WASA chair challenges PTC Council

The chairman of Peachtree City’s Water and Sewer Authority fired back last week at recent criticism from city Councilman Eric Imker.

WASA’s Mike Harman noted that Imker’s criticism was aired toward current WASA board member Tim Meredith last month when council at Imker’s urging declined to reappoint Meredith to one of two open positions on the WASA board.

Imker particularly cited WASA’s rate increase in October 2010 that caused about a $20 hike on most residential customers’ bills as evidence that Meredith should not be reappointed. Harman argued that the rate hike was necessary to counteract dwindling revenue brought on in large part due to water restrictions, as users’ bills are calculated based on how much water a customer uses each month.

One of Harman’s biggest beefs was the fact that Meredith’s name was proverbially dragged through the mud, yet he wasn’t offered a chance to defend himself.

“It’s not fair to him to be spoken about in public like that when nobody actually had spoken to him about the issues,” Harman said.

Harman also responded to criticism that WASA was undertaking a public relations campaign to make citizens overlook the rate increase in 2010. In fact, the authority has undertaken more public relations in an effort to be more open in response to previous criticism from council about a lack of transparency.

“The reason we are doing that is not to make people forget about the rates,” Harman said.

Harman noted that of the $30,000 spent last year and approximately $45,000 this year on public relations, the authority has developed a website, instituted a newsletter and held public events to allow tours of WASA facilities.

“Council ... felt we were not operating in full and open avenues, so we spent some money on that,” Harman said. “The value is intangible. We don’t have a way to judge whether it’s effective or not.”

Harman noted that WASA’s bond refinancing last month saved ratepayers an average of about $220,000 a year and it may allow WASA to reduce its rates. The system reviews the rate structure about every two years, he said.

“I can’t say it will happen,” Harman said of a possible rate decrease, “but it gives us an opportunity to look at it right now while revenue is doing very well.”

Harman noted with about 10,200 residential and commercial customers, the authority has gotten spotless audits for the past five years and has a total of six million gallons a day of treatment capacity though the average flow is about 3.2 million gallons a day. The authority employs 25 full time and five part time personnel to run the sewer system with operations 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, Harman said.

During the bond refinancing WASA received a AA- credit rating, which recognized the authority’s “excellent financial performance and that we were meeting our bond covenant and revenue requirements,” Harman said.

Harman also noted that in the past five years there have been only three incidents of accidental sewer discharges, and one was related to the former Photocircuits building in the city’s industrial park.

Harman also addressed the dispute between the WASA board and council members over the recent bond refinancing, during which WASA had initially considered going without council’s backing which would save less money for ratepayers but give WASA the flexibility to go beyond the city limits to provide sewer service and provide additional revenue.

“There was never a point where the authority said we want to proceed without the help of council,” Harman said, criticizing an “incendiary” newspaper article about the meeting.

Harman was critical of three council members who didn’t even return the email and phone call he had made to each member in the wake of that article.

“Three of you not only didn’t want to meet with me, but you didn’t show a courtesy response by email or phone, and I left a message both ways,” Harman said. “The Water and Sewer Authority is not your adversary, and it’s not the adversary of the citizens of Peachtree City,” Harman said. “... What it is is a non-profit business ... and business decisions have to be made.”

Harman said previous councils have decided to veto potential sewer expansions beyond the city limits, and had those extensions been approved, there would have been more revenue coming to WASA. As of now, however, there are no such proposals to expand the sewer system beyond the city limits, he added.

Harman concluded his presentation by noting that all current WASA members would be happy to meet with council members to answer their questions and provide information about the sewer system, and he apologized in part for venting, but “I didn’t feel it was appropriate for you to talk that way about a board member.”

moelarrycurly
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A point proven

those who just don't have facts continue to prove the reason for the status quo.

pumpkin
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Mr. Mayror

Thank you. DA.....no other comment required!

GeorgeDienhart
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Husband

The truth is, I can't read the other councilmembers minds. I didn't know if he was going to be approved or not. In fact, I rarely make up my own mind until after the last word on an issue is spoken. In this case, that last word was not spoken until moments before the vote. I could not call him and tell him that he was not going to be retained because I didn't know how the vote would turn out.

Unfortunately, public service is sometimes very public. Mr. Merideth deserved to have his appointment discussed in front of a full council.This would have allowed Don or Vannessa to make the case for him, as much as Eric did against. The only way that this could be discussed by a full council is in a public meeting.

Now, as for why the final vote went the way it did, the gentleman in question voted to sever the current WASA relationship with council and refinance debt at a higher rate. In the end, we kept the relationship as it has always been, allowing WASA to utilize our AAA credit rating. This boils down to the WASA members needing to do what is best for city taxpayers. To vote for a higher interest rate on those bonds, meant that he was willing to raise WASA rates even higher than was really necessary. In my opinion, one of the things a public servant is honor bound to do is provide the level of service expected by the citizen at the lowest possible rate. This should be the first commandment of government. Mr. Merideth's vote was in clear violation of this principle. That is why I voted against his appointment.

Husband and Fat...
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Mr. Dienhart

With all due respect, I did not question any of councilmembers votes. You know a lot more regarding the reasoning behind your vote.

I do question the method upon which Mr. Imker went after the man without him being present or discussing it, one on one with Mr. Meredith beforehand. If I am not mistaken, you jumped into the conversation and piled on.

I don't know Mr. Meredith from Adam. Whether the man was right for the job or not, he deserved at minimum a one on one conversation before being openly criticized. According to the article, no one had the decency to even call the gentleman before or after the discussion.

