Summit PUD interim manager to stick around: District tries to fix what might have gone wrong with Grimm
They are not easy, nor desirable, footsteps to follow, but Donner Summit Public Utility District’s interim general manager said he intends to replace former General Manager Steven Grimm indefinitely.
Interim General Manager Tom Skjelstad signed a six-month contract in April to temporarily replace Grimm, who has been charged with stealing approximately $500,000 from the district. Skjelstad expressed his intent to remain with the utility district for the long term at a board meeting Tuesday night.
“Tom is an absolute professional,” said board President Dale Verner. “He thoroughly understands the concept of special district government.”
Skjelstad comes to the district with 25 years of experience with special district management. For 15 years he was general manager of the Alpine Springs County Water District, where he executed a land exchange with the forest service and oversaw the building of the district’s first firehouse and park.
“I couldn’t imagine doing this job without my experience at Alpine,” Skjelstad said. In his current post on the summit, Skjelstad will oversee water, sewer and the fire departments.
Since he started working at the district in April, he has faced the challenge of building stability – both financially and with district staff – and “regaining the proper relationship with the community,” Skjelstad said.
In the coming months, he will review district and personnel policies and procedures, he said.
He also said he wants to “promote the openness, honesty and cooperation between Donner Summit PUD and Sierra Lakes County Water District.” Sierra Lakes County Water District neighbors DSPUD and has contracted with DSPUD for sewer.
Learning from the past
Grimm has been charged with defrauding the Donner Summit Public Utility District of an estimated $500,000 over a three-year period.
Although the discovery of embezzlement was tough for the district’s board to swallow, Verner said the district has changed its ways since Grimm’s resignation from the utility district.
“We’re putting in place systems and procedures to be sure it doesn’t happen again,” Verner said. “The board realized how we’d been duped, so we brought in an outside accounting person with good accounting principles.”
“An alleged thief broke down good accounting principles,” Verner added.
Grimm was a certified public accountant for more than 20 years. It wasn’t until 2001/2002 that an accountant position was brought on staff, when assistant Kristi Johnson began working in that capacity, according to DSPUD records.
Until recently, Verner said, it has been difficult for the board to look beyond the embezzlement charges. But with long-term projects on tap for the district, like a multi-million dollar sewer plant expansion, Verner said it is time to look to the future.
“Now [the board is] not looking two days ahead, we’re looking five years ahead,” he said, referring to the sewer plant expansion and modification.
“I feel very good about where we are now,” Verner said. “It’s just that every now and then you turn over a rock and there’s an ugly, green slimy thing.”
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