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Thursday, May 5, 2016

Larry Jones talks retirement

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Photo provided Larry Jones, superintendent of Utilities, with City Light Gas and Water plans on retiring at the end of December.
A well respected member of the business community will be retiring at the end of this month. Larry Jones, superintendent of Utilities, with City Light Gas and Water has decided to hang up his hat after 39 years of service with the company. Replacing him will be Dave Wilkins, who is currently the director of Operations and according to Jones "is strongly qualified to lead CLGW into our future."

When asked to share a few details about his background, Jones noted that he was raised on a cotton farm, and lived with his parents, Vivian and Wanda Jones, just four miles west of Kennett, on the Arkansas side of the St. Francis River. He noted that his father was a cotton farmer, not an educated engineer but added that he could repair almost anything.

"I was exposed to an engineering environment very young in life," he said.

After graduating from Rector High School in Rector, Ark., May 1965, he attended the University of Arkansas at Fayetteville, Ark., and enrolled in Electrical Engineering. Jones received his Bachelor of Science degree in May of 1970, returning again to the university to receive a Bachelor of Science degree in Mechanical Engineering May of 1972.

Following his graduation from the university, he was hired by the City of Piggott, Ark., as the general manager of Piggott Light and Water, working there until he was hired by the Kennett Board of Public Works.

"On Jan. 2, 1974, I reported directly under then utility manager Max Ultzen for a period of two years. On Jan. 1, 1976, I was promoted to be the general manager of utilities over the Kennett light, water and sewer departments," he noted.

When asked how he became interested in working for CLGW, Jones explained, "I was contacted by Donald 'T-Bone' Hall who was a member of the Kennett Board of Public Works. The other board members were Terrell Baker, Taylor Miles, and Dr. John Scott. I was not very interested in the job until I was informed that the Kennett Board of Public Works was a dedicated utility board that would have complete oversight and management of the utilities and that they would operate in a very business orientated setting."

In talking, Jones talked about some of the changes he had seen during his tenure at CLGW such as those dealing with regulations. "Major changes have been in regulations that CLGW must comply. Some are reasonable, but many are time consuming, expensive, and provide little or no benefit to the employees or the customers. Water quality regulations that insure that the water is safe to drink are welcome. However, many of the power plant regulations were written for very large power plants and should not apply to reciprocating piston engines that are used at the Kennett Power Plant. The cost of these EPA mandates are still unknown but will be expensive."

Along with the changes came the challenging times as well. Jones remembers the ice storm of 2009. "The ice storm of 2009 will always stand out for CLGW and everyone in Kennett. The damage was so bad that everyone was in shock! I am proud to say that our crews were well-trained, had good equipment, and outstanding dedication, so the hard work began even as the storm was in progress to put Kennett back in service. We were also pleased to receive help from 23 cities that included a total of 105 linemen to help restore service," he said, adding, "All CLGW departments worked together to restore service. Little was known about the hard work that was going on keeping all of the sewer lift stations operational by using generators to keep sewer flowing. Had the sewer system failed, the living conditions would have been terrible as well as a health hazard."

Another challenging time for the company while Jones was there was the purchase of the natural gas system. He noted at first there was a need to pass a $2 million bond issue which would help to fund the purchase of the natural gas system from Associated Natural Gas. He added that the voters in Kennett passed the bond issue during August of 1980 in a vote of approximately two to one in favor of the city purchasing and owning the gas system.

"With all the work that Associated had done to defeat the purchase, I was very surprised that Kennett customers had the confidence in myself and the Kennett Board of Public Works to support the purchase. After all, Kennett had no experience in operating a natural gas system. Opponents of the purchase were telling that the lack of experience would lead to blowing up the entire City of Kennett. All of the Associated employees had signed in a statement that they would not consider working for the City of Kennett. The transfer went very well and to date, we have not blown up the entire City of Kennett."

Continuing, Jones added, "These scare tactics stating that the city would be blown up put Kennett in the spotlight not to make any mistake and the transformation was made relatively easy by pulling help from the existing utility employees from other departments. We were also fortunate to hire Mr. Ron Walker who had natural gas experience overseeing the natural gas system from Bernie, Mo. Ron Walker went to work for Kennett a few months prior to the transfer which took place in December 1984. It took four years of working on state and federal regulations and approvals before we could take procession on December 3, 1984."

After sharing the memories of the challenging times he has been through with CLGW, he talked about his hopes for the company. He noted that his hope is for CLGW to continue to be locally owned and managed by a "Board of Public Works."

"It has been the slogan of CLGW to 'Provide good service at the lowest possible rates', and no one can do that better than local people that are governed by local people who are also the users of the products," he said.

When asked why he made the decision to step down, he noted, "As with most things in life time calls for change." He added that this will be a good time to transition Wilkins into the position.

If anyone thinks he is going to be idle during his retirement had better think again. Jones definitely plans on staying busy by pursuing his love of flying.

"I want to pursue my love for flying airplanes with my wife, Beverly, and also working on aircraft which with the help of my good friends, Sam Jewell, and the late Dick Rice, I am qualified to do," he said.

In closing, Jones commented, "I am very fortunate and honored to have had the privilege to work with so many outstanding employees, and board members that are the foundation of CLGW."

Friends, family, and business partners will have an opportunity to wish him well at a drop-in reception to be held in his honor from 4 p.m., to 5 p.m., Thursday, Dec. 13, 2012, at the CLGW Administration Office which is located at 303 South Anthony Street.

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