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LCRA seeing retirement of dozens of experienced employees

Monday, August 8, 2011 by Michael Kanin

An unusually large number of retirements by veteran employees in recent months could be leaving the Lower Colorado River Authority with a critical lack of experienced workers in several of its programs.


According to a list In Fact Daily obtained from the LCRA via an open records request, the utility lost 122 employees during the 10 months from October, 2010 through July, 2011. That figure includes 65 retirees in the month of March alone.


A list of the retired includes some of the most experienced hands in the organization, including more than 50 people who had worked with the utility for 25 years or more. Together, the longest-tenured employees had roughly 1,700 years worth of collective experience with the LCRA.


Though we honor the service to LCRA provided by our retired employees, there is no shortage of talent or experience from the employees at LCRA or from the many, many people who apply for every open position,” LCRA spokesperson Clara Tuma told In Fact Daily via email. “This is an organization that values its employees at all levels. We know when employees are eligible for retirement and plan accordingly.”


According to Tuma, the number of years of LCRA service from current employees totals 25,567. She noted that many of them worked in other positions for many years before joining the agency.


Still, the ranks of newly-retired LCRA veterans leaves some to wonder if the organization hasn’t just experienced something of a brain drain. Tom Glynn was the organization’s chief construction manager – “the expert,” according to the board resolution passed in his honor in June, “on major capital fabrication projects.”


“He established a crew,” the resolution said, “that built or completed many LCRA projects, from floodgates and stop logs at dams to signage and platforms at facilities.”


Glynn had 32 years’ of experience when he retired on March 31.


Senior Energy Services Mechanic Charlie Cernoch was responsible for maintaining operation of the Fayette Power Project’s turbine generators, the water intake, river pump, water treatment system and other turbine support equipment. According to his resolution, Cernoch was “exceptional in his ability to locate any replacement part in the plant, and was often more reliable than the actual catalog system.”


Cernoch left in December, 2010 after more than 30 years of service.


Diane Macaulay was chiefly responsible for the coordination of the Fayette Power Project Management committee, a body that includes representatives from LCRA and Austin Energy, the co-owners of the plant’s first two units, according to her resolution. “She is known,” it continues, “as a world encyclopedia on (Fayette Power Project) history’ and the ‘guru’ for the participation agreement between LCRA and Austin Energy.”


Macaulay retired in January after almost 34 years with the utility. She and Cernoch aren’t the only Fayette employees to have left the organization.


We have known for about 30 years that many of the dedicated employees who helped build the Fayette Power Project 30 years ago would be eligible to retire about the same time,” Tuma said via email. “It’s no surprise that many people who started work on the same project at the same age would choose to retire about the same time. We have planned for that and have worked for years to ensure that their knowledge and skills were passed on to other employees.”


Tuma suggests that a change in retirement benefits started the rush. “Until March 31, retiring LCRA employees were able to purchase additional pension benefits than what normal eligibility provided,” she noted. “LCRA ended that program April 1 to be more fiscally responsible to its ratepayers.”


That fact likely had nothing to do with the July resignation of former General Manager Tom Mason. Mason, an environmental lawyer who spent more than 20 years with the LCRA, had been the top man since 2007. Though his departure was political, it will have no less impact on the organization. His replacement, Becky Motal, is a former chair of the Travis County Republican Party.


Before Motal was appointed, former LCRA General Manager—and current head of the Bluebonnet Electric CoopMark Rose told the Texas Tribune that the pending change would be “as significant a leadership challenge as LCRA has faced in many, many decades.”


Senator Troy Fraser (R-Horseshoe Bay), a long-time critic of the LCRA, declined to comment on the situation.

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