorough, comprehensive (request for proposal) process” he had seen.
While an audit of IPL last year revealed employee concerns about several of the department's managers, Walker said it showed a high degree of support regarding Boatright's position.
Boatright's resignation comes at a crucial time for IPL. It is overseeing the tear-down of the mothballed Missouri City Power Plant (a council majority approved the higher bid for that project), and the city is considering expanding its community solar farm, faces expensive possible repairs for the Blue Valley Power Plant that produces less than 3 percent of the utility's power, and awaits the findings of a new master energy plan and cost-of-services rate study.
Walker said he made sure Boatright was certain of his convictions.
“He didn't come to me light-heartedly,” Walker said, adding that he definitely plans to fill the position but won't rush that process.
Boatright had served as IPL's acting manager after Leon Daggett's retirement last summer, and last summer the city decided to make Assistant City Manager Mark Randall the director of public utilities, with Boatright having direct oversight of IPL as deputy director.
On Monday, Boatright said the council's decision last week was “severely misdirected,” “not in the best interest of the city” and made one wonder of the real motivation behind council members who voted for the cuts (Curt Dougherty, recently retired IPL manager Mike Huff, Tom Van Camp and John Perkins, the last of whom changed his vote). The council, he urged, should be patient for the findings in the upcoming rate study and master energy plan and explore “meaningful, productive, thoughtful and moral ways to cut costs.”
Before the changed vote, former Council Member Jason White had called the previous week's cuts “really low class” and a “late-night massacre” and marked a return of patronage politics that the City Charter had been composed to get rid of. Council Member Karen DeLuccie said the cuts, made without any prior council discussion and blindsiding city staff, violated the charter section that states only the city manager can directly or fire employees on the staff.