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Rick Lugar appointed as interim general manager after rejoining the district following legal dispute



In an unexpected decision, the Columbia River People’s Utility District board of directors on Tuesday, March 17, voted to appoint Rick Lugar as interim general manager.

COLUMBIA RIVER PUD PHOTO - LUGAR

Lugar replaces Steve Hursh, the district’s engineering manager, who had been filling the interim position since Dec. 16, after former general manger Kevin Owens resigned with a negotiated severance package.

Lugar is the district’s finance and customer services manager. He was recently rehired by the district, after being terminated in December 2013 and filing a complaint with the state’s Bureau of Labor and Industries.

The district settled with Lugar for an undisclosed amount, and reinstated him in February.

Lugar was initially hired by the PUD in 1986. After his termination in December 2013, he filed a claim with BOLI, alleging he was fired because of his age.

Board President Dave Baker said Wednesday, March 18, that Lugar was rehired to his customer service manager position Feb. 23, after a joint decision by the board and Hursh.

Lugar addressed the PUD staff Wednesday morning to announce his new temporary role, a news release stated.

“We provide exemplary customer service at this utility,” Lugar told employees. “It’s my hope that you will continue to make positive changes for our customers, both at work and in our community.”

Lugar lives in Scappoose with his wife, Kim.

The decision to appoint Lugar was mixed. Directors voted 3 to 2, with Baker and Director Richard Simpson opposed to the decision.

Baker said Wednesday that he didn’t intend to remove Hursh from the interim position.

“I didn’t know that was coming until the vote last night,” Baker said. Tuesday’s published agenda didn’t include a discussion or vote about the general manager position.

Director Craig Melton made the motion following a nearly four-hour closed executive session discussion with the district’s attorney regarding legal issues.

Melton tried to initiate discussion of the general manager position during executive session, but was quickly prompted not to discuss anything other than litigation, the stated reason for entering an executive session. Discussion of other topics could violate state public meetings law.

“I have the highest respect for both [Hursh and Lugar], but Steve [Hursh] was doing an excellent job,” Baker said Wednesday. “It was very noble of Steve to step up when we had no one to go to and he did an excellent job.”

Emails obtained earlier this month by the Spotlight indicate Hursh tried to resign from the interim position last month, but Baker refused to accept his resignation as manager, saying it was in the best interest of the district for him to stay in the position. Hursh agreed to stay on.

He said he was surprised by Tuesday’s vote.

“I stepped in it for the employees,” Hursh said after the more than five-hour meeting, noting he had not anticipated his removal from the general manager position. “It wasn’t expected. It wasn’t something that I had asked for.”

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