Whistleblower Gordon Graham’s book recounts the battle to restore Chelan PUD’s integrity
In the early 2000s, a small group of individuals in the information technology team at Chelan County Public Utility District put their careers on the line to expose abuses when the utility was led by Charlie Hosken, a former Deloitte and Touche executive who succeeded Roger Braden as general manager.
Gordon Graham, a former IT professional at the PUD who was terminated as an employee and in 2009 won a lawsuit for wrongful discharge, has written an insightful book detailing the abuses of power that occurred during those years. In “The Intrepid Brotherhood,” Graham recounts how he and other technology professionals, including Mark Bolz, Doug Stewart and others, took the personal risk of exposing wrongdoing at the utility.
Hosken was a highly contentious individual who used fear and intimidation as his primary leadership approach. He left for another job in 2004. He was the antithesis of a servant leader.
Chelan PUD around that time was embroiled in a series of questionable actions, including the implementation of diesel generators, paying power traders massive bonuses as markets went wild, and a fiber buildout that was poorly managed and expensive.
Graham’s book provides a deep dive into another of the PUD’s atrocious decisions, the implementation of a massive software system that, in Graham’s analysis, had more features than the PUD needed. Graham observed that the PeopleSoft system would have been adequate for the Pentagon to use for its global operations — far in excess of what a single utility would ever need.
Those of us at The Wenatchee World during that time saw plenty of signs indicating the degree of mismanagement and the lack of fiscal responsibility by PUD leaders. It was apparent that Hosken was moving executives into positions for which they had little or no expertise or training, which seemed suspicious and dangerous.
As detailed in the book, Graham and his IT comrades raised serious concerns about the selection of the PeopleSoft system, and the failure of the contractor to follow through on implementation. That input was ignored.
Instead, Graham and his IT team were blamed by upper management for the implementation problems. He became convinced that they were trying to drive him to resign or setting him up to be terminated.
It was telling that the committee set up by PUD leaders to implement the software had no one with significant IT experience, but that was par for the course for the utility under Hosken’s leadership
In the book, Graham gives a detailed and dispassionate account of what was happening. Under similar conditions, I think most of us would have probably opted to leave the job to reduce stress rather than stay in and fight for what was right.
Graham says he and his cohorts consciously chose to do what was in the best interest of the utility despite the roadblocks erected by PUD senior managers. Graham is a student of leadership and in the book he describes his appreciation for developing a learning organization, which stands in stark contrast to the Machiavellian, power-focused approach of Hosken.
Graham’s account has the ring of authenticity. I don’t know him well, but I am familiar with Mark Bolz and Doug Stewart and they strike me as ethical and principled. Towards the end of the book, Graham spends time looking back at the decisions and questioning whether he could have used different approaches.That’s one of the signs of an effective leader. That’s undoubtedly why Dr. Gene Sharratt, one of the most principle-driven leaders I have known, has endorsed this book.
Graham provides us with a cautionary tale of what can happen when a public agency gets hijacked by an unprincipled leader.
Today, Chelan PUD has earned back community trust. We can thank the efforts of the Intrepid Brotherhood as well as reform minded commissioners that began with Werner Janssen and Ann Congdon and then added Randy Smith and Dennis Bolz, Mark’s father, who brought transparency and fiscal responsibility to the boardroom.
After the Hosken debacle, the board hired ethical and transparent leaders in Rich Riazzi, John Janney, Steve Wright and now Kirk Hudson.
The PUD’s reputation for transparency and public service has been restored. But that came at a severe personal cost to the Intrepid Brotherhood, particularly Graham, Bolz and Stewart.