January 10, 2013

Modesto Irrigation District picks interim general manager

Roger VanHoy, the Modesto Irrigation District’s longtime assistant general manager for electrical resources, was selected Thursday to lead the utility as interim general manager.

Roger VanHoy, the Modesto Irrigation District's longtime assistant general manager for electrical resources, was selected Thursday to lead the utility as interim general manager.

VanHoy, 55, succeeds Allen Short, who retired Dec. 31 after 19 years. The final 12 months were tumultuous, though board members said Short — who gave an impression of calling shots on multiple levels — was not forced out.

The board wants VanHoy to focus on leading through teamwork, board Chairman Nick Blom said.

"He has a very calm demeanor, willing to sit and listen" and discuss options rather than "coming in with a decision already made," Blom said. "All the people we interviewed want this to be a team leadership, not somebody on the top directing everyone."

Short had drawn scorn for proposing to sell water to San Francisco, an idea scrapped in September. He took lumps for his role in steep electricity rate increases, expanding services beyond the MID's core area and botched construction of a treatment plant for Modesto water customers.

The district suffered other black eyes under Short's proposals for high-voltage power lines and a wood-burning power plant. Both fell apart, and the district paid $1.2 million to settle a lawsuit stemming from the latter.

"I think there is going to be a big difference in this company," board member Larry Byrd said. "Everything is going to be more transparent. There is not going to be a hidden agenda. It's not about one person; it's about everyone and I think Roger VanHoy brings that to the table."

The challenge of steering an important public utility, despite often heated criticism, is alluring to VanHoy, he said Thursday.

He has worked 23 years for the MID, the past 20 overseeing the district's electricity supply, including building and operating power plants. He managed 70 workers among the district's 400, though the power side accounts for far more costs and generates far more revenue than irrigation.

"It's the first new job I've had in 23 years," VanHoy said. "Although the political challenges seem touchy or sensitive, it still comes down to communicating, speaking clearly and listening to each other."

He received an electrical engineering degree from California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo, and previously worked for Santa Clara and Underwriters Laboratories. He and his wife have three adult children.

The board privately interviewed five MID administrators, including other assistant general managers, before selecting VanHoy. The other finalists were not identified.

VanHoy starts Monday with a $220,500 annual salary, reflecting his regular pay plus a 6 percent premium. Short made $240,500.

The appointment is expected to last until after the November elections, when as many as three new members of the five-member board could be chosen.

VanHoy said it's too early to say whether he'll be interested in the permanent job, or whether the board will want him to stay on.

At the moment, he has Byrd's confidence.

"He's absolutely the right choice," Byrd said. "I think this is going to be a new MID. It's going to be good for the customers, employees and everyone concerned."

The MID delivers water to 3,100 agricultural customers irrigating nearly 60,000 acres of almonds, walnuts, peaches and other crops. The utility also provides electric power to more than 113,000 customers and drinking water to residents and businesses in the Modesto area.

Bee staff writer Garth Stapley can be reached at gstapley@modbee.com or (209) 578-2390.

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