New city electrician has big shoes to fill

“Know Your Neighbor” interview in Parker, SD

Photo, story by Dawn Rye, Writer, The New Era; Originally published January 20, 2022; Reprinted with permission

Local graduate Tanner Plucker has been an electrician for the last 15 years working with several control systems, and electrical wiring in both homes and businesses. Recently, he was hired to fill the city electrician* position left open after Robbi Buller vacated the position. Plucker shares his experience, and what he brings to the Parker residents in our 10 minutes “Know your Neighbor” interview. Plucker currently lives in the Chancellor area and carries a Journeyman’s electricians license.

  1. Where are you originally from?

    “I grew up in Parker and graduated in 2002.”

  2. What made you decided to apply for the City of Parker electrician position?

    “After attending Mitchell Tech for an electrical degree, I moved back to the area. I worked in Sioux Falls for about four years before I ended up at Sims Electric in Hartford, where I worked for the last 14 years.

    A few years ago, my wife, Melissa and I moved back to the Chancellor area. Our kids attend the Parker School District. We thought it was the best option for being closer to the kids and helping out in the community.”


  3. What do you love most about being in Parker?

    “I enjoy the people. It is a great community and with me being gone for 15 years and being able to come back and see familiar faces its nice.”

  4. Tell me about your family.

    “I have two kids, wife and three dogs. My oldest daughter is in first grade and the second one will be in kindergarten in 2022.”

  5. With Robbi Buller being gone, what are some expectations you have to meet?

    As I review the materials Robbi had available to him, it is a bit overwhelming. I’m not used to working with higher voltage. I feel like with the experience that I have with controls, trouble shooting, and previous jobs requiring me to be on call, gives me something to offer.

  6. Why did you decided to become an electrician?

    “Honestly, I didn’t know what I wanted to do when I was growing up. A few friends from Parker were attending Mitchell Tech for electrical, so I decided go there as well. I enjoy working on car stereos, which is completely different, however, I jumped in and enjoyed it.”

  7. What kind of electric work have you done over the years?

    “I have done heating, controlling to underground, overhead and his main job was in an elevator working with controls. I was always learning on the job. My favorite part about electrical work is the challenge and try to figure something out.”

  8. What do you like to do for fun?

    “Hunting, fishing. Hunting includes, deer, dove, pheasant and coyotes. Fishing is either ice fishing or fishing on the lake.”

*Plucker’s official job title for the city of Parker is Electric Superintendent.

City of Springs hosts regional training for municipal linemen

Reprinted with permission from the True Dakotan. Originally published Wednesday, June 23, 2021

The City of Wessington Springs, SD hosted an OSHA-required quarterly training earlier this month with linemen and electrical superintendents from area municipalities in attendance.

Photo courtesy True Dakotan

Focused on bucket rescue, Bruce Westergaard, Regional Safety Coordinator and JTS Instructor of Minnesota Municipal Utilities Association, conducted the training with attendees from Plankinton, Miller, Howard, Volga, Arlington, Parker and Wessington Springs.

“It’s good to get the area municipalities together with linemen from other towns,” Westergaard said. “Not only for making sure our electrical superintendents and linemen are well-trained for emergencies but also to establish those relationships in case they have to work together in a real-life emergency.”

CEO’s Report: Prioritizing Safety

Safety should always be a top priority.

Unfortunately, this isn’t always the case. When doing the day to day work of a utility, it may be easy to get complacent.

But it only takes a split second for a potentially life-changing event to occur.

Safety should also be everyone’s concern. It is not only for those out in the field exposed to potentially dangerous situations. It should be the concern of utility leadership, finance officers, council members and anyone else involved in the electric utility.

It’s no secret the daily work at a utility can pose hazards. By creating a culture of safety at a utility, everyone should be able to sleep a little better at night.

For most Heartland customers, the size of the utility does not warrant a full-time safety coordinator, and it may be up to the employees themselves to advocate for and implement safe practices.

Fortunately, no utility has to do it alone. Heartland customers can improve safety training with help from an updated video series, available through the American Public Power Association.

The Safety Smart Video Series includes 22 short videos addressing topics and practices current and relevant to electric utility workers. Each video ranges 90 seconds to roughly three minutes long and is perfect for viewing in the field on a smart phone or tablet.

