The show must go on.
With Clarksdale Public Utilities general manager Mark Johnson, chief financial officer Steve Reed and director of communications and public relations Chris Campos suspended with pay pending an investigation, others are taking on their responsibilities to try and meet the needs of customers.
Jim Hemphill from The Victor Group Inc. in Starkville immediately took over as interim general manager when the suspension was handed down July 25. Senior accountant Sheila Profit is handling Reed’s responsibilities, but Campos’ position was temporarily vacant.
Now, supervisor of customer service Liz Haynes is filling in for Campos.
“Liz Haynes has lots of years of experience here and she’s the only one I’ve been able to find that has the passwords and stuff to get into the Facebook page,” Hemphill said. “We’re going to try to keep that up ourselves here. Customer service will be doing that here, but I’ll be looking at what’s going on.”
Johnson raised concerns about a “major water leak” in front of Levon’s Bar & Grill on Sunflower Avenue Saturday morning while Hemphill was not in town.
According to Hemphill, the leak was fixed Monday morning because the business owners were concerned that digging up the street would hurt weekend revenues.
Hemphill said he talked to CPU employee Michael Wade and board president Freddie Davis about the matter. Wade deals with issues in town when Hemphill is not around, while Davis is acting as an advisor and liaison.
“I was not here that day,” Hemphill said. “I agreed with what we did. It was thought through. Our supervisors looked at it. We didn’t think it would be a bad leak. It could have turned into a worse situation than it was.”
Hemphill did acknowledge having someone in the communications and public relations position when the leak occurred would have made a difference in letting the community know the reason for delaying the repairs sooner.
“It would have helped, absolutely,” Hemphill said. “We’ll try to continue that program. I guess the priority when I came in was the priority of taking care of customers first, making sure the utilities are provided and we have a response time that’s real and efficient.”
CPU is still without a payroll clerk.
Hemphill recalled doing a study for Johnson about the position.
Johnson recommended CPU hire a payroll clerk, but it has not happened. Human resources is handling the responsibilities a payroll clerk would undertake.
“We have a couple searches going on,” Hemphill said.
“I actually cancelled an interview that we were supposed to have on the first Monday I was here.”
Even with the shift in personnel, Hemphill said no employee has been forced to work extra hours.
“We also have a group of excellent and talented employees here that are doing a really good job on their own, getting out and making some decisions,” he said.
Hemphill said employees who have stepped up include Wade, Haynes, Mike Vonallmen, who deals with internal maintenance on generators and things that stay inside, and Willie Wolfe from the water department.
Hemphill is still ironing out his schedule while at CPU.
“Obviously, the first few weeks, I will probably be here every day,” he said. “I came on such quick notice. I had some scheduling things last week that I had to do and I will next week.”
Hemphill said he has attempted to maintain a strong morale at CPU.
“I’ve tried to meet with all employees, regular meetings that were already established and I tried to just sit down and introduce myself,” he said.
“I haven’t been here in a year. I haven’t done any real consulting in a year.”
Hemphill said the CPU board has asked him not to discuss issues regarding the suspensions and investigations with employees.
“We know we’re in a process and we’re going to let the process play out,” Hemphill said.
Hemphill said customers are still calling CPU about the same issues as always, not the suspensions.
He was the interim manager for about three months in the spring of 2017.
“When I was here last time, there was not a general manager,” Hemphill said. “This time, the general manager is on suspension. I am not going to try to do a whole lot of earthshaking changes until the process plays out. That is the big difference.”