One year after Gilbert officials discovered the town had stopped adding fluoride to its drinking water because of an unreported equipment failure, the Public Works Department is under new management with the Sept. 23 arrival of a permanent director.
Ken Morgan, previously deputy water-services director in Phoenix, took the helm of Gilbert’s utility operations following a period of turmoil that put two top-level officials out of a job last fall.
Morgan will oversee water distribution, wastewater service, trash collection and street maintenance. He is a graduate of Missouri University of Science and Technology and has been in the water industry for nearly 30 years.
This marks the second time that Morgan has been hired by Gilbert Town Manager Patrick Banger. The two worked together in O’Fallon, Mo., where Banger was city administrator.
Morgan said he’s excited to work for his former boss again and described Banger as a proactive manager who is technically savvy and big on training.
“That’s what he demonstrated when I worked for him before, and that did make it somewhat attractive for me to put my name in the hat,” Morgan said. “I’m excited that I was selected, and I’m ready to go.”
Immediate priorities for the Public Works Department include filling the vacant water-manager position, enhancing employee training and seeking certifications for the organization and individual employees, Morgan said.
“When you put in the energy and the effort to attain those certifications, it really demonstrates that you are an agency that desires to be superior,” Morgan said.
The department soon will be working to transition out of a contractual relationship with CH2M HILL Engineers, a Colorado-based engineering company that was brought in to assess and help manage Gilbert’s water operations following the fluoridation stoppage.
Previous Public Works Director Lonnie Frost and Water Manager Chris Ochs were put on leave in August 2012, when management discovered fluoridation had been halted at the North Water Treatment Plant. Ochs later was fired, and Frost was allowed to retire after 28 years with the town.
The Gilbert Town Council then approved contracts with CH2M HILL to provide oversight of the Water Division as the town investigated how and why the fluoride pump was shut down. Fluoridation resumed in February.
Assistant to the Town Manager Nicole Lance was interim public-works director for several months while the town searched for a permanent replacement.
Morgan said he hopes to win back and maintain the public’s trust by running a “best in class” operation.
“I think the key is to develop a series of small successes where we begin to convey to our customers that we are responsible, and we’re concerned about the things they’re concerned about,” Morgan said.
Morgan said he was drawn to the Gilbert job in part because it would provide new opportunities for personal and professional growth, and he liked the town’s sense of community.
“Working for the city of Phoenix and looking over here, you see a community that has a desire to be known as a great community,” Morgan said. “When you see that, you want to be a part of it.”
While Morgan and his wife live in Glendale now, they plan on looking for a new home in Gilbert.
“I like living where I work,” Morgan said. “Nothing says you’re in like being there.”
Morgan’s prior employment includes Denver Water in Colorado, Charlotte-Mecklenburg Utility Department in North Carolina and St. Louis Metropolitan Sewer District in Missouri.
Gilbert recently has filled several other top-level positions, including parks and recreation director, fire chief, development-services director and town attorney.