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SHELD hires new manager

  • A still image taken from a meeting recording from the South Hadley Community Television shows Sean Fitzgerald speaking to the South Hadley Electric Light Department Board of Commissioners on Nov. 30, 2016. —South Hadley Community Television



@ecutts_HG
Monday, January 23, 2017

SOUTH HADLEY — The South Hadley Electric Light Department has a new general manager in Sean Fitzgerald, who signed a four-year contract Jan. 18 with the municipal utility’s board of commissioners.

“We are very fortunate to attract someone of his caliber,” Anne Awad, chairwoman of the utility board, said Monday. “I think he will bring many strengths and support to the employees at SHELD who have done an incredible job keeping this place running well for more than a year.”

Fitzgerald will succeed former SHELD manager Wayne Doerpholz, whose contract was not renewed when it expired in May.

Fitzgerald’s term as general manager begins Feb. 20 and runs through Feb. 28, 2021. His starting salary is $159,500, an increase from Doerpholz’s annual salary of approximately $143,000. Awad explained that the increase came after consulting with other, comparable municipal utilities, and that the salary falls in the middle of that range.

“We felt that that was fair,” she said.

A search began in earnest to replace Doerpholz in September, according to Awad. The board attracted 21 candidates and ultimately interviewed six before deciding on Fitzgerald.

Doerpholz was placed on paid administrative leave in fall 2015 after being named in an ongoing federal whistleblower lawsuit against the utility alleging that he permitted a pattern of workplace bullying and retaliation to persist, thereby creating an unsafe work environment. SHELD has been without a general manager since that time.

In early December, the utility board unanimously voted to begin contract negotiations with Fitzgerald. He comes to the position after serving as the key accounts and customer service manager for Westfield Gas & Electric, where he has managed the utility’s marketing for fiber optics.

Citing his past at Westfield Gas & Electric, the Massachusetts Municipal Wholesale Electric Co. and ISO New England, Awad said Fitzgerald has “a very broad and deep knowledge base about key areas that SHELD really needs.

“[He has] incredible exposure to that whole universe of negotiating power purchases and getting a healthy mix of alternative energy and traditional sources,” she said. “He has been responsible in Westfield for the development and implementation of the fiber optics program. That is something SHELD is really wanting to develop.”

Fitzgerald could not be reached for comment Monday, but during an open session interview on Nov. 30, he told the board he was eager to grow and unafraid of challenge.

“I see SHELD as a tremendous opportunity to be a general manager in a position of more responsibility, dealing with a board directly and being responsible for day-to-day operations,” Fitzgerald said. “I think it’s also an opportunity to shine. This is a gem you have here.”

As part of the contract, Fitzgerald was not required to live in South Hadley but has to live a “reasonable commuting distance” from the town to ensure his ability to respond in a timely manner to “exigent circumstance.” His home in Southampton was deemed a reasonable commuting distance.

The contract also includes a detailed outline for accrued sick leave payout in case of firing or retirement, which was a major area of contention when Doerpholz parted ways with SHELD and was ultimately settled after a review by the state inspector general’s office. Fitzgerald is only entitled to payment for any accumulated sick time in the case of retirement, death or a change of company control at SHELD and would be compensated for 25 percent of accumulated sick days, according to the contract.

Emily Cutts can be reached at ecutts@gazettenet.com.