The Columbus Light and Water board has chosen Angela Verdell as the department’s new general manager, pending contract negotiations, board attorney Jeff Smith told The Dispatch.
Verdell, who currently works at Mississippi State University as director of diversity programs and student development, was chosen from a pool of four finalists. Smith said the CLW board met Monday and chose Verdell in an executive session.
“The board talked with Dr. Verdell and the board made an offer to Dr. Verdell in open session,” Smith said.
The vote was 4-1 in favor of hiring Verdell, though Smith declined to say which board member voted against, citing that details of executive sessions are closed to the public until the meeting minutes are public. Public bodies that hold meetings have 30 days to post the meeting minutes.
Smith also did not say which, if any, of the other three finalists were interviewed, though he did say each of them was from within Mississippi or “local” and known to board members.
“The board felt they had gone over the applications and knew the ones, and when you see the applicants’ names, you will see that all of them are local,” he said. “The furthest one away was Brandon. The minutes will come out soon of the interview.
“All four of them weren’t here in the room,” he added. “The board felt like they talked enough about what was going on, they knew enough about (Verdell).”
The other finalists included interim general manager Mike Bernsen, Starkville Utilities Department Assistant Manager Jacob Forrester,
Ty Harrell of Brandon and Marcus Rushing, who is electric superintendent at CLW. Bernsen said he withdrew his name voluntarily before the board voted, leaving the four remaining finalists.
Harrell worked as regional vice president for Mississippi and Tennessee at the National Rural Utilities Cooperative Finance Corporation, according to the resume Smith provided to The Dispatch.
In her resume, other than working on supply chain management and logistics at Entergy Nuclear Operations in Jackson from 2000-2007, Verdell does not list any utilities management experience. She has worked for MSU for the past 13 years.
In addition to being a longtime employee of MSU, Verdell was president of the Columbus Municipal School District board of trustees from 2014 to 2018. She did not seek reappointment when her term expired March of that year, and left the district at the same time as former superintendent Philip Hickman, whom she had openly supported throughout his embattled time at CMSD.
Verdell will replace former general manager Todd Gale, who died in February. At its Feb. 24 meeting, the board formed a search committee made up of board member Michael Tate, CLW Human Resources Manager Joe Beall and human resources consultant Camille Young to conduct a national search for a new general manager. Smith and Bernsen said the committee went through more than 100 applications from around the country before narrowing it down to five finalists, one of whom withdrew his name before the board made a decision.
Smith said he will meet with Verdell to negotiate a salary and other contractual details of the position.
“Nothing’s official yet,” Smith said. “There’s been an offer made, and she said she would like to accept the offer. There’s been no contract, she doesn’t know what she’ll be paid, so it’s real rough right now.”
Neither Verdell nor board president Brandy Gardner returned calls from The Dispatch asking for comment by press time.
New board member
The board will also have a new member next month after the city council chose Sherry Ellis to replace outgoing board member Charlie Newell, whose term will expire Monday.
Ellis is a Columbus native who owns design business Chic Designs, Ward 4 Councilman Pierre Beard Sr., one of the council members who voted for Ellis, told The Dispatch.
Ellis did not return a call from The Dispatch by press time.
The council voted 4-3, with Mayor Robert Smith breaking the tie in favor of Ellis at Tuesday’s meeting. Ward 1 Councilwoman Ethel Stewart, Beard and Ward 5 Councilman Stephen Jones voted for Ellis’ appointment, with
Ward 2 Councilman Joseph Mickens, Ward 3 Councilman Charlie Box and Ward 6 Councilman Bill Gavin voting against.
Smith did not return a message from The Dispatch by press time.
Beard told The Dispatch Ellis indicated in her application she plans to make the board “more vocal with getting information across” to community members about issues pertaining to CLW.
“She’ll be a great asset to that board, bring more awareness to that board about different issues in the community going on,” Beard told The Dispatch.
Stewart moved to appoint Ellis and Gavin made a substitute motion to appoint local business owner Quinn Brislin. The substitute motion died when only Gavin and Box voted for Brislin’s appointment, and the council then voted on Ellis.
Other applicants included Stephanie Gale and Kegdra Gray.
Mickens, who voted against the appointments of both Ellis and Brislin, said he specifically wanted someone on the CLW board with more experience.
“We can’t just go voting because that’s my friend, that’s somebody I know,” he told The Dispatch after Tuesday’s meeting. “We’ve got to put people on these boards that can do the job, not friends. … We’ve been doing that too long.”
CLW board members receive a salary of $300 per month, as well as medical benefits, Bernsen said. In addition to Gardner, Tate and Newell, the board includes Jimmy Graham and Jabari Edwards.
The CLW board also approved its Fiscal Year 2021-2022 budget at its regular meeting Thursday. The vote was 4-0, because Newell was not in attendance.
The budget puts revenue at $37,470,166, with expenses budgeted at $36,225,565. Also included is $95,000 in “other income” for a surplus of $1,339,601.
More than $36,382,000 of the revenue comes from electric sales revenue. Bernsen said the revenue is an increase over last year by about $500,000.
Included in expenses is about $2.8 million for labor, which includes 4.5-percent pay increases for employees which the board approved last year.
“The budget looks healthy,” he said. “I don’t think there’s going to be a problem.”