Wednesday, December 1, 2021

New Manager of Wastewater Treatment at MI Utilities



By Noelle H. Lowery

Jon H. Pratt is a Renaissance man.

Studying chemistry and biology in college, the Chicago native began his working life as a research chemist working on products for the pulp and paper industry. Then, he tried his luck as a stock broker for E.F. Hutton & Co. After the stock market crash in 1989, he went into business for himself. At one point, he started a wine importing business, bringing fine German wines to the US. He even had the opportunity to work as a spokesperson for the Home Shopping Network.

Then, 28 years ago, Pratt was hired by the city of St. Petersburg, FL, to work in its water treatment operations, and he spent the last 17 years managing Collier County’s two water reclamation facilities and completing 20 to 30 capital projects each year, totaling between $10-30 million annually.

“I fell back on my experience and education,” he admits.

Four months ago, he was hired by Marco Island Utilities as the manager of wastewater treatment. It was a good hire, according to Utilities General Manager Jeff Poteet. “Jon has a natural taste for waste water,” Poteet joked during a recent interview with the two men.

To be sure, Poteet’s assessment of Pratt is spot on, as recently confirmed by the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (DEP). On Dec. 15, Collier County received a letter stating that its North Water Reclamation Facility (WRF) is the recipient of a 2014 Domestic Wastewater Plant Operations Excellence Award from the DRP. The award recognizes outstanding treatment plant operation, maintenance and compliance.

Prior to coming to Marco Island Utilities, Pratt managed Collier County’s North WRF.

As manager of wastewater treatment, Pratt’s main responsibilities are protecting pubic health, ensuring the safety of Marco residents and the utility’s employees, making sure the utility is in compliance with all governmental regulations, ensuring that utility employees are stakeholders and ensuring that Marco Island residents are delivered a best-value service and a viable, quality product in the utility’s reclaimed water.

For Poteet, though, hiring Pratt was the fulfillment of two goals: enhancing employee training opportunities and bringing someone on board to help manage capital projects for the utility. While with Collier County, Pratt conducted supervisor trainings focusing on team-building exercises.

“One of the reasons I looked at hiring Jon was that Collier County has in place a lot of leadership exercises that I wanted to bring to the utility, and he was heavily involved in that. These will better our entire organization,” noted Poteet.

He added: “Because of Jon’s background and experience, we also are able to rely on him for some our engineering projects. He has an extensive background in wastewater construction because of the improvements he was involved with at Collier County. With our upcoming headworks projects and other projects, his knowledge will be invaluable.”

Further, Poteet wants to rely on Pratt’s ability to objectively look at projects that are in the best interest and that will be a best value to the utility, such as making certain equipment is in good, sound working order but also requires less intensive maintenance and thus will be less of a drain on the utility’s resources.

Since coming on board, Pratt has been most impressed with the utility employees and the high levels of leadership coming from the utility, City Manager Roger Herhstadt and the Marco Island City Council. “(The City Council) has shown that they are well-versed on the issues at hand, especially when it comes to the utility, and are prepared to make a strong, practical and best value decision,” Pratt said.

His goals for his first year as manage of wastewater treatment are to be fiscally responsible, to build faith in what he does with City Council and Hernstadt and to have the utility staff reach the highest level of certification and cross training between water and waste water possible.

Long-term, Pratt is focused on the utility’s environmental responsibility and helping Poteet build a succession plan on the wastewater side of the utility. Because Pratt plans to retire in five years, Poteet is looking to him to use his leadership experience to help educate and train the next wastewater treatment manager.

“We want to have people ready to just walk into his position,” Poteet noted.

Together, Pratt and Poteet also want to broaden the public’s awareness and knowledge of the utility and how it operates through public education initiatives and tours of the facility. In fact, the city plans to hold an open house at the utility’s site located at 771 E. Elkcam Circle in March. Details still are in the planning stages.

“We as a utility have to improve our public education,” explained Pratt. “The importance of the utility and of our staff to the quality of life and in protecting the public health should never be underestimated. We have as much impact as any other of the public services that people are so used to having and have so much need for…Utility workers are the silent sentinels…They don’t get the same accolades as policemen or fire fighters, but they are first responders. They can’t do their jobs if we are not doing our jobs in a crisis. It is a full circle type of thing.”


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