Snohomish County PUD commission confirms new pick for CEO

John Haarlow, who has been assistant general manager, will take the reins on Monday.

John Haarlow

John Haarlow

EVERETT — The Snohomish County Public Utility District’s current assistant general manager, John Haarlow, will become its new CEO, despite allegations that the hiring process was rushed and steeped in secrecy.

Haarlow’s appointment was unanimously approved Monday by the utility’s three-member commission.

Haarlow has been with the PUD since February 2017. He will start his new job next week.

He replaces CEO and general manager Craig Collar, who retired in June after three years in the role.

The board’s hiring process came under fire in recent weeks and turned into an election issue. Two of the board’s three seats are up for grabs in November.

Kathy Vaughn’s six-year term as PUD District 2 commissioner ends this year. She was defeated in the primary by challengers Rebecca Wolfe and David Chan.

District 1 commissioner Sid Logan, who was appointed, faces challenger Mary Rollins. They’ll vie to complete the final two years of a six-year term. At the least, one new commissioner will be seated in January — possibly two, depending on the ballot count.

Haarlow, who has 30 years experience, will receive a base salary of $390,244 a year. His contract runs for 10 years.

It’s the same as Collar was earning when he retired, PUD spokesman Neil Neroutsos said.

At an earlier meeting, Wolfe, Chan and Rollins urged the commission to delay the hiring process until January.

On Monday, Wolfe told the commission that her public and private protestations were not about any opposition toward Haarlow.

“It was too late to change anybody’s mind,” Wolfe said after the meeting. “With the election looming, there could be two new people sitting up there. It’s just unseemly to go ahead.”

Chan also said he didn’t have any personal objection to Haarlow’s appointment. However, he asked the board to consider offering the new CEO a five-year contract.

“I know there is an escape clause, but by my calculations, terminating him would cost about $400,000,” Chan said. “He’s a great guy but you have a lot of marriages that don’t last for 10 years. Presidents and NFL coaches don’t get 10-year contracts.”

The search for a new CEO began in May, when Collar announced his plans to retire.

The commission launched a nationwide search for a successor that yielded more than 40 applications. That was cut to 20 and then four finalists, whom the board interviewed.

Haarlow was one of the final four, whom the commission referred to as candidates “A, B, C and D.”

Until two weeks ago, he was known as candidate “D.” His name was revealed Sept. 19 as the board prepared a job offer.

Candidates and some ratepayers argued that the public should have had a chance to meet the four finalists. The board, in defending its decision, cited its long history of protecting the confidentiality of applicants.

In a prepared statement Monday, Vaughn said by hiring Haarlow the PUD is “reinforcing our commitment to delivering power that’s safely and responsibly generated at the lowest possible cost.”

The PUD is the 12th largest publicly owned electric utility in the United States. It serves more than 350,000 electric customers and 20,300 water customers across a service area that includes Snohomish County and Camano Island.

Janice Podsada; jpodsada@heraldnet.com; 425-339-3097; Twitter: JanicePods.

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