Rockwood to make offer for utility chief

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By Cindy Simpson

A Morristown man may be a bargain for Rockwood if he accepts the city’s offer to become th new water, sewer and gas manager.

It was close, but of the final three candidates interviewed for the Rockwood, Water, Sewer and Gas Utility manager position, Brian Fowler, a civil engineer and former wastewater operations manager and city engineer in Morristown, will be approached with a job offer.

It was his engineering experience that sold many on the Rockwood City Council. The council is also the acting water, sewer and gas board since the old board was dissolved last October shortly before the resignation of former manager Rod King.

“The money he can save the gas, water and sewer board would amount to around $25,000-50,000 a year as far as being able to sign off on projects,” said Mayor James Watts. “I would hope if he comes here he could sign off on city projects.”

One concern with Fowler is that he doesn’t plan to immediately move to Rockwood from his Jefferson County home.

Vice Mayor Peggy Evans was for someone who could be in the area quickly in case of emergency.

“We need someone who can get here as soon as possible to take care of the situation,” she said.

Councilman Bill Thompson, however, said he understands that Fowler wants to make sure he is the right fit for Rockwood before moving.

Councilman Ray Collett said it will be up to Fowler to handle the commute.

“Maybe he can handle it. There is a possibility he may relocate,” Collett said.

Councilman Harold Ishman asked interim manager Ron Berry how often he’d been called out after hours.

Berry said he hadn’t really been called out.
Ishman added that he had a policy for King to call him in some situations.

“We all know Mr. King couldn’t deal with the public very well,” Ishman said.

Some on the council said salary expectations kept them from choosing Rockwood native Norman Bowman. Certified in both water and wastewater operations, he heads up utilities at Oak Ridge’s K-25 site. He asked for a $95,000 salary.

Bowman, whose son, Dr. Eric Bowman is in medical practice with Peggy Evan’s daughter, Dr. Angela Meadows, rejected the proposed salary quoted by Watts and didn’t seem willing to negotiate.

“He said he was firm on his,” Thompson said.
“It also concerns me he has a job right now making far less than what he’s asking for,” he added.  

Ishman said Bowman is currently receiving $78,000.

“That is a pretty good pay hike,” Ishman said.

Going from King’s much-lower salary to the one Bowman expects didn’t sit well with council members.

“We cannot release a man at $70,000 a year and hire someone at $95,000. They are going to say you people are crazy,” Thompson said.

Evans, who was the strongest advocate for Bowman, said she believes that Bowman will maintain his own insurance and that the overall cost for him may not be as substantial as the cost of Fowler and his benefit package.

“Like anything else you get what you pay for,” she said.

When Fowler was asked if he’d accept the salary range of $80,000-85,000, he said it would depend on what the rest of the package looked like.

Another concern with Bowman is that he isn’t familiar with working with a city utility with monies being primarily from ratepayers.

“I think it is a little different working up there than working in the city,” Ishman said.

Councilman Dudley Evans wanted Bowman and said if the city can’t get him to come down on his salary, the search should start over.

The third candidate under consideration was Caren L. Ruffner, a property manager who formerly worked as a storm water program manager for Hamilton County.