The Huntsville Water Commission last Thursday selected water operator Sean Davis – a city employee since 2005 – to take over when Director Larry Garrett retires next year.
Davis, 38, a graduate of Kingston High School, was chosen by unanimous vote. Wastewater Manager Bill Eoff was the other candidate considered. A third candidate withdrew his application before interviews last Wednesday.
Garrett has not announced an official retirement date, only that it will be in 2020.
The commission went into executive session last Thursday to discuss the situation. When it resumed the regular session, Commissioner Guy Roden made the motion to recommend Davis for the position, which will pay $62,500 a year when he takes over Garrett’s spot. Garrett, who has been with the utility for nearly 25 years, currently earns an annual salary of $75,000.
“We had two very well-qualified candidates,” commission chairman Jeff Watson said after the meeting. “It was a very tough decision.”
Choosing between current employees is difficult, he said.
“It makes it tough because they’ve been here a long time. Both have been with our department for a long time,” he said. “You develop that relationship with them. If it were somebody that was external ... you just see a resume. These two guys, you see how they operate, you see them on a daily basis for several years, how they handle themselves.”
Davis after the meeting said he was surprised by the board’s decision, but excited about the opportunity. He said he felt that his experience throughout the utility in different capacities contributed to the board’s decision.
“I think the time I’ve spent in all the different departments helped them with that decision,” he said. “I’ve worked on both major crews and I’ve spent a lot of time working in the office also.”
Davis said he has “a lot to learn” before Garrett retires next year.
“The budgeting I think will be a big thing. I haven’t learned anything about the finances of the company,” he said. “Dealing with the press, the state departments – there’s a lot of things that have been over my pay grade, so hopefully [Garrett] will be teaching me a lot about that.”
Davis said the promotion to director was the next logical step for his career.
“Years ago I made this my career and the more I could do for the company the happier I am, I think,” he said. “[It’s] just the next step.”
The next decade will bring challenges to the water department, he said.
“Replacing the tank’s a big thing,” he said. Garrett has been trying to find funding to replace the city’s water tank atop Governor’s Hill. “We have some older sections of sewer line and water line that we could replace before they become a problem. Other than that, for the most part, we’re on top of everything. It’s just finding the money to do what needs to be done.”
Davis also discussed Eoff, who has been with the city for 10 years longer.
“Bill’s a friend,” Davis said. “I’ve enjoyed working with him. I would have been happy to work under him and I look forward to working with him in the new position.”
Eoff also congratulated Davis during the meeting, and thanked the board for considering him.
Garrett said by telephone after the meeting that he wasn’t involved in the hiring process for his replacement.
“I was not involved in any of their selection process and I wanted it that way. I wanted that to be their decision,” he said. “I think Sean will do a wonderful job. He’s very intelligent.”
Garrett said Davis’ diversity is a plus.
“He’s worked at the wastewater plant, he’s worked in distribution, and he’s been involved here in the office,” Garrett said. “He’s good help.”
He agreed with Davis that issues will face the new director in the next decade.
“The problem that you have is that you have an aging system and I take that from distribution to collection to wastewater plant,” Garrett said. “We have done multiple upgrades at the wastewater facility and to our distribution lines since I’ve been here. Every time you turn around, you’re getting mandated something that’s got to be addressed.
“He’s got a pretty good understanding of the system and the needs, as both of those boys did have. I think he’ll do a good job.”
Garrett joined the city’s water department in 1995 as a distribution operator. After he became wastewater manager, he was asked to fill in for the water director, who left the job vacant. Six months later, he became director.
January 2020 will mark Garrett’s 25th year with the water utility.
In other business last week, Garrett told the commission that the city was turned down in its quest for funding for the water tank from the U.S. Department of Agriculture in Harrison. Garrett said he next will petition the Arkansas Natural Resources in Little Rock.
The city has received $200,000 for a new tank from the Arkansas Economic Development Commission. Garrett said he would like to get another $300,000 before moving ahead with the project.