Google executive picked to fill Marblehead Light Commission vacancy

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A Google business executive will fill a Marblehead Municipal Light Commission vacancy, members of the Marblehead Select Board and Light Commission decided on Wednesday night.

Adam Smith’s selection arrived around 8:45 p.m. after officials interviewed eight candidates. After Marblehead Town Clerk Robin Michaud swears him in, he will step into the vacancy created when Karl Johnson resigned, citing health reasons, two weeks after the 2022 municipal election in June.

Marblehead Select Board and Municipal Light Commission selected Adam Smith, a Google business executive, on Wednesday night. [COURTESY PHOTO / WILL DOWD]

Alexa Singer, who voted for Marblehead resident Christopher Hardy on the first voting round, switched to Smith, giving him the fifth vote needed to secure the required majority.

With her switch, she joined Select Board Member Erin Noon and Light Commissioners Lisa Wolf, Simon David Frechette and Jean-Jacques Yarmoff in backing Smith. Select Board members Jim Nye, Moses Grader, Jackie Belf-Becker and Light Commissioner Mike Hull backed the night’s runner-up, Thomas Veilleux.

Smith will now serve as the commission’s fifth member until the 2023 municipal election when voters will elect someone for what will then be the remaining year on Johnson’s three-year term. He would need to run for elected office to retain their commission seat.

Marblehead owning and operating its own municipal light company fascinates Smith, he said. He grew up in “big cities – my whole life.”

“Moving here and learning that we have a utility that people own is super cool,” he told the Select Board and Light Commission members. “I’ve been slowly getting more and more involved in the recent elections. I attended a board meeting and [have been] reading meeting minutes.”

He added, “The fact that we can make decisions as our own community for what we want to do with our utility, it’s empowering and it’s fun.”

Smith has worked at Google for 16 years in the “enterprise software and hardware business.”

“I currently lead a team of people working on our next generation of artificial intelligence products,” he told town officials, “helping auto companies build better autonomous cars, helping retail companies ensure that their products on the shelves are not out of stock and helping mortgage holders keep track of their online statements.”

He wants to be “a voice for Marbleheaders as we decide where we buy our electricity and how we invest” in future infrastructure, he told officials in his application materials.

“I’m very interested in the topics of variable use rates, hardening of the local infrastructure, affordability for low-income residents, purchasing renewable energy and supporting local residents in their efforts toward renewable generation and storage,” he told officials.

Smith provided his interviewers with a clear understanding that members of the Marblehead Light Commission under state law set the utiliy company’s policies and approve budgets while the executive director of the light department runs day-to-day operations. Moreover, commissioners also supervise the executive director for their job performance.

When Frechette asked Smith about what skill set he’d bring to the table, he, in part, said learning from others.

“I want to learn from MMWEC (Massachusetts Municipal Wholesale Electric Company), who’s our umbrella organization that buys all of our power. I want to learn from the other communities [with their own utilites],” he said. “There’s 40 other communities in Massachusetts, all facing similar challenges with: What’s the budget? How to raise rates? Where’s my deferred maintenance? When do I have capital expenditures? When should we raise a bond to do these things?”

The strong interest in the vacancy came after the Marblehead Light Commission contest in June was decided by the narrowest margin in the 2022 municipal elections. 

Yarmoff was initially declared the winner of one of two seats by a 19-vote margin over incumbent Walter Homan. Homan requested a recount that resulted in the margin of Yarmoff’s victory expanding to 33 votes, 2,633 to 2,600. 

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