Reportage responsibility debated by city council

Friday, March 19, 2010

There were differences of opinion among Lewisburg councilmen last week over who should be reporting on progress toward satisfying a state order on storm water management.

A chief concern was whether storm water coordinator Corey Pleas should be required to report to the Council, or whether that's the responsibility of City Manager Eddie Fuller. It was the second monthly meeting in a row where councilmen focused on storm water.

"We've already been fined $9,500," Councilman Ronald McRady said. "We've got a $25,000 fine staring us in the face" and payable if certain requirements aren't met by a deadline from the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation.

TDEC enforces rules promulgated the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency under amendments to the Clean Water Act of 1972. That law first led to licensure of sewage treatment plants to protect rivers, creeks and streams. In the early 1990s, it became clear waterways were to be protected from pollutants washing off roofs, pavements and construction sites during rain storms. It's more than just silt fences at construction sites.

State inspection of Lewisburg's storm water program led to fines and allegations of poor recordkeeping and other aspects of mismanagement. The city hired a consulting engineer with expertise in storm water management and it would appear that the program is on track to meet the state deadline, but concerns remain among Council members, and the city's first storm water coordinator, R.L. Williams, spoke up in an apparent effort to defend his tenure.

McRady sought a report from Pleas during the Council's meeting on March 9. Councilman Quinn Stewart took a different position.

"Pleas is an hourly employee," Stewart said. "Fuller is his superior."

Therefore, the Council should hear from Fuller, she said.

"I disagree," McRady replied. "He's a director... I think we ought to get information from the people doing the job..."

Pleas spoke up from the audience: "I'm not a director. I'm a coordinator."

The Marshall County Tribune has previously referred to Pleas as a director and the newspaper regrets the error.

Councilman Odie Whitehead aligned himself with Stewart on who should report.

"It's not Pleas' responsibility to report," Whitehead said. "It's that of the city manager."

The Council received a quick update on the storm water program last month and Pleas prepared a written report that was made available to the Council on Tuesday night last week.

McRady reiterated his concern to avoid returning "back where we were" with the state on storm water management and he replied to Whitehead and Stewart, "I know Mr. Fuller is in charge..."

Pleas responded: "You can't read it? You want to pay me overtime to read it to you..."

Whitehead said, "Do you see a problem with Mr. Pleas' work?"

Fuller suggested an immediate review of the report provided by Pleas.

"We appear to be on track" toward meeting the state's deadline, Fuller said, noting various points in the report, but McRady repeated his preference to hear from Pleas.

Fuller then pointed out, "Bobby Davis is here and he's an hourly employee" who could report on work he's aware of for the city.

Amid other discussion, the city manager asked Pleas if he felt the city was "on track" to satisfy the state's order, and Pleas said yes: "The mapping is 75 percent complete."

The flow of storm water drainage is to be mapped so that document can be used to address sediment and other issues.

August of 2011 is the deadline for the various projects, such as mapping, Pleas said.

The storm water coordinator also confirmed that steps have been taken to conduct a public education program to inform students on the nature of water draining from pavement and other impervious surfaces. That's being done with the assistance of Marshall County Schools Director Roy Dukes.

"You're doing industrial inspections?" Fuller asked Pleas who replied that he is.

"I think that's what Mr. McRady wanted to hear from you," Fuller told Pleas.

McRady turned to Pleas saying, "I'm not here to badger you. I want to hear from the source."

Fuller asked Pleas, "Do you have any problems or needs?"

Pleas said no and that he would go to Fuller before anything might develop into a problem.

Whitehead then offered support for that course of action with a phrase from the Andy Griffith Show's Mayberry dialog: "Nip it in the bud."

"For the record," Fuller said, "Corey gave me this."

He was holding the written report.

Stewart said the exchange "should not have happened... Fuller is responsible. Reports need to come from him."

The council then turned to another matter.