Thursday, March 22, 2018

Colorado Springs Utilities CEO announces retirement

Posted By on Thu, Mar 22, 2018 at 9:48 AM

click to enlarge Utilities CEO Jerry Forte will retire in May. - FILE PHOTO
  • File photo
  • Utilities CEO Jerry Forte will retire in May.
After leading the city's largest enterprise for more than a decade, Colorado Springs Utilities CEO Jerry Forte will retire in May, he told the Utilities Board on March 21.

Forte, 63, has overseen some of the biggest achievements and controversies during his 16.5 years with Utilities — first as chief operating officer for four years followed by more than 12 years as CEO.

The Independent first reported that Forte could be on his way out on January 3.

Board member Andy Pico said via text message, "I thank him for his many years of service and outstanding leadership and wish him all the best for the future."

Among the biggest accomplishments by the multi-billion-dollar Utilities during Forte's tenure was the 50-mile water pipeline project that brings water from Pueblo Reservoir to the Bailey Water Treatment Plant in east Colorado Springs, known as the Southern Delivery System (SDS). The $825 million project went online in April 2016 after 20 years of complicated permitting with more than a dozen agencies and tangles with Pueblo County over permission to construct the pipeline. The later skirmish led to a $460-million, 20-year deal with the city of Colorado Springs to improve the city's stormwater drainage system to prevent flooding and contamination of Fountain Creek.

"Obviously, SDS is huge for the community," he tells the Indy in an interview after giving notice on Wednesday night.

Forte also oversaw the installation of the controversial Neumann Systems Group pollution control equipment at Drake Power Plant. The system, invented by local physicist Dave Neumann, cost roughly $170 million and reportedly achieves the goal of removing sulfur dioxide as required by government regulations, but it's the only system Neumann produced.

Drake itself has drawn headlines as a movement to close the coal-fire plant has forced the Utilities Board to consider an earlier closing date than a previous target of 2035.

Forte also noted that safety programs for workers improved during his tenure, as did customer service and planning for power supply. Perhaps one of the enterprise's biggest challenges came in 2012 during the Waldo Canyon Fire when 347 homes were destroyed, and Utilities faced dealing with restoring utilities services to evacuated area.

Forte also weathered a campaign by local business people and developers several years ago to change the Utilities Board from Council members to either a separately elected board or a combination of elected and appointed members. Their goal was to assure board members possessed expertise in utilities issues, but after study, the Utilities Board kept the status quo.

Forte praised the current board, saying it had led Utilities "very well" and has remained on top of an array of complicated issues.

Through all of that, Forte has been at the helm but now is ready to call it quits.

"We have been working for about a year with the board in creating a transition plan," Forte tells the Indy in an interview after giving notice on March 21. In fact, Forte has had to replace Utilities' chief financial officer Bill Cherrier and chief water officer Dan Higgins in recent months as those officers left to take another job and retire early, respectively.

Forte says he will be available to help with "onboarding" the new CEO, who will be chosen in a national search. Forte's successor on an interim basis will be named in coming days.
click to enlarge Forte, center, speaks to guests on Colorado Springs Utilities' annual water tour of transmountain systems in September 2017. To his left is Utilities Board Vice Chair Andy Pico. - FILE PHOTO
  • File photo
  • Forte, center, speaks to guests on Colorado Springs Utilities' annual water tour of transmountain systems in September 2017. To his left is Utilities Board Vice Chair Andy Pico.
Forte admitted he doesn't have a plan for retirement as yet, other than enjoying time with his family, but he says he'd like to coach leaders and isn't planning to move elsewhere. Forte lives in Black Forest, so he's not a Utilities customer, a sore point with various Utilities board members over the years. So that might be a requisite for any new hire — to live within Utilities service area.

Though Forte's contract called for him to receive severance pay under certain circumstances, he will not receive any such pay, because he's retiring.

Forte is paid an annual salary of $447,175, and is the highest paid city employee.

In a news release, Utilities Board Chair Tom Strand said of the Palmer High School graduate, "Jerry carried on the terrific legacy of utilities leaders in our community. Under his leadership we have formalized long-term resource plans for electric, natural gas and water services that will serve our great city for generations. His contributions will last for decades and he will be sorely missed.”

Before joining Utilities, Forte served as utilities manager for Johnson Controls at the Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico. Forte succeeded Phil Tollefson in 2005.

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