Allen Kelm, Miles City public utilities director, will retire

By: 
Abe Winter
Star Staff Writer

Next year Allen Kelm will be traveling, doing some fishing, working on his cars and, well, whatever else he wants to do.

He’ll have the time because the long-time Miles City public utilities director is retiring, effective Dec. 29.

His letter of resignation was read Tuesday at the City Council meeting. Mayor John Hollowell and the Council members applauded Kelm for his 32-year career.

“Our water and waste water are No. 1 in the state,” Hollowell said. “We’ve gotten tremendous commendations. They use our facilities to show other communities how they work.”

Council Member Dwayne Andrews said, “I think we’ve been lucky to have Al. He’s done a tremendous job.”

Kelm said he’s been contemplating retirement for about a year. He’s ready to spend more time with his wife Cindy, a secretary to the principal at Washington Middle School.

“She’s my fishing partner,” Kelm said.

He remembers his first day on the job — July 5, 1985 — and seeing the control panel, lights and switches.

“I was overwhelmed,” Kelm said. “but they had a great mentoring program and I picked it up in a week.”

For two years he worked the 4 p.m. to midnight shift while his wife worked a 9-to-5 daytime job.

“I had the kids in the daytime and she had them at night,” he said.

He calls his career “very rewarding.”

“It’s something the public relies on 365 days a year and 24 hours a day,” he said, referring to the water. “You have to put out a good product that is safe and is good quality for public health. It’s the life-blood of the community.”

Kelm was among eight people who cross-trained for both the water and waste water operations. During his 10 years in his current job, there have been many accomplishments.

“We’ve replaced miles and miles of water line,” he said, “and increased size, looping the lines together so everybody gets fresher water.”

He proudly will tell you that Miles City was the first waste treatment plant in the nation to have a corrective performance evaluation, where an engineering firm comes in to help you obtain maximum performance and quality.

In fact, he said last year the facility was used to train Department of Environmental Quality staff.

Kelm currently serves as president of the Montana Rural Water organization based in Great Falls, and will continue in that capacity after retirement.

One of the highlights of his career with the city is the $7.6 million upgrade at the waste water treatment plant.

“That’s been quite a project, at least eight years in the making,” Kelm said, adding that it should be completed by November, just before retirement. “That was one of my goals. I would hate to leave in the middle of such a large project.”

He’s also proud of the awards presented both to him and the city. They range from Montana DEQ for excellence (2003) to Montana Rural Water Systems manager of the year in 2009 to system of the year (2014-15) and more.

Kelm, born and raised in Miles City, believes he has a great job. And he has no intention of leaving the city, other than to go fishing and travel around the country.

“It’s flown by,” he said. “I learned something new every day and not everyone can say that. That’s what kept the job interesting.

“I know everybody here. It’s a great community and it would be tough to find another one like this one.”

He’s also thinking about embarking on another career, one he’s keeping secret.

“I’m looking at starting a small business,” he said.

“He’ll be missed,” said Amber Trenka, a Miles City resident who attended the Council meeting.

(Contact Abe Winter at starcity@midrivers.com or 406-234-0450.)

 

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