Meecham pow­ers down

The Covington News - - FRONT PAGE - GABRIEL KHOULI gkhouli@cov­news.com

Bill Meecham has al­ways liked to build things, whether it’s adding to the model rail­road setup in his base­ment, re­build­ing a bro­ken-down ra­dio, or build­ing big­ger, more ef­fec­tive elec­tric­ity and gas sup­ply sys­tems for the city of Cov­ing­ton.

Af­ter spend­ing 20 years keep­ing the city’s lights on, Meecham is re­tir­ing from his po­si­tion as the city’s util­i­ties di­rec­tor.

“I think I en­joyed (my work) be­cause it was a form of con­struc­tion. I was al­ways ex­pand­ing or up­grad­ing sys­tems, do­ing main­te­nance, do­ing dif­fer­ent things to pro­vide ser­vice to peo­ple,” Meecham said Thurs­day. “It doesn’t sound ex­cit­ing com­pared to cer­tain more glamorous ca­reers, but it pro­vided a large de­gree of sat­is­fac­tion.”

Meecham took a lot of sat­is­fac­tion in see­ing a pro­ject through from in­cep­tion to com­ple­tion and use.

When the city added sub­sta­tions to up­grade its lines and im­prove ser­vice qual­ity, Meecham saw res­i­dents ben­e­fit from that work. When of­fi­cials spent time work­ing on a pro­posal to lure a prospec­tive in­dus­try, he – at least oc­ca­sion­ally – got to see the com­pany lo­cate in Cov­ing­ton and hire lo­cal work­ers.

“I en­joyed the work, but I wanted to do things that help the com­mu­nity, and bring­ing in in­dus­try brings in jobs,” Meecham said. “I be­lieve if you have more in­dus­try, if it’s qual­ity, you can im­prove the lo­cal econ­omy.”

At the same time, the job came with its fair share of chal­lenges, as util­ity rates are al­ways a hot topic for res­i­dents, who want great ser­vice at a cheap price.

“Util­i­ties are a busi­ness, and good util­ity man­age­ment is not al­ways com­pat­i­ble with good pol­i­tics,” Meecham said.

How­ever, the city made a lot of strides dur­ing the past sev­eral years in low­er­ing the cost of its elec­tric­ity in par­tic­u­lar, work­ing to pur­chase larger sup­plies at more sta­ble prices in­stead of hav­ing to shop on the open mar­ket.

Over the years,

Meecham be­came more hands-on in work­ing with the city’s con­sul­tants to pur­chase power sup­plies.

Meecham will miss the work; he’s al­ways loved to tin­ker and blew out his first fuse, the first of many, when he was 5 years old and ex­per­i­ment­ing with an ex­ten­sion cord. Peo­ple used to give him old, bro­ken ra­dios, so he could take them apart and at­tempt to fix them “gen­er­ally with no suc­cess,” he said.

How­ever, Meecham will miss peo­ple the most, he said, in­clud­ing the ca­ma­raderie and team­work.

And he’ll be missed in re­turn, for his work ethic and loy­alty. Deputy City Man­ager Billy Bouchillon said Meecham’s work adding sub­sta­tions and adding the abil­ity for the city “to switch elec­tri­cal feeds so that a smaller per­cent­age of cus­tomers are af­fected by an out­age” has made the city more ef­fi­cient. He said most power out­ages are fixed within 30-40 min­utes be­cause of that abil­ity to bet­ter iso­late dam­aged or mal­func­tion­ing ar­eas.

“I guar­an­tee you peo­ple who have lived here for 30 years or more have no­ticed that dif­fer­ence,” Bouchillon said. “Bill has al­ways been loyal to his em­ploy­ees and their needs, and his knowl­edge of Cov­ing­ton’s elec­tri­cal sys­tem is un­be­liev­able. When he re­tires, he will be missed by us all.”

Meecham is still a rel­a­tive new­comer to Cov­ing­ton in many ways, tak­ing over for for­mer elec­tric su­per­in­ten­dent Billy Davis in 1993. Prior to that, Meecham had worked for the Ma­ri­etta Board of Lights and Wa­ter for many years as its en­gi­neer­ing and projects man­ager. But Cobb County was grow­ing too big for his com­fort, so he de­cided to move to New­ton County, which was more ru­ral, but still grow­ing and de­vel­op­ing.

He also used to be a disc jockey, and there’s a hint of “ra­dio voice” still in his speech, though he says the ra­dio voice is greatly faded from pre­vi­ous years.

Born in Sa­van­nah and raised in Hi­nesville, Meecham has no plans to leave Cov­ing­ton, plan­ning in­stead to fix up his house, land­scape his prop­erty and work on his model train.

He also plans to travel fre­quently, in­clud­ing a trip to Alaska and the Grand Te­ton National Park and a re­turn trip to Glacier National Park. He’ll also in­dulge his pho­tog­ra­phy habit.

He plans to take it a lit­tle eas­ier, which he hopes will be around mid-Au­gust, as soon as the city can hire a re­place­ment.

Gabriel Khouli /The Cov­ing­ton News

Cov­ing­ton Util­i­ties Di­rec­tor Bill Meecham looks over plans for one of the last few times, as he has an­nounced his re­tire­ment.

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