Some 32 years of attending Cleveland Board of Public Utilities meetings came to a close Thursday for retiring Cleveland Utilities President and CEO Tom Wheeler, but not before the 43-year CU longtimer offered a handful of final thoughts.
“I do appreciate the time I had at Cleveland Utilities,” Wheeler told board members at the group’s formal monthly session in the utility’s training center, a conference facility the governing body voted to name in the president’s honor when construction began in 2006. “I’ve enjoyed my years here.”
He added, “I’ve enjoyed working with the board. I’ve enjoyed working with all the employees through the years. I’ve worked with three generations ... with the generation that was getting ready to leave when I came here, with the generation my own age and most recently I worked with a younger generation. It’s always been good people I’ve worked with.”
As the board session was drawing to a close, Wheeler offered four “final thoughts” to the board, all of which he said he feels strongly about. They included:
1. “The electric, water and wastewater systems have adequate capacity in place to serve the needs of Cleveland for the foreseeable future.”
2. “The workforce is highly skilled and professional in their duties. They are motivated to work safely and to provide a high level of service to our customers.”
3. “The fiscal standing of all three utility divisions is sound. All divisions are generating sufficient revenue to pay operating expenses and to service the outstanding long-term debt.”
4. “Rates in all three divisions are competitive with the rates of other utilities in our surrounding area and should keep Cleveland in a position to be competitive in attracting new industry and jobs.”
Earlier in the meeting, Wheeler’s utility swan song actually began when Senior Vice President and CFO Ken Webb — who has been named by the board to succeed Wheeler — read aloud a resolution recognizing and honoring Wheeler, whose official retirement is effective Nov. 1. However, due to accrued personal time, Wheeler has already emptied his office. By vote of the board, his duties will be transfered to Webb effective next Tuesday.
The resolution recognizes Wheeler’s chronology of responsibilities at CU dating back to his hire date of Feb. 1, 1971, when he joined the old Cleveland Electric System as a distribution engineer in the Electrical Engineering Department.
A variety of promotions and job ascensions followed, including operating engineer, March 1973; superintendent of the Customer Service Department in November 1973; senior engineer in May 1974; chief engineer, January 1975; superintendent in the Electric Division, April 1976; assistant general manager, March 1978; and on May 1, 1989, he was promoted to general manager, whose title changed to president and CEO in 2012. He served as general manager and then president/CEO for 24 years.
The resolution cited Wheeler as serving Cleveland Utilities with “dedication and distinction” for 42 years and nine months. It pointed to the board’s unanimous vote in 2006 to name the newly constructed training center in Wheeler’s honor. The “Tom Wheeler Training Center” was officially opened and dedicated on May 1, 2007.
The resolution goes on to cite that upon Wheeler’s retirement the board “... extends heartfelt thanks and tremendous appreciation to Tom Wheeler for his dedication and devotion to Cleveland Utilities during his many years of service, and to let him know he will be greatly missed.”
The resolution also authorized the presentation of a plaque of appreciation to the retiree.
Board members approved the resolution by a 3-0 vote following a motion by Cleveland Mayor Tom Rowland, who represents the Cleveland City Council on the board, and a second by board member Chari Buckner. Also voting for the resolution was Vice Chairman Eddie Cartwright who presided Thursday during the absence of Board Chairman Aubrey Ector. Both Ector and board member Joe Cate forwarded their appreciation and congratulations to Wheeler. Neither could attend Thursday’s board gathering.
Cartwright, speaking on Ector’s behalf as well as the full five-member board, praised Wheeler for his years at the public utility.
“In the Good Book ... or somewhere, it says, ‘What you sow you reap. And I believe the city years ago sowed a real crop in hiring Tom Wheeler. Of course, everybody knows we have reaped the benefits over the years from Tom having been our leader. And he was a leader. I hate to see it all come to an end. But, I believe he seems to be ready to retire and to sail off into the sunset, and to do some traveling.”
In one other development, this one lighthearted, Webb picked up Wheeler’s “General Manager” nameplate from the board room table, and suggested to the governing body, “I would like for the board to declare this [nameplate] surplus equipment and that it be presented to Tom.”
Board members approved the act and Webb presented it to his utility predecessor.
In lighthearted fashion as well, Wheeler pointed to the nameplate title and laughed, “This won’t work at home. I’m not the general manager.”