By Ann McCreary
John Grubich, Okanogan County Public Utilities District (PUD) general manager, was fired by the PUD board of commissioners on Monday (Sept. 25).
Commissioners voted unanimously to fire Grubich, who has been general manager for 10 years. Grubich had been placed on administrative leave since Aug. 4 while an investigation was underway into allegations related to his job performance and conduct.
A letter dated Sept. 19 from PUD Commission President Scott Vejraska to Grubich detailed the commissioners’ concerns, citing four issues.
According to the letter, Grubich failed to require a bond in conjunction with a contract he signed with Idaho Consulting Solutions LLC (IDCS) for the rebuild of the fiber optic cable following the Carlton Complex Fire. That resulted in a “net additional cost to the PUD of over $500,000” resulting from payments to subcontractors and the state. The letter also stated that Grubich failed “to fully advise the Commissioners of the magnitude of the effect of the failure to obtain a bond for the IDCS work … contrary to standard practice and PUD resolutions defining the scope of your authority and your duties and obligations.”
Grubich also required PUD staff to provide engineering and electrical work for the Town of Twisp to install generators for the town well and town hall at no cost to the PUD, according to the letter. “Such activity raises questions concerning a gift of public funds demonstrates a willingness to ignore legal requirements and exposes the PUD to potential liability,” according to the letter.
The work for Twisp should have been subject to bonding, prevailing wage and other legal requirements, the letter stated.
The fourth incident cited in the letter involved an Aug. 1 incident during which Grubich was described as yelling and swearing at Okanogan County Emergency Manager Maurice Goodall and Vejraska. According to the description in the letter, Grubich rushed to the Okanogan substation on Aug. 1 after learning that images of efforts to restore power had been posted live on Facebook.
After arriving at the substation Grubich “yelled profanities (repeatedly using the f-word) at Maurice Goodall …. while standing in close proximity to his face and demanded that he depart immediately, despite the fact that he had been invited into the substation by the on-site crew.”
The incident was witnessed by Vejraska, and then reported to county commissioners “who expressed considerable alarm” about Grubich’s conduct, according to the letter. “This is particularly concerning, given your role as the highest ranking professional in the PUD and the District’s need to maintain a positive relationship and effective communication with important community partners,” the letter said.
The substation incident prompted the PUD commissioners to retain an outside investigator to review the incident. “Other issues came to light” as a result of that investigation, Vejraska said in an interview Tuesday (Sept. 26) after the commission meeting.
In comments to the commission following an executive session Monday, Grubich said his decision to sign a contract with IDCS without a bond was made in the interest of moving forward to reestablish telecommunications after the fire. “Time was of the essence,” he said. He said he did not believe he misled the board about the financial ramifications of the contract.
He said his decision to provide PUD crews to help Twisp install backup emergency generators was made after checking with legal counsel about the ability of the PUD to provide interlocal cooperation, and based on an offer he made to the town mayor, Soo Ing-Moody, to assist with generator installation after the Carlton Complex fire threatened the town infrastructure.
“That’s what neighbors do,” Grubich said. “Did it take more time and effort than anyone anticipated? Yes. But now they have backup generators for an emergency situation.”
With regard to the substation incident, Grubich said he was concerned that “we had unauthorized people in the substation during an outage and that should not happen. You indicated Maurice Goodall was invited into the substation by the crew. He had no business being in that substation. I took the action I thought was needed to get him out of the substation.”
Commissioner Steve Houston said Grubich’s behavior in the substation “is not the attitude I want in a general manager,” and made the motion to terminate Grubich’s employment.
Grubich was hired as general manager in October 2007, coming from a job as the chief financial officer for the Golden Valley Electric Association in Fairbanks, Alaska.
Don Coppock, the PUD’s director of account, finance and administration, has been acting as interim general manager and will continue in that role while the PUD seeks a new general manager, Vejraska said.