Rockwood eyes another engineer to head utilities

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By Cindy Simpson

Rockwood Water, Sewer and Gas Board members didn’t get their first pick, but they may yet have their civil engineer.

The Rockwood City Council, sitting as the water board, approved offering the job to Kimberly E. Ramsey, who worked many years as a town engineer and in public works at Farragut.

“Hopefully, we got a bargain tonight,” said council member Bill Thompson about Ramsey, who sat for a lengthy interview with council members on Monday.

Ramsey might be a steal, telling the council she would accept the job for $75,000. That salary is much lower than many other candidates’ asking price.

Mayor James Watts said Bryan Fowler, who was first offered the position, took a consulting job in Knoxville but was complimentary of the city.

One of the council’s biggest attractions to a civil engineer is the cost savings that could be realized. An engineer on staff can sign off on projects at the utility and possibly even the city.

Ramsey said she would be willing to do both.

It came down to whether the utility needs a manager and engineer or a manager who could get down in the ditches with the men.

“You are not going to find them in the same package,” council member Krystal Hennager said.

Many on council said they believe Ramsey’s management skills are more important than her technical experience.

“I think she’s overly qualified,” Hennager said. “We’re not hiring a laborer.”

Added council member Ray Collett, “I think we hired a manager this time.”

Thompson said several things swayed him toward Ramsey. They included her salary requirements and council member Dudley Evans’ motion for a one-year probationary period.

Vice Mayor Peggy Evans wanted to again interview Norman Bowman, a Rockwood native certified in both water and wastewater operations. Bowman heads up both utilities on the former K-25 Site at Oak Ridge.

“He’s done all the things we’re asking somebody to do,” the vice mayor said. “He’s willing to be on call 24 hours a day. He has the experience. He has the certification we need.”

She added, “I don’t think she has what we need.”

Peggy Evans said she believes Bowman might lower his salary expectations. He previously told the council he wants $95,000, some $15,000 to $20,000 more than the council is offering.

It’s also way out of the range paid to Rod King, the utilities’ most recent manager. King, who resigned in November, received $69,000.

Peggy Evans said if no agreement could be reached with Bowman, she’d want to readvertise the job, this time in trade magazines.

Peggy Evans said she didn’t like that Ramsey didn’t have certification, even though she’s willing to get it.

Ramsey also said she’d be in the area in 30-35 minutes if Peggy Evans called her at 2 a.m., one of the vice mayor’s question to all interviewees.

“I don’t think you need to hire someone that has to learn what to do,” she said.

“She’s not learning how to be a manager, Ms. Evans,” Dudley Evans said.

“Maybe she don’t know how to make water, but I think she has the ability to learn,” council member Harold Ishman said.

One thing that impressed several council members was Ramsey expressed willingness to recommend change, even if it was something that the utility had always done a certain way.

“I’m not the type of person that likes to leave everything status quo because it has been this way,” Ramsey said.

Ishman, who has been on past utilities boards a number of years, said he has frequently heard the “this-is-how-we’ve-always-done-it” comment over the years. He said he appreciates that Ramsey might see more efficient ways of doing things.

Collett said he believes Ramsey can do the job, but he also had concerns that she has no hands-on experience.

“I think this lady we talked to would have more skills sitting behind a desk,” he said. “She would need some very strong work relationships with the department heads, which I’m sure she could get.”

Watts said he believes it is important to hire someone who can manage, and he believes Ramsey can.

“Is it important they can get in the ditches? No. Is it important they get along with people? Yes,” he said.

“What we’re looking for is someone we can feel strongly can take a department, set it up right and move it forward.”

Peggy Evans stood abruptly after she cast the lone vote against offering the position to Ramsey. She denied Dudley Evans’ comments about her leaving because of her displeasure on the vote.

“I think what we did just a few minutes ago was a mistake,” she said. “I don’t think we need someone to learn in the position. We have to have experience, and we’re not getting that.”