Restructured BPU department consolidates lead roles
Instead of two department heads -- superintendent and secretary/finance director -- the public utilities system will be led by one director.
BRAINERD — In a move aimed at putting one person in charge of public utility matters instead of two, city officials restructured Brainerd Public Utilities, eliminating and creating new positions.
Previously overseen by two department heads — Superintendent Scott Magnuson and Secretary/Finance Director Todd Wicklund — BPU is now under the sole direction of Wicklund, who serves as the new public utilities director.
BPU Commission members began discussing the issue last November, with commissioner Mark O’Day wanting to begin succession planning, as Wicklund previously planned to retire this coming fall.
Wicklund weighed in at the time, saying he felt the department needed some form of general manager in the future, as that’s the same structure similarly sized utility departments tend to have.
The timing also coincided with the city’s plan to begin a wage study. With the aid of Flaherty & Hood, city council members, commissioners and staff members formed a work group to discuss a restructuring. The plan that emerged was to do away with the superintendent and secretary/finance director roles and create a public utilities director position to be the one department head.
Just under the director will be the finance manager.
“Internally here at BPU we’re continuing to work on making ourselves a more efficient organization,” Wicklund said during a phone interview Wednesday, May 17. “... I think most organizations do that once in a while, trying to figure out a better way of getting the job done.”
A 21-year veteran of BPU, Wicklund was one of three internal applicants for the director position, taking over the job May 2. He has since put his retirement plans on hold.
With the elimination of the superintendent position, City Council members approved a separation agreement and severance package for Magnuson during their meeting Monday, May 15.
Magnuson will receive six months salary and the payout of his accrued sick leave hours as of May 1, with the total sum amounting to $141,495.06.
When discussing the topic during the council’s Personnel and Finance Committee meeting Monday, Chair Gabe Johnson asked about the large sum, as the city policy is to pay out only paid sick hours when an employee departs.
“Just to be clear here, he signed a separation agreement holding the city harmless,” Johnson said. “He’ll never sue us because we did something wrong — because we didn’t do anything wrong. But we’re just paying him $80,000 because we didn’t do anything wrong, and he signed the agreement saying we didn’t do anything wrong.”
Human Resources Director Kris Schubert said the basis for the agreement was a recent lawsuit the city had.
Five former full-time firefighters sued the city after council members voted in 2015 to restructure the department, terminate the five employees in favor of a paid on-call model and dissolve the firefighter union. In 2019, the Minnesota Supreme Court ruled the actions violated state labor laws and eventually ordered the city to pay $3.9 million. While about half the cost was covered under the city’s insurance policy with the League of Minnesota Cities Insurance Trust, city officials still had to come up with $1.9 million.
“The city didn’t feel we did anything wrong there. You can sue anyone for anything. This protects the city, and that is why we are recommending it,” Schubert said of Magnuson’s separation agreement.
Council members unanimously approved the agreement Monday.
With Wicklund’s salary remaining the same, he said the change will not affect the city financially.
The next step to complete the restructure is to hire a finance manager, and council members already authorized staff to begin the process earlier this month.
THERESA BOURKE may be reached at email@example.com or 218-855-5860. Follow her on Twitter at www.twitter.com/DispatchTheresa .