Videos cover a variety of topics including bucket truck rescue and self-rescue, climbing equipment inspection, meter safety, first aid, fall restriction training and more.

The videos cover a variety of topics appropriate for electric utility workers.

Videos reinforce the American Public Power Association Safety Manual, National Electrical Safety Code and appropriate OSHA standards.

The series was produced by the Minnesota Municipal Utilities Association with help from a $100,000 grant through APPA’s Demonstration of Energy and Efficiency Developments (DEED) program.

The best part is the series is available for viewing and download at no cost for DEED members. All Heartland customers are DEED members.

Not only are these videos beneficial to those in the field, it would be worthwhile for anyone involved in the electric utility to view them. A culture of safety cannot be created if everyone at the utility is not aware of the risks and threats those in field face every day.

I encourage you to take time to watch these videos. In fact, I would encourage you to watch them multiple times. While you may think you’re never going to need the information, you may be surprised when the moment arises that something you learned in one of the videos becomes crucial to your safety or that of one of your utility employees.

As the year draws to a close and we seek to make resolutions for the new year, it is the perfect time to make safety a top priority at your utility.

Wishing you a blessed Christmas and prosperous New Year.

Minnaert: Making an online map for Madison’s power grid

By Chuck Clement, Staff Reporter, Madison Daily Leader; Originally published July 5, 2019

Modern communications and other needs have made it more complicated for communities to provide power, water and other utilities to their residents; it’s no longer a matter of just keeping the lights on but making certain that computers keep running and internet connections remain intact.

One of the basic first steps centers on knowing where all of the electrical transmission lines, transformers, switches, water pipes and storm-sewer infrastructure are located. And that’s the job for which Olivia Minnaert was hired in April as a full-time employee for the city of Madison.

Olivia Minnaert
Photo by Chuck Clement, Madison Daily Leader

Previously, Minnaert had interned for two summers for the city Electric Department, collecting the data needed to map out the details of Madison’s electrical transmission system.

The data collecting meant that Minnaert and other city workers would inspect electrical wiring, power transformers, substations, switch boxes and other equipment to determine how Madison’s electrical grid and distribution system is put together. The inspections meant opening enclosures to look at the wiring and taking photos of the equipment assemblies.

“For my internships, we collected all of the data…Right now, I’m looking into all of the nitty-gritty details, making sure that everything is accurate,” Minnaert said.

Minnaert is also checking that the city’s electrical system is doing the work that it’s supposed to do.

Madison officials hired Minnaert to work as a geographic information system (GIS) and project engineer. A Madison native and current Sioux Falls resident, she graduated from South Dakota State University in December. She majored in mechanical engineering and minored in biomedical engineering.

A GIS is an information system designed to capture, store, manage and present spatial or geographic information. The GIS applications operate as tools that allow users to create interactive searches for information and help the users study that information.

According to Minnaert, city officials have a goal of creating an online map of Madison’s electrical grid. With that map available, the city’s electricians will have the resources to bring it up for display on an iPad screen (or other smart device). If the electricians need to maintain the grid or make repairs, the GIS information will help them with their work.

“By this fall, I’d like to have the online system functional,” Minnaert said.

After Madison’s electrical grid is mapped out, city officials would like to have Minnaert perform the same sort of work with the city’s water and sanitary-sewer distribution systems.

Falconer honored with Distinguished Service Award

Arlington finance officer recognized by colleagues

Ask Sue Falconer what a typical day is like at work and her answer is pretty straightforward.

“A zoo,” she says, followed by her signature laugh.

Arlington Finance Officer Sue Falconer, second from right, is the 2018 recipient of Heartland’s Distinguished Service Award. Presenting the award to Falconer are, from left to right, Heartland Customer Relations Manager Steve Moses, Communications Manager Ann Hyland and Director of Economic Development Casey Crabtree.

Finance officer for the city of Arlington for the past 23 years, she says every day is different.

“I can go to work with a list of items I think I can accomplish that day, but only get one or two things done because other things come up. The next day, it might calm down, but you just never know,” she said. “One thing is certain–I never have to look for anything to do.”

Despite the often hectic environment, Falconer’s presence in the city office is steadfast–something her colleagues appreciate and rely on.

