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News Article

Celebrating the value of public power

1/26/2012 10:04:57 AM

As we begin the new year, we’re taking time to think about the things that make public power communities great places to live and work. We spoke with former Gastonia Mayor Jennie Stultz and retiring Greenville Utilities Commission CEO Ron Elks about their long careers in public power.
We asked the two North Carolina natives about growing up in public power communities and how their perceptions of city-owned power have changed over the years.
Elks: “My elementary school sat on a rise overlooking the old Greenville Operations Center. I’d spend my recess period watching the big trucks going about their business, and providing the citizens of Greenville with utility services including reliable power became my life’s work.
“When I speak to groups, I start out by asking people to tell me the first, second and third things they did when they got out of bed. Most of those things involved utility services including electricity, and those people likely never gave a thought about the service we provide.”
Stultz: “Public power kept me warm growing up, but it was something I always took for granted until after Hurricane Hugo hit. I remember sitting on my front steps and seeing those trucks from Huntsville, Ala., come rolling in. Gastonia’s power was back up before Charlotte’s, and public power made that happen.
“I was at a US Conference of Mayors meeting last year, and the mayor of Chattanooga approached me to thank Gastonia for sending our crews to help Chattanooga’s crews reconnect after the devastating tornadoes nearly destroyed their system. The professionalism our crews exhibit during power restoration benefits from our Emergency Assistance Program and the genuine, cooperative relationships we have with each other.”
Next, we asked what the value of public power is to communities.
Stultz: “The first thing that comes to mind when you think about the benefits of public power is obviously the service we are able to provide; our local crews are out there every day and can get the service up and running in no time. We own our own system and can provide the best for our communities.”
Elks: “GUC’s tagline is ‘Your Local Advantage.’ We truly are neighbors serving neighbors. We live and work in Greenville, so we deeply understand our customers’ needs and desires. Everybody here undergoes the same customer service training, and everyone understands how crucial reliability is to the success of our city and in our customers’ eyes.”
 We asked Stultz and Elks about how the services ElectriCities provides its members – including safety and training, economic development, communications, government relations and more – help make North Carolina’s public power communities stronger.
Stultz: “When it comes to economic development and recruitment, ElectriCities has always been there with us. The customer service and quality of power we provide helps us recruit, sustain and nurture relationships with our key accounts.
“We undertook a branding campaign to celebrate Gastonia’s 130th anniversary. ElectriCities’ staff participated in every step of the way, providing guidance along with a new city logo and seal that was so successful 14 other municipalities in Gaston County retrofitted their communications materials to match it.”
Elks: “ElectriCities is the hub of the wheel that connects us all. It provides the important services to make us all successful. Being a part of the organization gives us the opportunity to work together and maximize the economies of scale to help us all achieve our goals.”
We asked what retirement holds for these two.
Stultz: “I’m going to continue as a national consultant for Keep America Beautiful and as executive director of the Gaston County Education Foundation. Through my own consulting business, I will continue to do board development and volunteer management for local governments and non profits.”
Elks: “I have enjoyed my career immensely and am going to miss seeing my team of high-quality, dedicated professionals on a daily basis. But after 32 years on-call, I’m ready to decompress for a while. I’ve got an eight-month-old grandson, and I plan on teaching him to fish and hunt.”

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