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Talent exodus continues as veteran employees leave LCRA

Tuesday, January 24, 2012 by Michael Kanin

An exodus of veteran Lower Colorado River Authority (LCRA) employees that began in October 2010 continues. According to figures obtained by In Fact Daily, the organization will see at least 124 employees leave in the first two weeks of February 2012 alone. That will bring to roughly 5,848 years the collective amount of experience lost by the utility through retirement, force reduction, and voluntary separation since the beginning of 2011.


Many of those departures will come through LCRA General Manager Becky Motal’s voluntary separation program. First announced in December, that effort is part of a broader quest by the utility to pare its ranks as it stares down the coming loss of 10 of its wholesale electric power customers—an occasion that is certain to dramatically impact the utility.


Indeed, Motal told employees via an internal memo that “electric revenues, which make up approximately 72 percent of LCRA’s overall revenue, could drop by as much as 50 percent when the current electric contracts expire in 2016.”


Since announced, Motal’s voluntary separation program is responsible for the loss of 3,023 years of collective experience. Force reduction – the elimination of positions deemed superfluous by the agency, and not necessarily surrendered voluntarily – accounts for nearly 400 years of lost collective experience. The remainder of the sum, about 2,428 years of collective experience, was lost through retirement.


LCRA spokesperson Clara Tuma insists that, “The recent departures (both voluntary and otherwise) were not a surprise and have not posed a problem.”


In Fact Daily first reported on the phenomenon in August 2011. At that point, the utility lost 122 employees during the 10 months from October, 2010 through July 2011. The list of departures included some of the most experienced hands in the organization and featured more than 50 people who had worked with the utility for 25 years or more.


At the time, LCRA officials noted that a coming change in retirement benefits had contributed to the departures. “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 in August. “This is an organization that values its employees at all levels. We know when employees are eligible for retirement and plan accordingly.” (See In Fact Daily, August 8, 2011)


In addition to the voluntary separation program, the utility has resorted to force reduction. On Aug. 25 of last year, Motal sent a memo to employees detailing a dramatic reorganization of the LCRA’s front office. That effort saw the departure of, among others, veteran employee Dan Kuehn. Kuehn, a key official, ended his run at the organization as the Executive Manager of Wholesale Power Services.


Kuehn was one of four high-level managers whose positions Motal eliminated in August. “These managers have served LCRA well, and their existing functions, as you will see, will be integrated into other roles,” Motal wrote, “I want to thank each of these managers for their service to LCRA and wish them only the best. Their departures are immediate and they are all eligible for a severance package.”


On Monday evening, Tuma echoed her remarks from August. “While it’s true that a number of experienced employees recently retired or accepted a voluntary severance offer, almost 2,000 experienced, knowledgeable employees remain on the job. Together, our current employees have more than 22,000 years at experience at LCRA alone,” she told In Fact Daily via email. “Many worked at other places for 20 years or more before joining LCRA, so the years of total work experience among the group is quite a bit higher.”


Tuma added that the organization values “the contributions of those who left LCRA recently, but those who remain are highly skilled, dedicated public servants who continue to provide exemplary public service.” She said that it would be “flat wrong to suggest otherwise.”


“We’ve had succession and retirement plans in place for years, and we are well aware of the number of people eligible to retire in any given year,” she continued.

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