City offers million dollar contract to Garland utility chief

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by DAVID SCHECHTER

Bio | Email | Follow: @davidschechter

WFAA

Posted on March 6, 2012 at 8:18 PM

Updated Tuesday, Mar 6 at 8:32 PM

GARLAND — How can a city slash its number of emergency sirens to save money while offering a million-dollar consulting contract to a retiring city employee?

That's what is happening in Garland.

Garland runs its own utility company, called Garland Power & Light. Its director, Ray Schwertner, is about to move to Austin.

But the Garland city manager said the director has been so important to the utility, he can't really be replaced, so he must be retained as a consultant.

Just last month, the city angered some residents with a budget compromise to replace only about half of its emergency sirens.

"You just can't tell the public we can't protect you in the event of an emergency, but we can afford to pay essentially two people to run Garland GP&L," said Katrina Pierson with the Garland Chapter of the Tea Party.

What's going on here?

GP&L director Ray Schwertner is leaving his job. And while the utility's number-two executive will be promoted, Schwertner will remain on the city's payroll at $333,000 a year for three years — fifty percent more than his current salary.

Is he worth it?

"I believe it is," said Garland City Manager Bill Dollar. "He's demonstrated that benefit the last five years he's been here."

Beyond generating power for Garland residents, Dollar says Schwertner has identified two sophisticated wind energy transmission ventures that will make the city money.

Dollar suggested the million-dollar consulting contract because, he says, Schwertner is the only person qualified to lead those initiatives. It's like spending money to make money, he said.

"That salary can be easily recovered on some of the projects that have been brought in," Dollar said.

The city manager's proposal to retain Schwertner was added to last week's City Council agenda at the last minute, raising red flags for Pierson.

The mayor delayed that vote, which has been rescheduled for next week.

"What I think is if we need someone to manage GP&L, maybe we should find someone to manage GP&L, and not just hand-pick someone because they're our friends," Pierson said. "There's not just one person in the country that can do these types of things."

Garland Mayor Ronald Jones told News 8 he was generally in favor of the contract to retain Schwertner. However, Jones did ask the city manage to remove a few provisions — including one that would automatically renew the contract after three years.

E-mail dschechter@wfaa.com

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