Mayor op­poses changes to board

Chattanooga Times Free Press - - OBITUARIES - Con­tact staff writer Tyler Jett at 423-757-6476 or [email protected]­freep­ress. com. Fol­low him on Twit­ter @Let­sJett. BY TYLER JETT STAFF WRITER

Tren­ton Mayor Alex Case is op­pos­ing a plan to push politi­cians off the Dade County Wa­ter and Sewer Au­thor­ity board.

Case said the move is a step back­ward, putting too much dis­tance be­tween the lo­cal gov­ern­ments and the au­thor­ity, which in­creases monthly wa­ter bills and can ex­pand sewer lines. The city runs its own sewer pro­cess­ing plant, and the au­thor­ity can in­crease the amount of wa­ter rush­ing in. And yet, he said, the city has no real control over what the au­thor­ity does.

“We need in­put,” he said. “If they’re go­ing to ex­pand, why don’t they talk to us to see what we can do? We’re plan­ning the sewer sta­tion to be used for the next 100 years. If they’re not will­ing to work with us, we’re just piss­ing in the wind. They say, ‘The pol­i­tics can’t be in [the au­thor­ity].’ But it has to be be­cause we have to an­swer ques­tions from the tax­pay­ers.”

County Com­mis­sioner Mitchell Smith, who pro­posed a change in struc­ture to the au­thor­ity’s board dur­ing a meet­ing Thurs­day night, be­lieves his tweak would ac­tu­ally help the city. Cur­rently, the four county com­mis­sion­ers each ap­point one mem­ber to the au­thor­ity board. County Ex­ec­u­tive Ted Rum­ley serves as its chair­man.

But Smith wants to move Rum­ley off the board. He pro­poses giv­ing that seat to Tren­ton, let­ting the city com­mis­sion­ers ap­point a mem­ber.

Smith pro­posed an­other wrin­kle. The new rules would ban any county com­mis­sion­ers or city com­mis­sion­ers from sit­ting on the board. It would also ban city em­ploy­ees, county em­ploy­ees and au­thor­ity em­ploy­ees. And on top of all those peo­ple, the rules would also ban their spouses, sib­lings or chil­dren.

Case op­poses this part of the pro­posal. He said the city needs a com­mis­sioner on the board be­cause they will have di­rect knowl­edge of how the au­thor­ity’s de­ci­sion im­pacts Tren­ton’s sewer plant. About a decade ago, the county took control of the au­thor­ity’s board ap­point­ments be­cause mem­bers of the pub­lic com­plained they didn’t know what was go­ing on. Peo­ple rarely at­tended board meet­ings.

“I need to have more in­put with [the au­thor­ity], or the com­mis­sion does,” Case said. “Not just an ap­pointee.”

Smith said he wants to keep po­lit­i­cal in­flu­ence out of the au­thor­ity’s de­ci­sion mak­ing. Board mem­ber H.A. McK­aig, who rep­re­sents Look­out Moun­tain, pointed to a re­cent joint meet­ing be­tween the county com­mis­sion and the au­thor­ity to dis­cuss buy­ing 61 acres for $500,000.

The au­thor­ity and the county both hope to build a reser­voir on the prop­erty. They ar­gue it will be an as­set to at­tract­ing busi­nesses and pro­vide ad­e­quate wa­ter sup­ply for decades, even if the pop­u­la­tion sig­nif­i­cantly rises. (The au­thor­ity cur­rently pulls about 3.8 mil­lion gal­lons out of Look­out Creek a day; the reser­voir would hold 158 mil­lion gal­lons.)

But some res­i­dents crit­i­cized the au­thor­ity and the county com­mis­sion dur­ing the meet­ing Nov. 26. They said both sets of of­fi­cials should al­ready have ro­bust plans in place for how to build the reser­voir. The pro­jected cost is about $5.1 mil­lion, and it’s not clear how the au­thor­ity or the county could pay for that. They also don’t have a timetable for fin­ish­ing the plan.

McK­aig be­lieves Rum­ley’s pres­ence on the board ex­plains some of the crit­i­cism, even though no res­i­dent brought that up dur­ing the meet­ing.

“Any way you try to do it, you’re go­ing to have some draw­backs some­where,” said McK­aig, who has sat on the board for about a year. “But I think Ted’s pol­i­tics made this tough. And I’m not say­ing that just be­cause it’s Ted. I’m say­ing who­ever gets there.”

Rum­ley has no prob- lem with the pro­posal. He said he doesn’t get paid for the job, and the chair only votes when there is a tie among the other four mem­bers. Un­der Smith’s pro­posal, the five mem­bers of the au­thor­ity board would ap­point a chair among them­selves. That per­son would serve a 1-year term.

“You don’t have any au­thor­ity, re­ally, any power,” Rum­ley said. “You’re more or less the per­son who holds the meet­ings. If they want to ap­point the chair­man through that, that would be less work for me.”

The county tabled Smith’s pro­posal for a month be­cause he and Com­mis­sioner Scot­tie Pittman will be out of of­fice at the begin­ning of next year, re­placed by La­mar Low­ery and Phillip Hart­line. Com­mis­sioner Al­lan Brad­ford said he plans to carry Smith’s res­o­lu­tion in Jan­uary.

The state leg­is­la­ture would need to pass any change to the au­thor­ity’s struc­ture, as in­tro­duced by a lo­cal del­e­ga­tion. This would in­clude State Rep.-elect Colton Moore, R-Look­out Moun­tain, and State Sen. Jeff Mullis, R-Chicka­mauga.

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