The newly appointed director of Lafayette Utilities System Jeff Stewart is pictured here. He is a former resident of Ville Platte and a 1996 graduate of Sacred Heart High School. (Photo courtesy of LUS)
Throughout its 120-year-old history, Lafayette Utilities System has always prided itself on providing electrical, water, and sewer services to the residents of Lafayette and some neighboring areas. The company also has LUS fiber that provides TV, Internet, and phone to homes, organizations, and health communications providers.
The largest municipally owned utility system in the State of Louisiana looks to continue that trend under the guidance of a new interim director who has Ville Platte ties.
Jeff Stewart graduated from Sacred Heart High School in 1996 and then went on to receive an engineering degree from LSU in Baton Rouge. He then started at LUS in 2001.
“It was my first job out of college,” Stewart said. “I graduated in May 2001, and I probably would have started here a month earlier had Tropical Storm Allison not flooded half of Lafayette. I had a couple of interviews that were delayed because of the tropical storm, but I ended up starting here on July 23, 2001.”
Stewart identified some of the changes that have taken place at the utility system since he first started as an engineer.
“They have gone through a lot of changes over the 17 years just like any business does that deals with technology,” Stewart said. “I remember one of the biggest things that I laugh at now is we had dial-up Internet. Now, of course because we have fiber, we have the fastest Internet in the world.”
From his early days as an engineer at LUS, Stewart worked very closely with the recently retired director Terry Huval. He also wants to model himself as interim director after Huvall, who had become a mentor.
“Everybody knew Terry,” Stewart stated. “Everybody was able to talk to him, and everybody was able to get involved in what their day-to-day activities were. He wasn’t one to just lean on the upper management, he would go to the employees directly and ask questions. That is something that was very much welcomed by us because the employees really knew what was going on with the day-to-day operations.”
Stewart was promoted to supervisor before serving as engineering and power supply manager for the past four years. His latest promotion came when Huvall announced his retirement earlier this summer.
“When Terry announced his retirement, that started a lengthy process to name a director permanently,” Stewart said. “That is what is going on now. During that transition, we still needed someone to fill that role to represent LUS, to represent the employees, to serve the customers, to be that voice, that leader, and that figurehead in order to get things done.”
He continued, “Mayor-President Joel Robideaux asked if I would be interim director until that permanent appointment took place, and, of course, I accepted. It was something I knew I could do. It was something that I knew I wanted to do. During the transition with everything going on, I wanted to provide some sense of stability.”
Mayor-President Robideaux said in a statement, “Jeff has been an integral part of the team for quite some time and has been a behind-the-scenes hand in the successful operations of the system. He understands the complexity of running LUS and LUS Fiber and has proven himself in both his technical and administrative skills needed to lead the department.”
Stewart explained that a wow feeling set in when he first got the news of his appointment. “Even though I’ve been working here for 17 years, I never really expected to be put in this certain position,” he expressed.
That feeling; however, did not last long because it was soon back to business. “I had to get right back down to the work and make sure this place keeps running the way it’s been for 120 years.”
“Nothing really changes for me because I was always engaged with the public and with what our customers wanted,” he continued, “but, now, I don’t get to run things up the chain anymore. I have to make those decisions on my own, so that’s the biggest difference for me.”
During this transitional phase, Stewart wants to continue the traditions of LUS until a permanent director is named. “The plan is to really continue the day-to-day operations to make sure our customers receive the level of service that they have now come to expect,” he said.
“This company was founded 120-years-ago by the citizens for the citizens, and even in 2018 and beyond we’re here to serve our customers. We’re here to provide all the essential utility services that we can, and I want to make sure that we maintain that level of service. In the long term, I want to make sure that we do things the right way, we plan the right way, we implement technology when we can, and we do everything we can within our means to give our customers every level of service that they expect.”
Much like Stewart’s dedication to the company’s focus and goal of serving the customers has remained constant, so has his personal dedication to the company.”
He concluded, “I love working here. I’ve always talked very positively about this place, and that still remains the same. No matter where I am, whether I’m a recent college graduate or an interim director, my love and dedication to this place hasn’t changed. It’s only gotten more intense.”