“Sue creates a positive atmosphere in the workplace,” said Arlington Utility Superintendent Marshal Mix. “Also, she knows everything. When we aren’t sure about something, we ask Sue. It’s kind of our motto.”

In recognition of her outstanding service, Falconer was named this year’s recipient of Heartland’s Distinguished Service Award, which recognizes exceptional employees at Heartland’s customer utilities.

 

People have greatest impact

Falconer has been working in finance her entire adult life. After graduating from Arlington High School she worked for Citizens State Bank in Arlington, and remained there until joining the city finance office in 1995.

Longtime mayor “Doc” Redfish and Falconer have a great working relationship. Pictured, they accept a grant check from now Heartland CEO Russell Olson.

She says the transition wasn’t too difficult. She performed a variety of duties during her time at the bank so learning the new role didn’t take too long.

When asked about her favorite part of her job, she is quick to answer–“working with the public.”

“We have a lot of nice people in this community, and I love living and working here.”

She also credits a great working relationship with her peers and Arlington’s longtime mayor Amiel “Doc” Redfish in keeping spirits high.

“I’ve often said there probably aren’t too many finance officers who talk to their mayor the way I talk to mine. If I’ve got something to say, I’m not the least bit afraid to tell Doc, and neither is he with me. We’ve always gotten along and don’t worry too much about what is or isn’t said,” she said.

Open lines of communication have been the key to their success–that and Doc learning Sue’s terminology.

“We talk a lot about ‘thing-a-ma-jiggers’ and ‘what-cha-ma-call-its,'” she adds, laughing.

 

Technology transforms work

Falconer has been with the city of Arlington for 23 years.

Besides the people, Falconer appreciates how technology has made her job easier over the years.

“When I first started, the utilities were on the computer but you still figured everything by hand and then entered it into the system later,” she said. “The council was looking to modernize things when I got the job, and my first thought was, ‘thank goodness.'”

Falconer helped convert all of the city’s “giant books” of payroll, billing and general ledgers into digital systems, which simplified processes and made work more efficient.

Years later, the city continues making updates to improve services. They’re currently transitioning to an advanced metering infrastructure (AMI) system that enables two-way communication between utilities and customers through the electric meter.

“The guys don’t have to go out and read meters anymore. We can just pull the data from the meters and upload it.”

Arlington is also utilizing load management to better operate the electric utility and help keep rates down.

 

Committed to the community

Falconer’s ability to balance a busy schedule carries over into her personal life. A lifelong Arlington resident, her community involvement has included the Arlington Community Club (now the Chamber) and the local community theater group.

She’s also very active in the Badger Lutheran Church, currently serving as financial secretary and singing in the choir. She previously managed the youth Sunday School and music programs for 30 years.

And if there’s a home athletic event at Arlington High School, you’ll most likely see Falconer in the stands.

Most of her free time, however, is devoted to her children and four grandchildren, who all live less than an hour away.

Falconer truly enjoys her job and when asked if she has any immediate plans to retire, she says nothing is set in stone, but plans to be around a few more years.

Of course, Falconer’s peers at the city, who nominated her for the award, hope she’ll stick around much longer.

“Marshal told me they’ve already checked the front door and it’s wide enough for a wheelchair or walker!”

 

Exceptional public power service

Falconer received her award in conjunction with Public Power Week, an annual opportunity for public power utilities, like Arlington’s, to remind customers and stakeholders about the distinct advantages public power offers.

“Public power is community power,” said Heartland Communications Manager Ann Hyland. “Public power employees take pride in working for a locally owned, locally run utility and serving their friends and neighbors. Sue clearly embodies this mantra and is very deserving of this award.”

Heartland provides reliable power as well as energy services and community development programs to Arlington and other communities, state agencies and organizations in South Dakota, Kansas, Iowa and Minnesota.

“We’ve had the pleasure of working with Sue since her start at the city,” Hyland said. “She’s always worked diligently to keep the best interest of Arlington’s electric customers top priority and remains a valuable asset to the utility and community.”

Recognize outstanding public power employees

Call for nominees for Distinguished Service Award

Public power is known for dedicated, hard-working employees and it’s time they be recognized.

In honor of Public Power Week, Heartland is calling for nominees for the 2018 Distinguished Service Award.

Any employee of a municipal system served by Heartland involved in the electric utility is eligible, including but not limited to finance officers, line workers and electric superintendents.

