Job contracts suggested to dodge political influence

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

By Clint Confehr

Senior Staff Writer

Employment contracts for supervisors were suggested to Lewisburg's Water and Wastewater Board by the panel's attorney during its monthly meeting on Thursday.

"We've all seen the heavy hand of politics come in here," the utilities' attorney, Dan P. Whitaker, told the two attending board members. "Think about an employment contract for supervisors.

"Last spring, they were after his head for nothing he did," Whitaker said, explaining the rate increase for sewer service was not something made up by utilities Superintendent Kenneth Carr. "It was EPA," the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, its mandate from Congress, and statewide administration of those rules by the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation, TDEC, Whitaker said.

In the fall of 2010, city resident Bob Lowe was complaining about paying a sewer service bill even though he uses a septic tank. Councilman Robin Minor examined the cause, a utility policy that's not unusual. In September last year, attention also focused on a then-pending sewer rate hike mandated by a TDEC order to assure repayment of debt for a $13 million expansion of the sewage treatment plant. That on-going work is to stop partially treated sewage from passing through the sewage plant.

Councilmen Robin Minor, who was re-elected in May, said in September last year that he had "lost confidence in the management of the water department." Councilman Odie Whitehead Jr. said substantially the same thing and Councilman Ronald McRady was suggesting that Carr get TDEC to postpone the requirement for a rate hike, or go to state lawmakers representing residents here to appeal to TDEC for relief.

Carr had no such alternatives; "That's the way it looked to me," Whitaker emphasized, again advocating job security for Carr. "Give him a little oomph so he can hang in there."

Discussion Thursday also indicated that job security might also be provided to Assistant Superintendent Pepper Biggers.

"The politics got involved in that and they discovered they couldn't do anything about it," said Mayor Barbara Woods who was at the utility board meeting.

Lewisburg's utilities operate under their own charter. The board members are appointed by the mayor.

"And they (the councilmen who sought to remove Carr as superintendent) pretty much learned ... that he (Carr) was appointed by the board and he couldn't be removed unless there were a serious situation" such as professional misconduct, Whitaker said.

Ultimately, Councilman Hershel Davis, chairman of the utility board, and utility board member Billy Hill agreed that Whitaker should draft something for the board to consider at its next meeting. It's at 4 p.m. on the third Thursday of January, meaning Jan. 19. The board meets in its offices at the corner of Water Street and First Avenue North.

As an elected councilman, the board's chairman has a term representing his ward until May 2013.

"Unless something drastic happens," Davis, 78, said, "I don't plan to run (for elected office) anymore."

He declined to express an opinion for or against having a work contract for one or both of the department's top two full-time leaders.

"I'd like to look at the (contract's) draft before I say anything" about offering the superintendent a work contract, Davis said.

"We brought that up about the city manager," he said of when David Orr succeeded Eddie Fuller as city manager, "but nobody wanted it.

"I can see how it could be a good thing and not," Davis said. "It could be a good thing with councilmen changing."

The May 2013 city election includes the mayor's position.

"The schools have been through this, too," said Davis, a former maintenance supervisor for Marshall County Schools.

The Marshall County Board of Education is the only panel that Davis knew of that provides a contract for the individual appointed by the board.

Also attending the utility board was Billy Hill, the county's veterans service officer, and Ed Potts, the most recent member of the board. He succeeded Gary Bolling.