The towns of Florence and Queen Creek are applying together to be the interim manager of Johnson Utilities.
The Florence Town Council held a special meeting late Friday morning to approve the agreement with Queen Creek.
“The negative press, etc., (about Johnson Utilities) really affects us in our economic development and other things,” Town Manager Brent Billingsley commented afterward. “We … firmly believe there’s no one better to address it for the good of the public than a public entity with public meetings” at which people can bring their information, questions and concerns.
He continued that Florence staff understand JU’s infrastructure, since some if it is built in Florence’s right-of-way and has been reviewed, inspected and accepted by Florence. “We’re an obvious choice for those reasons, should the ACC (Arizona Corporation Commission) choose to make that decision.”
Also in attendance Friday was Marc Skocypec, financial services manager for Queen Creek, who added, “It’s a regional issue and (the two towns are) regional partners. This system lies between our jurisdictions. We have our residents, and I’m sure Florence has theirs, that go though this area, that live there, work there, go to school there. We want to address this regionally, and we think this partnership is the best and most logical way of doing it. We’re invested in this part of the Valley, so we’re excited about the opportunity.”
The administrative law judge who presided over the evidentiary hearing on JU’s operations recommended earlier this month that the ACC appoint an interim manager for the company. The judge further said JU has been combative and oppositional with customers, and none of the current management has shown an interest in changing this culture, which does not serve the public.
Her order did not recommend additional fines for JU, so that the company’s resources can be used to improve service and infrastructure and pay an interim manager.
Billingsley said in Friday’s meeting that Florence and Queen Creek already have a previous agreement to intervene together on JU’s issues before the ACC. He told the council if the two towns aren’t chosen to act as interim manager, the new agreement is “still a vehicle to work together regionally with whomever is chosen.”
Florence Councilwoman Karen Wall said Friday she believed it will be a good partnership. Vice Mayor Vallarie Woolridge added, “I’m happy about this agreement.”
If Florence and Queen Creek are appointed interim manager, they would employ consultants to provide technical and financial services to bring JU into compliance. Florence has received interest from consultants including Willdan, Jacobs, EUSI and Carollo. The annual cost of such contracts cannot be determined in advance, according to a town of Florence staff report.