Nominees should exhibit excellent performance in electric utility operations as well as outstanding contributions to the municipality, community and other organizations.

The winner will be recognized during Public Power Week October 7-13, and will receive a gift and plaque.

All entries must be received by September 14, 2018. Nominees from previous years will also be considered.

Submit a nomination

Phelps honored with Distinguished Service Award

Lake Crystal Electric Utility Superintendent recognized by colleagues

Mathias Phelps is this year’s recipient of Heartland’s Distinguished Service Award, created to recognize exceptional employees at Heartland customer utilities. Phelps serves as electric utility superintendent for Lake Crystal Municipal Utilities and has been employed with the city four years. Phelps was nominated by City Administrator Taylor Gronau for his leadership, professionalism and dedication to both the utility and the community.

“Mathias is an outstanding professional and colleague,” said Gronau. “He is respected greatly by his co-workers, as well as the elected leaders and residents of Lake Crystal for his service to the utility and the numerous contributions and improvements he has made to the utility.”

Phelps has maintained efficient and effective operations of the utility as well as developed and manages the utility’s electric load management program. He also manages the utility’s electrical mapping efforts and has been instrumental in increasing the prevalence and importance of workplace safety. He also actively promotes a responsive customer service atmosphere.

Mathias Phelps, center, accepts the Distinguished Service Award from colleagues, friends and family. From left to right: Mathias' wife Jessica Phelps, Lake Crystal PUC Chair Ron Williams, Lake Crystal PUC Vice Chair Brad Nelson, Lake Crystal City Administrator Taylor Gronau,
Mathias Phelps, center, accepts the Distinguished Service Award from colleagues, friends and family in Lake Crystal, MN. From left to right: Mathias’ wife Jessica Phelps, Lake Crystal PUC Chair Ron Williams, PUC Vice Chair Brad Nelson, City Administrator Taylor Gronau, Water/Wastewater Maintenance Worker Jarret Imlay, Phelps, Lineman Matt Runge, MMUA Regional Safety Coordinator Chris Trembley, retired Lake Crystal City Administrator Bob Hauge, Lineman Justin Gifferson, and Heartland Customer Relations Manager Steve Moses.

Phelps is a journeyman lineman and before being employed with Lake Crystal Municipal Utilities, served as a lineman on a road crew. He and his wife Jessica have two children, ages two and five. In his spare time he enjoys hunting around Lake Crystal.

“Mathias has dedicated himself to the improvement and betterment of the Lake Crystal community,” added Gronau. “He cares greatly about the residents and is constantly looking to build partnerships with community stakeholders. He goes above and beyond his traditional role as electric superintendent and most importantly, is dedicated to his family and is a role model to the community.”

Heartland established the Distinguished Service Award in conjunction with Public Power Week, an annual opportunity for public power utilities to remind customers and stakeholders about the distinct advantages public power offers.

“What better way to mark the occasion than to recognize individuals who make public power exceptional,” said Heartland Communications Manager Ann Hyland. “This annual award showcases employees who often go above and beyond and have made outstanding contributions to their municipality, community and other organizations.”

Any employee of a municipal system served by Heartland involved in the electric utility was eligible to receive the award, including but not limited to finance officers, line workers and electric superintendents. Any city employee or city official can nominate someone for the award.

Heartland is also celebrating Public Power Week by submitting letters to each customer’s local newspaper about the benefits of public power. If your utility has a Public Power Week Celebration planned, email us photos and we’ll feature them in our Newsroom.

McLaughlin officials inducted into Municipal Hall of Fame

Congratulations to McLaughlin Finance Officer Della Hauck and Utility Manager Lornie Hach for their recent inductions into the South Dakota Municipal League Hall of Fame. The SDML Hall of Fame honors elected and appointed officials and employees who have served municipalities in South Dakota for 20 or more years. Hauck and Hach were recognized as inductees at SDML’s Annual Conference in October.

Della Hauck, McLaughlin, 31 Years
Della Hauck started with the city of McLaughlin in 1984 as the assistant finance officer. In 1995 she became the finance officer and still holds this position. Della has served as the president of the McLaughlin Fun Day Committee and secretary and treasurer for the Centennial Celebration in 2009. She is a member of the Redeemer Lutheran Church where she is known for her cheese buttons. Della enjoys decorating and has decorated for church dinners, celebration dinners, weddings and yes, even funerals.

