Responding to a demand from Mayor Bill Peduto, the Pittsburgh Water and Sewer Authority on Friday provided a one-page description of the process it used to select, vet and hire its new executive director, whose termination from a similar job in 2013 raised questions and concerns at city hall.
But the chronology and description of the hiring process did not address Kenneth Charles Griffin’s sometimes stormy 16-month tenure as general manager of the Beaufort-Jasper Water & Sewer Authority in South Carolina or his termination.
“I can’t speak to it specifically,” PWSA spokesman Brendan Schubert said. “This is what I have for now, and as I get more information I can speak to it then.”
The summary released by PWSA also did not provide details about the extent of background checks on the applicants, what records were reviewed, what questions were asked or what answers Mr. Griffin provided.
“The committee was satisfied that he responded to all of the questions posed. During his interview he explained that he had made several moves in recent years as a result of a family matter,” according to the summary sent to the mayor.
The mayor’s office had little response Friday beyond saying that information provided by the authority was being reviewed.
The Pittsburgh authority board hired Mr. Griffin by a unanimous vote Wednesday at a salary of $190,000. He is to start in August.
In an interview Friday with the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Mr. Griffin clarified that his January, 25, 2013, termination in South Carolina was a “forced resignation” that occurred amid mounting workplace tension over his hiring and a concern that a subordinate was aggressively lobbying for his position.
“There was considerable tension within the organization, within a number of my top people, a lot to do with the fact that my No. 2 man very much continued to press the board for the job,” Mr. Griffin said. “After a year-and-a-half, it became an untenable situation. That’s why I thought the best thing to do was resign.”
Mr. Griffin told the Post-Gazette Thursday that he “resigned from Beaufort-Jasper. My wife had an incredible offer in Virginia that she wanted to accept. ... She took that offer, and I did resign from Beaufort-Jasper.”
However, longtime Beaufort-Jasper board member William R. “Skeet” Van Harten said, “He was terminated.”
“His performance was unsatisfactory to our needs,” Mr. Van Harten said, explaining that Mr. Griffin didn’t get along well with other staff.
Told of Mr. Van Harten’s statement, Mr. Griffin said Thursday, “I promise you, I resigned.”
But on Friday, Mr. Griffin qualified his description.
“There’s a little more to it than that. It was a very difficult situation there in Beaufort-Jasper. I had another offer and I met with my board and resigned,” Mr. Griffin said. “I very definitely was given the option to resign. ... It was a forced resignation, but it was a resignation.”
Mr. Griffin said he had an offer from a consulting firm, which he took for a time before moving on to become director of Smithfield Public Utilities in North Carolina.
Pat O’Neal, a former Beaufort-Jasper board member who voted to terminate Mr. Griffin, said Friday, “There was a detailed examination of his leadership managerial style and as a result of that report to the board he was asked to resign.”
Mr. O’Neal said the board’s chairwoman, Brandy Gray, requested the report. She declined comment, and Mr. Van Harten said Friday that he had been told to stop speaking publicly because of a confidentiality agreement that the board and Mr. Griffin had signed.
Mr. Griffin was selected for the Beaufort-Jasper job through what Mr. O’Neal described as a rigorous hiring process. “The man is eminently qualified to do the job. You’d be hard-pressed to find anybody more qualified,” according to Mr. O’Neal. He said the board was “more than surprised” when it came to members’ attention that there were problems.
”It was just a difference in leadership management and approach to employees and that sort of thing. He was juxtaposed to a general manager who had been there for 25 years, was revered, and he came in stylistically a lot different in an organization that is a fairly large organization in terms of profit and equipment and size but still has a lot of small-town qualities in terms of how it takes care of employees,” Mr. O’Neal said.
Asked whether the concerns about Mr. Griffin were peculiar to the Beaufort-Jasper board, Mr. O’Neal said:
“The general manager has got to adjust to a local climate, and if he wants to make change, that change has to be done gradually and that change has to to be done with the knowledge and support of the workforce. If you don’t do that, if you’re not that flexible, if you come in with a style that’s remarkably different, maybe insensitive, then from day one you’ll run into conflict. It’ll only get worse over time, morale will go south on you and things will not work out well in the end.”
Mr. O’Neal said that Mr. Griffin was given “ample opportunity” to rebut the observations made about his management style in private session.
Mr. Griffin denied that.
“The board indicated to me they were giving me a choice,” Mr. Griffin said. “They did not give me any reasons at any time. I did not have a chance to speak at length — at all, in fact.”
Jonathan D. Silver: firstname.lastname@example.org, 412-263-1962 or on Twitter @jsilverpg.
First Published July 29, 2016 4:16 PM