For Cowden, town always came first

Friday, March 20, 2009

Petersburg has had more than its fair share of controversy lately, but amid the hue and cry of last week's Town Board meeting there was a story of compassion and how the former mayor took care of his town.

It became a topic of public discussion because of a $300 invoice from one of the town's contractors. It's not been paid yet because the town's consulting engineer offered to speak with the contractor who submitted the bill.

The story starts on a recent Saturday. Water service to a resident's house failed. The husband was out of town and for all intents and purposes unavailable, regardless of how fast he might have traveled back home. The woman's son showed up to see what he could do.

Then-Mayor John Cowden became aware of the situation and arrived at the woman's house and it wasn't hard to realize that the problem was a broken pipe. The woman's son has a tractor with a back hoe and offered to dig the trench, but apparently claimed no expertise in how to repair a water service line between the meter and the house.

Cowden had fixtures. Someone else had pipe and the town's contractor (hired to install water meters since every customer's meter is being replaced) provi9ded the know-how on what to do when the service line was exposed.

After the son finished digging a trench to expose the water line, it was clear that the suspected problem was what happened. The pipe was broken. It had been leaking like crazy. Cowden explained after his last town board meeting that the pipe was black. He didn't know what it was made from, but it was un-repairable and required replacement.

The then-mayor provided "fixtures" from his own supply to help with the installation of the replacement pipe. While he didn't say so, it's entirely possible, if not likely that the mayor used a shovel to dig dirt and replace it for the pipe repair.

That is not in any job description for a mayor, but it's in John Cowden's play-book.

John Cowden didn't talk about the repair job for recognition. he had to have the town's contractor's bill for $300 submitted for approval by the town board.

There could have been an observation that night about how a municipality can't be involved in or pay for work done on private property, but none was heard.

There are plenty of public officials who've gotten in trouble for having county or municipal employees doing work at an official's home.

Remarkably, the audience of town residents who have been asking questions about the town's audit said nothing about a town official or a town contractor working to restore water service to a woman's home when her man could not be there to take care of the problem.

One could fairly conclude that this was not an issue because the town's consulting engineer said she'd speak with the contractor about the invoice.

She will probably have an answer before the next town board meeting scheduled for the second Monday night of April. On that evening at 7 o'clock, the board may face the question again. If not, it's could be because the contractor decided to withdraw the invoice.

We shall see.