Lornie Hach, McLaughlin, 36 Years
Lornie Hach is the utility manager for the city of McLaughlin. He started working for the city in 1979 and has been involved with most aspects of the water, sewer, street, electrical, and airport projects since then. Lornie has been a journeyman lineman for over 20 years and is a certified Class I in water and sewer. He has served as an EMT, Jaycee member, and school board member. He has been a member of the fire department since 1979.

The SDML Hall of Fame is ongoing. If 20 years of service is completed by September 30, 2016, you are eligible to be inducted into the Hall of Fame at the 2016 Annual conference in Rapid City. Nomination forms will be available with conference information in 2016 at www.sdmunicipalleague.org.

The South Dakota Municipal League (SDML) was organized in 1934 as a nonpartisan, nonprofit association of incorporated municipalities in South Dakota. The League’s mission is the cooperative improvement of municipal government in South Dakota.

Horton recognized for outstanding service in Akron

Gary Horton is the inaugural recipient of Heartland’s Distinguished Service Award, created to recognize exceptional employees at Heartland customer utilities. Horton serves as city administrator for Akron, Iowa and has been employed with the city for 31 years  in various roles. Horton was nominated by his co-workers for his work ethic, generosity and commitment to the community and its residents.

Gary Horton, center, accepts the Distinguished Service Award from Heartland officials and Akron city staff. From left to right: Heartland Customer Relations Manager Steve Moses, Akron TITLE TITLE NAME NAME, Clerk Melea Nielsen, Deputy Clerk Karen Wardrip and Heartland Communications Manager Ann Hyland.
Gary Horton, center, accepts the Distinguished Service Award from Heartland officials and Akron city staff. From left to right: Heartland Customer Relations Manager Steve Moses, Akron Office Assistant Kourtney Nicholson, Clerk Melea Nielsen, Deputy Clerk Karen Wardrip and Heartland Communications Manager Ann Hyland.

“Gary is very giving of his time to family and friends, but is also willing to help with community projects on his own time,” said Akron Deputy Clerk Karen Wardrip. “He always puts in well over his 40-hour work week for the city, and knows what is going on not only in the field but in the business and financial areas as well. Gary is not a ‘suit and tie’ city administrator–he always gets out there and gets his hands dirty. He has a good rapport with those he works with, and is always a positive influence.”

Wardrip said Horton played a critical role in helping establish a community-owned health club, including helping with construction and maintenance of the building and serving on the board. He was also instrumental in the installation of playground equipment at a community ball field, development of a fishing site, boat ramp and camping sites at the city park, and flood prevention projects. He is frequently found helping local homeowners with personal projects, such as roofing or cement work and has a near perfect attendance record at city council meetings.

“He not only gets the ball rolling for big projects, but follows them through to completion,” Wardrip said.

Horton is active at his church, serving on the council and capital fund campaign as well as an usher and greeter. He is the Akron city representative on the local landfill board and has served on Heartland’s Customer Connections Committee since its inception in 2011. Prior to his role as city administrator, he served as public works director from 2000-2014.

“My favorite aspect of working for the city has been the variety,” said Horton. “I often fill in for different positions and it makes the day go by so fast.”

Horton and his wife Theresa have two daughters, Kendra and Jessica, and will soon be grandparents. In his free time he enjoys hunting, fishing and spending time at the lake.

Heartland Distinguished ServiceHeartland established the Distinguished Service Award in conjunction with Public Power Week, an annual opportunity for public power utilities to remind customers and stakeholders about the distinct advantages public power offers.

“What better way to mark the occasion than to recognize individuals who make public power exceptional,” said Heartland Communications Manager Ann Hyland. “This annual award will showcase employees who often go above and beyond and have made outstanding contributions to their municipality, community and other organizations.”

Any employee of a municipal system served by Heartland involved in the electric utility was eligible to receive the award, including but not limited to finance officers, line workers and electric superintendents. Any city employee or city official can nominate someone for the award.

Heartland is also celebrating Public Power Week by submitting articles to each customer’s local paper about the benefits of public power. If your utility has a Public Power Week Celebration planned, email us photos and we’ll feature them in our Newsroom.