PWSA Hires New Interim Executive Director

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
1 September 2016
By Don Hopey

According to his U.S. Army bio, retiring Col. Bernard R. Lindstrom is “parachute qualified.”

That’s good, because, as the soon-to-be new interim director of the Pittsburgh Water and Sewer Authority, he’ll be jumping into an organizational landscape with more than its share of administrative and performance issues, and where his landing remains uncertain.

Mr. Lindstrom, 48, was named the new interim executive director of the Pittsburgh Water and Sewer Authority effective Sept. 12, at a special meeting of the authority board Thursday morning.

He will join the PWSA after a much decorated military career and serving as commander of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Pittsburgh District office from January 2013 until his retirement from that post in July.

He has indicated he is a candidate for the permanent executive director’s position, but because the authority is saddled with a number of recent controversies and setbacks, it’s unclear what that job and the authority itself will look like in the future.

Mr. Lindstrom will take the reins from interim director David L. Donahoe, who was filling in for six months after the previous executive director, Jim Good, resigned in March following persistent billing complaints from customers.

In July, the state Department of Environmental Protection scolded the authority for making an unauthorized change in the pipe corrosion inhibitor chemical it used, and ordered the authority to start replacing its lead water service lines following elevated lead test results. Another misstep occurred at the end of July when the authority board hired Kenneth Charles Griffin as its new executive director, but he withdrew after questions were raised about his forced departure from a previous job.

Against that backdrop, the city and its sewer and water authority must make expensive, federally mandated fixes to the wet weather sewage overflows that inundate the region’s rivers and streams.

At the same time the board was approving Mr. Lindstrom’s six-month contract, Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto announced the formation of a task force to study the operations, financial condition and organization of the authority, and recommend ways to improve its storm water management, drinking water lead levels, efficiency and other management issues.

A news release from the mayor’s office said the task force will be chaired by the mayor’s chief of staff, Kevin Acklin. Its members will include PWSA board chairman Alex Thomson, city Finance Director Paul Leger, and a number of independent finance, law and engineering experts, and be “aided by” Mr. Lindstrom.

In conjunction with the task force’s work, city Controller Michael Lamb was asked to do a performance and financial audit of PWSA operations.

“We are at an important turning point for the Pittsburgh region and for its water, which is both a great resource and a tremendous challenge. We need to make sure the city’s water and sewer authority is organized and structured in the best way possible to address these issues, which will impact water quality and public safety for decades,” Mr. Peduto said.

At a briefing Thursday afternoon, Mr. Peduto said the authority may be structurally incapable of dealing with the multitude of issues it faces.

One option the task force will consider, Mr. Peduto said, is a public-private partnership in which management of the authority operations would be shifted to a private company that may be more efficient and more economical, and could allow the city to sell water to other municipalities.

“So instead of bringing someone in and promising them that they’ll have a job for the next three years,” Mr. Peduto said, “we wanted to bring someone in to help us put together this task force to consider other options of what a different structure might look like.”

Mr. Lindstrom did not attend the board meeting, or respond to phone calls Thursday, but in a PWSA press release he is quoted as saying that as a native of the area whose work has focused on the region’s waterways, he’s aware of the value of those rivers and also the importance of the public water and sewer infrastructure.

Mr. Thomson, speaking after the board voted 6-0 with one abstention, praised Mr. Lindstrom’s engineering and administrative expertise, and said his leadership will “assist the board in our commitment to improve PWSA.”

Mr. Thomson said the board will restart a “robust” search for a permanent executive director, and hopes to select a candidate by the end of the year. Mr. Lindstrom, a resident of Upper St. Clair, has indicated he will apply, but PWSA rules would require him to become a city resident if he were offered the job.

As an interim executive director, Mr. Lindstrom is considered an “independent contractor” and therefore is not required to live in the city. He will receive a salary of $16,666.66 per month, or a total of $99,999.96 for the life of the contract, about what a permanent executive director would make. He will not receive benefits.

As commander of the Pittsburgh District corps office, Mr. Lindstrom oversaw river operations in a 26,000-square-mile watershed basin that included 328 miles of navigable waterways on the Allegheny, Monongahela and upper Ohio rivers in Pennsylvania, New York, Maryland, West Virginia and Ohio.

According to his Army biography, prior to his Pittsburgh post, Mr. Lindstrom held a series of Army Corps command positions including executive director of the Directorate of Civil Works in Washington, D.C.; commander of the corps’ Nashville District in Nashville, Tenn.; and overseas assignments.

Don Hopey:, 412-263-1983, or on Twitter @donhopey.