Consolidation recommendation reiterated

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

One of the men who caused the creation of the Marshall County Board of Public Utilities has been a champion of consolidation and as he was leaving that panel recently, he reasserted that method of improving public service.

"We need to look at the opportunities for cooperation between the utilities... to bring these organizations together to achieve the economy of scale we could have together," Joe Barry Brandon told the MCBPU during a special called meeting of the rural water service on Oct. 21.

It was the day the board officially received a consultant's report with a recommendation that to overcome an increased debt load there should be a water rate increase of some 34 percent.

"Nobody likes to raise taxes or increase rates," Brandon said. "This organization is trying to look into ourselves and see how we can best serve ourselves and deal with the recession."

Brandon resigned from the Marshall County Commission in late September. It ended his tenure on the utilities board that's accepted the challenge from county leaders to extend service through a project that emerged as the county entered a terrible drought.

Other changes were considered for the water utility since its creation 39 years ago when Brandon seconded the motion by Doug Rodgers to have the Marshall County Quarterly Court establish the MCBPU. It was Oct. 13, 1969, and it was in the days when there were no commissioners. They'd been known as justices of the peace. Such county leaders had also been known as squires.

Rodgers "was sort of a mentor to me," Brandon recalled last weekend when asked about his four decades of service. There was more rivalry between communities then and in the intervening years Marshall County has gone from an agrarian county to a more industrial community.

There's been more growth in the Chapel Hill area than anticipated, largely because of the General Motors auto plant at Spring Hill, but also because the northern part of the county is influenced by the growth of Williamson and Rutherford counties, Brandon said.

"At first they thought Saturn would bring 200 families to Marshall County and it turned out to be more than that," he said.

Brandon has advocated bold steps to improve infrastructure to serve the communities and that, of course, included utilities.

"We've bantered about having our own water treatment plant on the Duck River and try to serve our customer base in the north end of the county," he said.

There's also been improvements to get into the Belfast and Farmington areas, and MCBPU water lines are linked with the Bedford County Utility District system, he said.

"We've had conversation about that (consolidation over the years) and maybe put together a water authority between Lewisburg and Chapel Hill ... to deal with growth issues and help each other," Brandon said, acknowledging the histories of other utilities.

BCUD is a consolidation of several small water districts. That utility's board still designated its directors as being from certain areas that are vestiges of the previous water systems. In Rutherford County the rural water system's name is a reflection of its mergers: Consolidated Utility District.

"I just think it makes a lot of sense from a cost effectiveness standpoint," he said. "We've got a 60-mile project under way. At some point in time we're going to have to have a new water source.

"Of course I'm still interested in the consolidation of the economic development efforts," Brandon said of an effort that has been controversial, although it does address concerns that there may be duplication of services by several groups such as the Lewisburg Industrial Development Board, the city's industrial recruiter and the state-mandated county-wide Marshall County Joint Economic and Community Development Board.

Brandon has worked for the state Department of Economic and Community Development. He's now an employee of the Tennessee Department of Labor and Workforce Development.

Before that he was in the men's clothing business on Lewisburg's public square where Your Wedding Your Way now helps brides prepare for their big day. His store was Joe B's Men's and Boys'.

"The retail business on the square has changed," he said, dryly.

With the TDECD, Brandon "was in jobs and economic development," and now he's doing substantially the same thing for the labor department.

He is an executive assistant for economic development working under Commissioner James Neeley. He's not an assistant commissioner. The department has a deputy commissioner.

Given his career and advocacy for consolidation, one might see it as ironic that he's served as one of the first members of the Lewisburg Industrial Development Board.

As he received a plaque and framed copy of the resolution honoring him for his service as a water board director, Brandon advocated public service.

"You do what you do because that's what you're charged to do," he said. "There is a need for public service."

"I appreciate the fact that people have put their trust and confidence in me," he said last weekend.

Brandon grew into such public responsibility from an organization that's been an incubator for public officials. He agreed that the Jaycees might be described as sort of a "shadow party," serving as a training ground for people who eventually won political office.

"Yeah, Frank Clement who was governor was a Jaycee and when you look at the state legislature - it's not as prevalent now as it was, but you could walk through the halls and recognize that about half of them had Jaycee experience.

"I was very active in the Jaycees. I went through all the positions in the Marshall County Jaycees, regional vice president and state vice president... protocol officer," he said of his participation in the club for young people.

After a certain age, membership status is described as "exhausted rooster."

The clubs fostered friendships and people with a common purpose, and often enough, it was political.

"I don't think there's anything wrong with being political," Brandon said. "It's one of the reasons our country has been successful. We're not like a lot of other counties. We don't have a king. We have to bring along our own people.."

Leadership training was the chief function of the Jaycees, he said.

The clubs aren't as prevalent as they once were: "I don't think it's here now. If you look to communities that had strong Jaycees, they don't now."

He can list several towns and counties where the club was a significant fact of life for young adults.

Now, in something of a reversal, Brandon is back in school; "taking a humanities course and ... a writing course... It has a culminating project. I'll probably take another economics course."

Economics was his major at Middle Tennessee State University.

He's also delivering on his stated reason for resigning. He's spending more time with his grandchildren. He was interviewed by telephone as he returned home after visiting the children.