Utility goes without full board

Monday, August 31, 2009

In a rare move, county commissioners this week declined to appoint their mayor's nominee to one of the several panels that manages key departments of local government.

Harley Ezell was nominated by Mayor Joe Boyd Liggett to succeed Mike Waggoner on the Marshall County Board of Public Utilities. Ezell's nomination failed 8-8 while Bill Blalock was reappointed 17-0.

Liggett, who must now come up with another nominee, selected Ezell from a number of people who'd said they were interested in serving, the county mayor said, endorsing the idea of having a variety of people serving on government panels. When pressed on the reason - after Waggoner's entanglement and vindication in an ethics issue was mentioned - Liggett emphasized his desire for variety.

Waggoner was found by the Ethics Committee to have had no control over decisions regarding landfill locations, the crux of a complaint filed against him and Sam Smith, who has been off the commission since the spring of 2008. His resignation - presented as a way to avoid a conflict of interests - and the subsequent revelation that he sold an option to buy land to Waste Management Inc., prompted the Tri-County Environmental Association's complaint against him and Waggoner. Waggoner served as Smith's real estate agent for that deal.

Appointments to boards are frequently routine, but Commissioner Dean Delk asked, "Can we vote separately?" Ultimately, there were two votes on confirming Ezell and Blalock, and others.

Commission Chairwoman Mary Ann Neill turned to County Attorney Ginger Shofner for advice on whether separate votes were allowed. Delk sought to ask Shofner the same question but Neill gaveled him down as a point of order saying she would.

Delk apologized. Commissioner Rocky Bowden seconded Delk's motion to vote separately and Commissioner Larry McKnight supported the plan, leading to separate votes.

Voting for Ezell were Commissioners McKnight, Neill, Mickey King, Tony White, Reynelle Smith, Wilford Wentzel, Jimmy Wolaver and Don Ledford. Voting no were Commissioners Delk, Jimmy Stitt, Seth Warf, Phil Willis, E.W. Hill, Rocky Bowden, Scottie Poarch and Billy Spivey.

Waggoner was honored for his 12 years of service on the MCBPU during discussion at the utility board's Aug. 18 meeting when Bowden, the chairman of the utility board, pointed out that it was Waggoner's last.

"I hope everybody in the county realizes what he's contributed to this board," Bowden said of Waggoner's departure from the MCBPU.

"You may put another good man in here," the chairman said with County mayor Joe Boyd Liggett attending, "but Mike Waggoner will not be replaced."

Blalock said Waggoner had made "hard decisions" and he regretted losing an experienced board member.

Waggoner wanted to continue and in his parting remarks, Waggoner said the panel had been a part of his life for so long that his 13-year-old daughter does not know a time when he wasn't on the board.

"I have no regrets," Waggoner said. "It's been an honor to serve."