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Great Lakes Water Authority sticks with Sue McCormick as CEO

Oct 20, 2015

Sue McCormick
Credit via dwsd.org

The new Great Lakes Water Authority held a national search for its first CEO, but the authority’s board ended up choosing a familiar candidate.

That candidate is Sue McCormick, the GLWA’s interim CEO. Prior to that, she headed the Detroit Water and Sewerage Department for more than three years.

She was praised by some for leading DWSD through Detroit’s bankruptcy, in which the water department played a key role.

Her backers say the department is now on better financial footing, is back on the right track with credit ratings agencies, and has a better record of environmental compliance.

But McCormick also has her critics as a manager, who point to continued disorganization and deficiencies in DWSD processes, especially contracting. Her handling of the department’s mass water shutoffs over the past two years have also been sharply criticized.

But by a 5-1 vote, the GLWA board decided that McCormick’s familiarity with the water system gave her an edge of the other final candidate, Iowa American Water Company President Randy Moore.

Board chairman Bob Daddow was the only “no” vote. Though he preferred Moore, he says whoever is CEO needs to have a performance-based contract.

“If he fails to perform--or she--they’re going to find themselves out on the street,” Daddow says. McCormick’s contract is now under negotiation.

Daddow says the next big step for the GLWA is a financial one: getting DWSD bondholder consent to “transfer the $5.2 billion of existing bond debt from DWSD to the new authority.”

The idea is that the GLWA will refinance that debt at lower interest rates, saving ratepayers’ money—though water rates are expected to keep climbing in coming years.

If that transaction and other final steps go according to plan, the authority start running Detroit’s water system outside city limits at the start of 2016.