Published in the Las Cruces Sun News 8.28.2022
By Cassie McClure
When Delilah Walsh entered Las Cruces Utilities (LCU) as its first assistant director in 2019, she knew she had joined a team with a solid foundation in operations that worked well for its customers. When she moved up to the director position in October 2020, Walsh knew then that she could trust employees at all levels - from deputy directors to field crew - allowing her to strengthen the processes at the administrative level.
As she moves on to a city manager and utility director position in Ketchikan, Alaska, at the end of September, Walsh feels confident that LCU is set up in ways that will directly benefit ratepayers. And, she did that with her team throughout a global pandemic.
“I've been very focused on staff development and making internal processes more efficient because I could rely on deputy directors to keep the operation side going,” she said. “Every employee has been dedicated to serving our customers, even with the last few years being more difficult than usual.”
Walsh explained that one of her first tasks was getting a hold of all the information that LCU collects, putting it all in one place, and going paperless. LCU created the Management of Information Systems (MIS) program to do just that.
“We have so much data, from UtilityHawk to billing, to work orders from crew out in the field,” said Walsh. “It's the wave of evolution for the utilities to move beyond a paper-driven operation, which is cumbersome especially if staff needs the information ASAP out in the field.”
Another newer push will be to use hands-on technology, like drones at LCU, with one employee earning an FAA license for the task. “If we can increase efficiency on the backend, then our productivity can increase, which lets us not request as much from ratepayers through rates,” said Walsh. “We don’t have to contract out if we can use existing technology to our advantage.”
She said that her background was focused on investigating how to do more with less, particularly in her former role as Socorro County Manager.
“I'm a big believer in investing in technology, but I’m more interested in investing in your employees,” said Walsh, who also supported the development of a staffing specialist who can ready hiring documentation for LCU that can be presented to the City of Las Cruces (City) Human Resources Department more efficiently. She said, “If we can take some of that administrative process off the shoulders of supervisors who know what they’re looking for but don’t need the administrative burden of the process, that frees them up to be more involved with their program duties.”
Job listings now are more flexible for staff coming into LCU, that job duties may extend into different programs so that employees can be cross-trained and have the opportunity for growth. “It gets us closer to the ‘One Utility’ concept that allows us to have a shared mindset of service,” said Walsh.
Another big project that was important to Walsh was keeping employees safe. She established a dedicated position that focused exclusively on safety.
“The safety officer position was essential to what I wanted at LCU for risk mitigation. It's so important not only for our employees, but it's a proactive way to ensure incidents can be prevented and tracked, and we can set a culture of safety throughout the entire department,” she said. “Different programs had different procedures when it came to safety. Now there's one person who can track all the procedures, ensure standardization, and be the point of contact if an employee sees something hazardous or has an idea to create a safer environment.”
Walsh was excited to introduce employees to the NM EDGE (New Mexico Education Designed to Generate Excellence in the Public Sector) program at New Mexico State University and worked to get in touch with them through in-person events once COVID rates decreased, like the Skills Rodeo, which allowed employees to strut their stuff on various equipment for a bit of fame and glory.
“More than anything, in the time that I’ve spent at LCU, I could see again and again that all of our employees are committed to their job and LCU,” said Walsh. “They are public servants to the core, and I’m better for having had time to be a part of their efforts.”
Walsh sees that the future is bright for LCU, even with upcoming transitions. “The energy transition efforts in natural gas will be a big change in operations,” said Walsh. “We can do more with renewable energy. Even without a transition plan, LCU has already been proactive about moving in that direction. We convert methane to power our treatment facility with our co-generators. We are supporting the City’s photovoltaic efforts. Decarbonizing is important, and LCU will be a huge part of that process.”
LCU – Your Utility Connection. Customer Central can be reached at 575-541-2111 from 8 a.m. - 6 p.m. Monday through Friday. LCU provides clean, safe, and reliable services to Las Cruces residents and businesses. Learn more at: las-cruces.org/180/Utilities
For emergencies, call Dispatch at 526-0500.
PHOTO 1: Outgoing LCU Director Delilah Walsh at the LCU Skills Rodeo, competing in backing in a truck and trailer.