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New department manager has electrons in his veins

When are three heads better than one? When three different departments with differing missions each demanding specific attention and expertise are best led by three different people. That’s the thinking behind a recent city move formalizing permanent appoint of Thomas McBartlett III as electric utility director for the city of Ashland.

McBartlett has served as the interim director for the past year, ever since the decision to split the responsibilities into three separate appointments was made after the retirement of Mark Holden, who oversaw the electric utility, city information technology (IT) and the Ashland Fiber Network (AFN).

Mark Welch, director of administrative services, has taken over the AFN responsibilities, and Adam Hanks, assistant to the city administrator, has taken on the IT duties, according to Kelly Madding, city administrator.

“From a cost perspective, I think the way that they’re being managed now is more than adequate,” Madding said. “It’s working very well.”

Hanks said these three roles have been both interspersed and combined amongst various departments in the past.

McBartlett, a Central Point resident, has worked as a manager in the Ashland electric department for three years. He was appointed the new electric utility Director by the City Council on Dec. 18.

He’s not only a third-generation Thomas, he’s also a third-generation lineman.

McBartlett climbed his way to the top, literally from the ground up. Originally from Elizabeth, Colorado, he started as a ground person doing line work with construction sites in 1994. He subsequently worked his way up to apprentice, then journeyman in Phoenix, Arizona. He then spent 11 years working as a journeyman lineman and foreman. He began work with the city of Ashland in 2015 as the electric distribution systems manager, then stepped up after Holdens retirement in October 2017 to take on the position of interim electric director.

Madding noted McBartlett’s expertise at the council meeting.

“I really came to appreciate the fact that he has worked his way up literally through the electrical profession and has immense knowledge of our distribution system, but this job also requires the knowledge of state-wide policy and what’s going on in the electrical industry and that’s another genre of skill. I am continuously impressed by Tom’s ability to balance both of those things.”

McBartlett said he sits on multiple boards of directors for various industry trade groups for the Northwest region and that helps keep him up to date with complicated policies that frequently change.

After the previous IT and Electric Utility Director, Mark Holden, retired in 2017, interim City Administrator John Karns felt the need to divide the positions into separate departments: AFN, IT and electric, according to a staff report.

Karns assigned different staff leads on an interim basis.

After the new city administrator Madding’s initial six months, she agreed with Karns that combining all three positions into one department wasn’t effective and then recommended McBartlett officially claim the position.

The council unanimously agreed.

McBartlett will earn $117,000 a year for the first year. After a successful first year, he will advance to the next pay step at $123,000 a year. The city will then increase the monthly salary and/or benefits in the same percentage as other department heads annually.

The city will also provide $350 a month for his vehicle use as required by the job.

The city will “pick up” his employee contributions to the Public Employees’ Retirement system (PERS).

McBartlett said his grandfather had every possible job in the trade and highly influenced him to pursue the industry.

“It’s a family business My grandfather had a big impact on me, but my dad was also a lineman and my uncle is still in the trade in Colorado,” McBartlett said. “So, that’s just what I grew up with as a little kid and once I started doing it myself, I found I had a pretty quick passion for it.”

“It’s very challenging, which I like,” McBartlett said. “It’s a different challenge every day.”

He said he was working in Eastern Oregon when he decided to apply to management positions and found Ashland.

“I have two young daughters and they weren’t exactly into horses and cattle ranching and there wasn’t a lot else,” McBartlett said. “We wanted to get them where they would have some more opportunities and I was out of room to run there too.”

When he’s not managing the city’s entire electrical system and safety of electric employees, McBartlett said he likes to hunt, spend time with his kids and he recently started “playing with hot rods.”

At the Dec. 18 council meeting, Councilor Stephen Jensen commended McBartlett for his work.

“I’ve got friends in high places in this town and I’ve got friends in low places and both in high and low places, I hear nothing but wonderful things about your work and your leadership,” Jensen said.

“I’m really enjoying what I’m doing,” McBartlett said. “I could see myself here until retirement.”

Contact Daily Tidings reporter Caitlin Fowlkes at cfowlkes@rosebudmedia.com or 541-776-4496. Follow her on Twitter @cfowlkes6.

Tom McBartlett performs line work to bring high voltage electricity to a hydro electric generator at the Rimrock Lake dam near Rimrock, Washington, in 2005. Photo courtesy of Tom McBartlett
Tom McBartlett III explains what the different screens on the electric system monitor do and what areas of town they cover. Photo by Caitlin Fowlkes