Water officials exchanged figurative blows Thursday in the latest round of a five-month escalating battle. Rockdale’s Water and Sewerage Authority board recommended the county commissioners not renew the contract of Rockdale Water Resources director Dwight Wicks at the end of the year. The WSA also formally accepted two human resources complaints from RWR Deputy Director Terrell Gibbs about the conduct of Authority member Garvin Haynes.
The Authority board voted 6-1 to recommend the Board of Commissioners not renew Wicks’ contract, which runs February 2009 to December 2012, and to advertise immediately for the position.
The BOC appoints the members of the Authority and also contracts with RWR.
Authority member Darrell Thomas voted against the recommendation. “Both sides have acted at times, for lack of a better word, like children,” said Thomas. “It’s unfortunate that it’s come to this.”
Authority member Chip Hatcher added that Wicks would be able to apply for the position like anyone else.
Earlier in the meeting, before the board went into an executive session, member Bill Murrain objected to Wicks characterization of Authority meetings as a “means of building public support for RWR projects and programs.”
Murrain emphasized that the Authority was not merely a “cheering section” for RWR nor a rubber stamp. He said later that Wicks had been increasingly resistant in giving information for the last six to eight months.
Authority member Phyllis Turner said she was shocked at some of the comments Wicks had made in emails during the days before the meeting.
Regarding the issue of radio read water meters, she said afterwards, "Rather than resolving in a cooperative manner, there was a lot of challenging our right to question it" from Wicks. But, she acknowleged, "There was pushback on both sides."
Wicks was not present – an unusual absence – and was instead attending a Metropolitan North Georgia Water district meeting.
After the meeting, Wicks said, “What culminated today was the behind the scenes maneuvering of Garvin Haynes.”
“It’s not their role to evaluate me,” Wicks said. “They are a community support group. It is the Board of Commissioners’ job to evaluate my performance. All you have to do is look at the record of things since I’ve been there. My record will speak for itself.” He pointed out RWR had been in the black for the past two years, brought down the number of customer service complaints, got the Cogsdale software implemented and running and moved forward with wastewater projects.
In Gibbs’ complaints, submitted March 19 and April 5 (see PDF documents with the online article), he alleged that Haynes was “intentionally, falsely” accusing Gibbs and Wicks of lying, doing illegal procurements, withholding information and was threatening Gibbs, Wicks and RWR staff.
Gibbs described actions such as calling representatives of suppliers and going to other clients of that company. Gibbs wrote that on Christmas day, “Mr. Haynes called a Delta Municipal representative as a Rockdale representative attempting to intimidate the vendor for more information relative to RWR metering operations.” The complaints also described calls to staff well after hours on non-work topics.
In the report, Gibbs wrote, “What I have cited is a huge reason why the relationship between the RWSA and RWR has deteriorated…much like the breakdown that took place at the Board of Elections.”
At the meeting, Gibbs said, “One thing I personally can’t tolerate is when someone potentially puts me, my well-being, my family, my state of life, as well as my personal and professional reputation in harm’s way.”
Haynes replied, “Just because you say it doesn’t make it so.”
He later said Gibbs’ dissatisfaction with him started after the radio read water meter issue. “They weren’t truthful on it and we did our homework on it and he’s a very disgruntled employee.”
“Their attempt to get the Authority off of their case will not work,” said Haynes. “Our job is to take care of the rate payers and bond holders.”
He said, “If filing open records is harassment, he needs to get a job in the private sector.”
It remained unclear as of Friday what, if anything, the BOC would do regarding the recommendation and complaints.
Governance Task Force
Dissention has been brewing in earnest since December, when disagreements came up over the conversion from touch or manual read water meters to radio read water meters and which companies and technologies to use.
Chairman Richard Oden assigned a four-person governance task force with Chief of Staff Greg Pridgeon, Wicks, Authority members Bill Murrain and Phyllis Turner, to look at the role of the Authority and relationship of RWR, the Authority and the county. The task force submitted its recommendations by April.
The report has not been publically released. The Authority board voted Thursday to request the BOC Chairman release the report. Pridgeon said the report was being reviewed by legal counsel and that the Chairman was evaluating how to implement the recommendations.
Out of about a dozen recommendations, Pridgeon said most of the members agreed on most of the recommendations. Murrain said there were a couple that Wicks objected to but the other three members agreed with.
Wicks said, “The Chairman has to give everyone their charge. Certain key members don’t understand their charge. You can’t have two people setting the priorities for RWR. That’s the job of the director, not the Water and Sewerage Authority.”
Authority Chairman Elaine Nash said, “There has never been a clear delineation of what the Authority’s role was.”
In the past, the Authority, which was created by the General Assembly in 1995 by an enabling act, had been used merely as a vehicle to finance debt, or not been used at all.
But, Nash said, nobody had read the lease with the county, which runs until 2022. The members of this board, who were appointed in 2009, had read the lease.
She pointed out that the Authority was charged with the fiduciary responsibility of making sure the bonds could be paid and facilities maintained.
She likened the role of the Authority to a landlord which leased its property – the pipes, plants, reservoir and water infrastructure – to the county or Board of Commissioners, which in turn subcontracted to RWR.
Nash said she welcomed the structure that would come from the task force’s recommendations.
“I’m sure nobody is going to agree with everything,” she said. “There may be some things the Authority will not like and some things RWR will not like.”
She anticipated that the Board of Commissioners would have to take a more active role and deal with more RWR items than they currently do if the Authority’s role is delineated and limited.
“I knew when the Authority was reactivated, there were going to be bumps in the road because there was no working system between RWR and the Authority.”
If the standoff between RWR and the Authority continues, she said there was still plenty for the Authority to work on, including a strategic plan to put utility’s financial ducks in a row in preparation for going to the bond market for an eventual new sewage plant.
The Environmental Protection Agency would soon be requiring the county to build a 3 million gallon per day sewage processing plant, which might cost anywhere from $30 million to $35 million in today’s dollars. She said the requirement had already been moved to 2015 and would hopefully be further delayed. If the TSPLOST, or regional transportation penny sales tax, passes this July, the county would likely not be able to implement another Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax to fund such a project and would have to go to the bond market.