This story has been updated
WENATCHEE — Steve Wright, a longtime public-power big fish who recently retired from the top post of the Bonneville Power Administration will be the next general manager of the Chelan County PUD.
Commissioners today agreed to offer Wright the post. Wright confirmed by phone that he’d take the job.
“Yes. I’m very excited about it. It’s a very good fit for me,” he said, promising more details early Thursday.
Wright, 55, will replace current General Manager John Janney, who resigned earlier this year to spend more time with his family and church. Janney will remain on the job until Sept. 15.
Wright annual salary of $295,000 — a big leap from the approximately $180,000 he earned annually at the BPA — and a five-year contract that includes juicy retirement benefits, $40,000 in moving expenses, 45 days of vacation annually and severance pay if he is fired without cause.
Wright was not present when commissioners made their announcement today at 2:30 p.m., but was on his way to Wenatchee.
Wright was one of three finalists who was vying for the PUD’s top spot and the only external candidate of the three.
Commissioners today said that the other two candidates, Gregg Carrington and Kirk Hudson, both longtime PUD staffers and directors, were rock-solid candidates who would have been difficult to pass over for anyone other than Wright.
“This is the most important decision that commissioners can make, and it’s important we get it right, commission President Carnan Bergren said today.
Commissioners pointed to Wright’s humility, leadership and trajectory in public power as reasons for their choice. They also said that Wright, during his interview in approximately late May, showed that he was already thinking about issues that will affect the Chelan PUD, including the looming talks with Canada over the Columbia River Treaty.
“None of us had an inkling that he was interested in the job,” Bergren said of commissioners’ surprise when they learned Wright had applied.
Bergren said that Wright feels a deep connection with the Columbia River and expressed admiration for the PUD.
As administrator of the Portland-based BPA, Wright oversaw a huge agency with a budget many times larger than North Central Washington’s PUDs combined. The BPA markets the power produced by 31 federal dams and a nuclear plant that supplies utilities all over the Northwest, including the Okanogan and Grant County PUDs. He balanced diverse, passionate interests from sectors that include tribes, public and private utilities, industry, the environment, recreation and agriculture.
According to a bio written about him in The Oregonian, he was the second-longest serving BPA administer in history. He started at the agency in an entry-level job in 1981 and became its intermediate leader in 2000 before being permanently appointed in 2002.
His long administration has been shadowed recently by a complaint by the BPA’s own human resources employees that the agency incorrectly passed up veterans for BPA posts. The employees later said they were retaliated against for making the complaint.
The hiring practices in question are reported to have begun while Wright was still at the agency. Current administrator Bill Drummond has been placed on administrative leave over the alleged practices.
PUD commissioners said they were aware of the controversy before making Wright the offer.