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SPIGOLON: Porterdale tackling its smelly problems head on
The Porterdale Mill Lofts. - photo by Submitted Photo

Admittedly, the city of Porterdale has had its problems this summer.

Its elected leaders have dealt with a financial crisis they say blindsided them. Upset residents cried at public meetings and some public works employees resigned en masse — both because of actions its leaders took to right the financial ship.

The part-time city council appealed to an organization accustomed to dealing with such challenges — the Georgia Municipal Association — after a former interim city manager resigned. 

The result was the hiring of another city administrator who has begun the thankless but necessary task of tackling the city’s problems.

Interim City Manager Frank Etheridge has shown he fits right in to a city where it is common for top administrators to deal directly with residents’ complaints.

Business owners and residents alike tell stories about the Porterdale police chief personally answering calls for help. A top administrator in recent months collected residents’ garbage personally after recent staff resignations.

Time will tell if Etheridge’s efforts — such as contracting out the city’s residential roadside garbage pickup service — will help the city financially.

However, he recently took care of a smelly emergency no one wants to face — much less a senior citizen with a health condition that she said limits her movement outside her home.

And Etheridge did it even though it was questionable whether it was the city’s responsibility.

A Maple Court resident’s introduction to the problem last week was a gurgling sound coming from her bathroom.

Raw sewage was coming from the shower drain in her 17-year-old home and she called the city for help. Workers responded within 20 minutes with a piece of machinery called a jetter, which is commonly used to clear a sewer line.

But her home’s sewer line apparently was not built to building code standards when the home was constructed — a piece of information not typically discussed as part of the sales process. 

The part of the sewer line used to access blockages — the cleanout — was not properly installed either at the property line or near the house, Etheridge said.

Part of the line appeared to have been sealed with duct tape, and it included two 90-degree turns within a foot of each other, Etheridge said in a note to Porterdale City Council members.

The jetter got stuck in the line. The city called in the Newton County Water and Sewerage Authority for assistance, while the county fire department provided 300 gallons of water for the machine.  

But it wouldn’t come loose and Etheridge took on the job of personally telling the homeowner the bad news: it would take some time to remove it and she didn’t have sewer service.

Also, because the problem was in the line on her property, she was responsible for the repairs. It was not city policy to pay for something that was not the city’s responsibility, nor was it going to pay for her to stay elsewhere while she waited for a plumber, he told her.

She was not happy, to say the least. 

But Etheridge determined the city would take care of the problem because the equipment the city used helped exacerbate it. The line was not properly installed but the city fixed the problem anyway rather than dumping it in the homeowner’s lap.

The jetter had gone under the foundation and required removal of a toilet inside the house to get it unstuck, said the longtime government administrator.

“As it is because of where the jetter line got stuck the city is paying for all the repairs and we did not damage her home,” he said. “I understand from my folks when they left early this afternoon is that she was satisfied with the work they performed.”

The homeowner later confirmed to me she was satisfied with the cleanup they did, as well as the price tag.

With all the problems this small city has experienced lately, it’s nice to see city officials still are trying to give personal service, provide practical solutions when they can, and deal with a customer face to face even when it’s unpleasant to do so.

Not everything the city’s leadership will do to deal with its ongoing problems will make everyone happy. 

But I’m glad to see they still believe in personal service even as a financial crisis, COVID-19 and everything else making 2020 a year to forget swirls around them.

Tom Spigolon is the news editor of The Covington News. His email is

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Tom Spigolon