He succeeds Tom Wheeler who has announced his retirement effective Nov. 1 following a 42-year career with the local company.
Webb’s selection came Monday in a formal session of the utility board. Cleveland Mayor Tom Rowland, who represents the City Council on the board, made the motion and was seconded by board member Chari Buckner. Others supporting Webb’s selection were Aubrey Ector, board chairman; Eddie Cartwright, vice chairman; and Joe Cate, board member.
“I think the board has made a great decision, a great choice,” Wheeler said following the vote that came during a rare Monday session of the CU board. “I worked [for CU] for 42 years, 24 as general manager, and if I had any successes it’s been because of the people [a reference to CU’s administrative staff] here in this room.”
Wheeler added, “With Ken as the new president and CEO, and the staff he’s got, and the employees who work for these people here, I think you’ll see [these successes] continue on.”
Wheeler, who announced his retirement earlier this year, said in his 42-year tenure he has seen many employees and leaders come and go through retirement. But with each administrative change, the utility has emerged even stronger, he said.
“I’ve always seen us get stronger as we’ve gone through this process,” Wheeler told board members. “We’ve always gotten better. With the appointment you’ve made, I don’t think you’ll see any change in that.”
The outgoing president said he is confident of CU’s continuing strength, and progress, because of its administrative staff, its total employee workforce, the board and its new president and CEO.
“I think you’ve made a great choice,” he repeated.
In return, Webb pointed to Wheeler’s leadership as the anchor in the utility’s growth.
“I just want to say on behalf of the employees, to Tom ... he says he has been successful because of the employees ... well, we have been successful because we have had a good teacher,” Webb offered. “And we’re going to miss him in that role.”
Cartwright said Webb represents only the fourth manager in CU’s history which includes its water company predecessor that existed before the electric and water utilities merged.
Cartwright pointed to the former Tennessee Power Co., headed by Wallace Jacobs, which was dissolved with the formation of the Tennessee Valley Authority. At the same time, a separate water company operated in Cleveland which was administered by a three-member commission.
When Jacobs retired, M.E. “Joe” Beavers stepped in as general manager and then Beavers hired Wheeler as a young engineer. Wheeler eventually became general manager, a title that was later changed to president and CEO.
“We’ve only had three managers since 1939,” Cartwright said. “So Ken is the fourth. This is a pretty historic, and significant time [for Cleveland Utilities].”
Cartwright added, “It (CU) has been a very successfully run operation for a lot of years ... and we’re expecting Mr. Webb to continue that.”
Cate, a retired Cleveland city manager, pointed out, “I think he’s ready.”
“I do too,” Cartwright agreed.
Ector assured Webb of the board’s support and he credited Wheeler for decades of service in a variety of utility roles.
“Thank you, Mr. Wheeler, and congratulations, Mr. Webb,” Ector said. “You will have the ongoing support of this board to make you successful, as we believe you will be. And thank you staff, for your support.”
Rowland’s motion to appoint Webb as Wheeler’s successor included authorizing Ector to negotiate the new president’s salary. By charter, the Cleveland Board of Public Utilities appoints the utility’s president and CEO, and then that person appoints, and promotes, other positions within the company.
A successor to fill Webb’s current position as CFO will be named by the new president later.
As board chairman, Ector directed that discussion on the naming of Wheeler’s appointment be included on Monday’s formal agenda. In opening the floor for discussion near the close of the session, Ector pointed out, “... We want to make an appointment that will continue to serve the best interests of our rate-paying customers and the dedicated employees and staff of the utility.”
In making his motion, Rowland said he believes Webb’s selection will satisfy both of the chairman’s directives.
A Certified Public Accountant since 1979, Webb, 59, is a Bradley County native. He graduated Charleston High School in 1972, Cleveland State Community College in 1974 and Tennessee Wesleyan College in 1976. Webb joined the local utility company as senior accountant in 1987, and was named manager of the Accounting Division in 1988. In 2012, he was named senior vice president and CFO.
He and his wife, Dianne, have been married 39 years. They are the parents of two grown daughters, Rebecca Bacon (married to Andrew “Bubba” Bacon) and Katherine Gouge (married to Nick Gouge). They have two grandchildren — Brody, 2 1/2, and Miles, 2 — and a third, this one a granddaughter (Darcy) is expected any day now.
Webb is a member of Wesley Memorial United Methodist Church where his past roles have included Finance, Stewardship and Building committees, trustee and he has worked with the Parish Relations Committee. He has also served on the Church Council, on the Stewardship Committee-Holston Conference, as a member of the Annual Conference-Holston Conference and as Community Lay Director-Emmaus.
His current service with WMUMC includes Endowment Committee, trustee for Cleveland District UMC and he is a member of the board of directors for Gibson Woods Retreat Inc.
Webb also has a long list of civic involvements. Formerly, he served as a panel member and chairman for the United Way of Bradley County Distribution Panel and as a member on the Bradley County Tax Equalization Board.
Currently, he is a member of Bradley Sunrise Rotary Club, Life Bridges Inc. board of directors, United Way Emergency Assistance Committee, United Way board of directors and Tennessee Society of Certified Public Accountants.
Webb’s hobbies and personal interests include renovating houses and spending time with his grandchildren.