By BRETT WILKISON
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
The chief executive officer is expected to play a central role in the political, financial and operational development of a program that has been heavily scrutinized of late as local cities weigh whether to participate.
The appointment comes more than two years after the county first studied entering the electricity supply business. The approved venture is set to begin serving homes and businesses Jan. 1.
Supporters say the hiring adds leadership during a crucial period, as negotiations on power contracts, marketing moves and other efforts kick off.
“To me, it’s another milestone in getting us to that point where we launch,” said Sonoma County Supervisor Efren Carrillo
The CEO selection, by the power agency’s board of directors — composed now of four county supervisors and a town of Windsor representative — is scheduled for Tuesday afternoon following interviews with three final candidates.
The appointment is set to be on an interim basis, allowing a larger board including other cities that may join the chance to revisit the selection.
One of the applicants is widely said to be Geof Syphers, the lead consultant to the county Water Agency, which has spearheaded the power proposal.
A former sustainability expert for Codding Enterprises, the Rohnert Park developer, Syphers has worked on the effort from its earliest stages under a $124,000 contract approved in mid-2012. He declined to comment Monday on his reported interest in the CEO post.
The other two candidates are applicants from outside the county, according to sources involved in the appointment. They did not share the candidates’ names.
County officials likewise would not identify the final candidates, citing a standard confidentiality policy covering the hiring process.
The final trio emerged from a pool of 14 candidates referred to the county by an executive search firm, a Boston-based division of Robert Half International, which was paid $25,000 for the recruitment.
The selection, initially set for June 21, was put off by supervisors to allow Windsor to have a formal say on the appointment. The city’s representative, Vice Mayor Bruce Okrepkie, was seated on the agency board last week.
The postponement was also meant to give four other cities still weighing the program the chance to have an advisory role in the selection.
Mayors from Santa Rosa and Sebastopol had their opportunity in interviews with the candidates Monday. Mayors from Sonoma and Cotati, which has since decided to participate, will have their chance Tuesday.
The mayors’ input is being conveyed to the agency board through Grant Davis, the Water Agency’s general manager.
Santa Rosa Mayor Scott Bartley on Monday called the process “awkward,” saying he lacked specific direction from his council heading into the meetings and thus couldn’t offer input that would serve as the city’s endorsement.
“I did everything I would do if I was on an interviewing panel,” Bartley said. “I just wasn’t speaking as a representative of the city.”
The Santa Rosa City Council has scheduled its vote on the program for July 9. Sebastopol is set to decide Tuesday. Because Sonoma’s July 15 deciding vote is after the July 9 deadline, based on its preliminary June 17 affirmative vote, county officials are including the city in the program in their initial final bid documents for electricity suppliers.
The program is meant to offer a competitive alternative to PG&E and rely more heavily on renewable energy sources that could shrink the county’s carbon footprint.
It has faced strong skepticism from critics questioning its purpose and viability and from government watchdogs concerned about financial risk to taxpayers.
Supporters say the agency’s chief executive will have to be adept at addressing those concerns and handling key duties, from the negotiation of the agency’s all-important power supply contracts to administration of financing, marketing and accounting deals already approved or in the works.
The appointee will need “political sense, strategic sense and business sense,” said Ann Hancock, executive director of the Climate Protection Campaign, a key power agency supporter. “They basically have to, as close as they can, walk on water.”
A salary range for the position has not been determined. An initial contract with the chosen chief executive could be brought forward at the power agency’s next public meeting, tentatively set for July 30.
You can reach Staff Writer Brett Wilkison at 521-5295 or firstname.lastname@example.org.