During a formal session of the Council, Hughes — who once chaired the Cleveland Board of Public Utilities — said this of the incoming CU leader, “One thing about it, when you have a situation where a person is going to become manager, but he has been the CFO and he knows all the hoops to jump through financially, it’s a tremendous asset to have.”
So do plenty of others.
In the same Council session at City Hall, Mayor Tom Rowland — who serves in a dual role as a utility board member — pointed out, “The utility will be in good hands with Ken’s leadership. He has a good team in place.”
In the same breath, the longtime mayor — who invited Webb to attend the Council gathering — said to the Tom Wheeler protege, “The Council just wants you to know we will support you and continue to work with you.”
Wheeler, a 42-year CU employee who has served the past 24 years as general manager (a title that later changed to president and CEO), endorsed the utility board’s appointment.
“I think the board has made a great decision, a great choice,” Wheeler, whose retirement becomes effective Nov. 1, stated.
The outgoing leader believes CU has progressed, and improved, with every managerial succession.
“I’ve always seen us get stronger as we’ve gone through this process,” Wheeler told CU board members shortly after their selection of Webb. “We’ve always gotten better. With the appointment you’ve made, I don’t think you’ll see any change in that.”
Webb’s selection wasn’t a token gesture. Board members deliberated in good faith, and with an eye and ear to the utility’s need for fiscal stewardship like that practiced by Wheeler for almost 2 1/2 decades. Financially, these are tough times. Like other operations that are given the task of servicing a growing city, Cleveland Utilities faces many challenges — most of which are linked to an unprecedented arrival of new businesses and industries, as well as the expansion of existing companies, and more and more residential development.
Combined with a rising population and an increased traffic count, suddenly an aging infrastructure begins to feel the strain.
Resolution of these issues falls within the scope of the City Council and Cleveland Utilities. It is why practical leadership, sound practices, the ability to make tough decisions and responsible spending must rule the roost.
And the latter takes us back to the earlier assessment of Hughes, “... He (Webb) has been the CFO and he knows all the hoops to jump through financially.”
Webb enters his latest assignment with the full backing of the utility board.
In the words of CU board chairman Aubrey Ector, “You will have the ongoing support of this board to make you successful, as we believe you will be.”
Joe Cate, a board member and former Cleveland city manager, said of Webb, “I think he’s ready.”
Board vice chairman Eddie Cartwright offered, “I do too.”
So do we.
Yet, we also understand Webb’s success as CU president and CEO won’t be his alone. It will require the collective thinking and the team efforts of the entire utility workforce — from electric, water and wastewater linemen, to office staff, to technicians, to engineers and all the way to department heads.
And, it will require a close working partnership with the city of Cleveland and specifically with the City Council.
It is more vital now than ever before that Cleveland Utilities and municipal leaders stay on the same page.
In Monday’s edition, we will explain why.