By Rachel Christian
No one denied the positive impact that CEO Jim Welsh has made on Kissimmee Utility Authority.
But praise from fellow KUA board members was dished out with heavy criticism as Welsh’s peers spoke out about his recent performance at an Aug. 1 monthly meeting.
As one member put it, Welsh had exhibited some hiccups lately.
“You forget meetings, double book meetings, forget to turn your phone off during meetings,”
said Vice Chair Kathleen Thacker, the first member of the Executive Board to voice concerns. “When I ask you a question about the agenda, you tend to call a vice president for answers. This didn’t happen in years past.”
Welsh, 69, has served as KUA’s chief administrator since 1982. He holds masters’ degrees in both engineering and business administration, and is widely credited with making the utility company what it is today. KUA generated about $188.2 million in revenue last fiscal year, making it the sixth-largest municipality-managed utility company in Florida with 300 employees.
But the CEO’s past accolades paled as Thacker and others pointed out recent pitfalls.
Thacker began her comments by apologizing to Welsh, saying “it was a shame” Government in the Sunshine laws forced her to make public comments instead of privately consulting fellow board members about her concerns.
She went on to name a laundry list of Welsh’s transgressions that included showing up on KUA property one week during a six-week period, pushing major responsibilities off on vice presidents and frequently nodding off during important meetings.
Living over an hour away
Thacker also raised issue with Welsh living more than an hour outside Kissimmee limits in a home he purchased five years ago in Indialantic – a small Brevard County town about 20 minutes from Cocoa Beach. She said Welsh only comes to work about two or three days a week on average.
In response, Welsh said he had just purchased a local home five minutes from the KUA facility the day before.
Sleeping on the job
Welsh’s habit of falling asleep was also noted.
“I was appalled when I found out that Jim was in California when we had representatives from Puerto Rico here,” said Rae Hemphill, the newest member to the KUA board. “I was even more embarrassed when he fell asleep at least three times.”
Welsh chalked up his “tremendously embarrassing” snoozes to his diet.
“I eat a lot of fruit,” Welsh explained. “My habit of eating a lot of fruit was based on the fact that I really like it, and it tasted good.”
Upon further review, Welsh said, he found out fruit can lead to blood sugar crashes and sleepiness.
“The times I have nodded off, I can remember sitting there saying, ‘OK now don’t go to sleep, you can’t go to sleep here. Wait a minute, I was just asleep,’” he said.
But, Welsh was happy to report the issue was all cleared up now.
“I went to two servings of fruit a day and have since felt tremendously better,” he said.
Fellow board members seemed unmoved by the explanation.
“If my city manager doesn’t come to work every day, I can guarantee you that I will call a special meeting to have the city manager fired,” said Kissimmee Mayor and KUA Board Member Jose Alvarez.
Alvarez later said that a good leader knows when to resign.
Don’t let us push you out
Welsh said recently he doesn’t want to retire for another five years, and feels that he has addressed and corrected concerns raised by the board.
But the timeline didn’t mesh well for others in the room, who insisted on developing a clear cession and retirement plan that considers who might replace Welsh in the near future.
“Don’t let us push you out, Jim,” Member Ethel Urbina said after citing the CEO’s unwillingness to communicate on certain topics or share sensitive information about the company with others. “Do it yourself in your own time with pride and honor.”
Welsh receives a pay raise
Over 30 minutes of concerns and misgivings were strangely put aside when it came time to give Welsh his formal evaluations.
Board members used a zero to four scale to rate Welsh in categories like integrity and community relations. He received stellar reviews from everyone but Thacker.
A need for a more objective evaluation process – one that reflects more on the CEO and less on the company’s overall performance – was noted by those at the meeting.
Welsh then received a 3 percent raise for the new fiscal year, despite a lighter workload, according to Chairwoman Jeanne Van Meter.
“There’s so much less we have to do at KUA since we’ve become part of a group,” she said. “His job has not been as much as it has been and he’s risen to a very nice, nice sum in comparison to other companies.”
Still, Van Meter also recommended a 3 percent raise. Thacker was the only member who didn’t recommend a pay increase.
Welsh earns $262,246 a year, according to KUA Public Information Officer Chris Gent. He’ll take home about $7,867 more now, thanks to the raise.
Welsh’s 3 percent raise is 1 percent less than what average KUA employees will receive this year.
By the end of the meeting, Welsh seemed willing to work with the board on developing a cession and retirement plan.
“I want to break the tension,” he said. “I appreciate the frank discussion the board has given me. I have always believed in the wisdom of the board.”
He suggested a separate special meeting be held to discuss his future with KUA.
A follow up meeting is set for 1 p.m. Oct. 1.
Van Meter said after the meeting that the board ultimately has the executive authority to fire the CEO without reason but added, “all of us hope very much that it won’t come to that.”