This did not appear to be a pressing issue that had to be resolved then and there. Sometimes common courtesy bests public humiliation. I am sure you would agree.

Larry.Sussberg
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Husband & Father 2

We agree on almost all points but on this one, I ask that you re-read Mr. Dienhart's post.

This WASA board member, who was orginally appointed by city council, wanted to re-finance at higher interest rates in order to remain "more independent of the city". Seriously? WASA serves the city only, although a few years ago they wanted to expand into Senoia which could have resulted in uncontrolled growth since anyone can attach onto a sewer system if within 200 feet - uncontrolled growth.

Was WASA serving the city then? By pushing to expand to Senoia and now are they serving the city by wanting to re-finance at higher rates? Really?

After Mayor Haddix met with WASA which was before this council meeting did he call for an executive session to discuss this with council? He had a meeting to discuss the issues and and "mend bridges" so why wasn't this information passed on to each council member in executive session PRIOR to the council meeting or 1 at a time to each council member not to violate the rules of open meetings?

For some reason, every PTC bonding authority that exists has played politics with council! DAPC, when they knew they were being de-funded did it by interfering in the last council election (with Haddix) and it appears the same stuff that DAPC did is happening now.......and oh my gosh, guess what, it's an election year!

Husband and Fat...
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Larry

I don't have an issue on the way any of the council members voted.

I have a problem calling out a volunteer in public without notification or private discussion beforehand.

For once, this doesn't fall only to the Mayor. I expect all my council members to have a little decency and at minimum talk the man before or after they axed him.

Maybe I don't understand politics. I do however understand business courtesy and ethics.

Don Haddix
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Haddix: Only?

I voted for his recommendation, he was notified of the Interview Panel results and I voted against how Council did this action.

I did inform Council of my meeting with Chairman Harman. Those that contacted Chairman Harman did not inform me of their conversations at any time.

Executive Session cannot be used for this purpose, contrary to what Larry said.

Nor is Councilman Dienhart being factual when he says every discussion is public. It is not nor has ever been. There were official conversations behind the scenes concerning WASA on the bond issue. All the point made on the Dais were covered, including a push to take over WASA by some.

They could have informed Mr. Meridith, individually, without any group conversation, they were going to vote against him. Nothing new was said on the Dais against WASA.

As far as Larry trying to spin this into an election issue, he needs to review his history. In 2011 Fleisch, Learnard and Imker claimed they had funded DAPC and would not dissolve them. Less than two weeks after the election they dissolved them.

So, no, the authorities didn't play political games with Council. The Councilmembers played political games with them.

Getting back on your original point, Husband, your observations remain valid. We do, on other issues, let people know they are not going to be selected to give them a chance to withdraw.

Larry.Sussberg
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Spin spin spin

I believe that Mr. Dienhart said it perfectly. Unfair to call him a liar!
Why anyone would vote to reappoint someone willing to waste the taxpayers' money by wanting to re-finance bonds at a AA rating instead of AAA rating is baffling? That's why the vote was 4 to 1, done and over!
Meanwhile, this is not a real issue facing the city. It's emotional nonsense and of no real value.
Move on to real issues.

moelarrycurly
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Not knowing how the vote will turn out?

Now that is a hoot.

ptctaxpayer
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Ain't Imker a Hoot

What a clown...Castigates a Sewer board member for raising the sewer fee $20 a month but it's ok to raise our stormwater fee for about $10 a month. Look in the dictionary under hypocrite--- there's Imker.

Husband and Fat...
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Shameful

If Mr. Harmons statement is accurate, and no member of council contacted Mr. Meridith to discuss council not approving his re-appointment to the WASA board, than this is just shameful.

Council: What have you to say about this?

Don Haddix
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Haddix: Appointment

In the Interview Panel process the vote to recommend was 3(Harman, Pennington, Haddix)-1(Learnard). Councilwoman Learnard said very little during the process.

There was no forewarning from any on Council they would vote to deny. The vote was 4-1 (Haddix).

I imagine you are very aware of the comments made on the Dais by Councilmembers Imker and Dienhart and me. As well in my Letter to the Editor. So no need to repeat them here.

I had the announcement put out immediately for 2 voting and one alternate seats. We should be interviewing again next week.

Husband and Fat...
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Mr. Haddix-

I was hoping that Mr. Imker and Dienhart picked up the phone to speak with Mr. Meredith (man to man) after both requested that he not be offered another term on the board. This should have been discussed with the man before they denied his re-appointment in January. Mr. Harmon was right, the man deserves a public appology for the way he was treated.

Don Haddix
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Haddix: Appology

The best I could do was when he asked me to let him speak at the meeting was to give him the opportunity to do so with no time limit.

Husband and Fat...
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Mr. Haddix: I would like to hear from Mr. Imker and Dienhart

Mr. Haddix: My beef is with Mr. Imker and Dienhart on this. They should have discussed this with Mr. Meredith first before the vote to not re-appoint. This would have allowed the man the opportunity to withdraw his name for consideration or be present to debate on the evening of the vote. Sounds like they did not have the courtesy to contact him afterwards either. Not professional in my book.

For once I agree with you in that we need good people on boards and the way council handled this will discourage some from even thinking of volunteering. However, I don't believe that council should just rubberstamp people either.

Don Haddix
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Haddix: Agree

Nor do we.

Fact is the Interview Panel has and does vote to not forward names to the Council from time to time. Sometimes that leaves seats vacant.

But, it does so in a way that is not public and does not insult or embarrass the person denied. We are very careful to never do that.

I will not and cannot speak for either Councilmembers Imker or Dienhart. But I can speak for the Interview portion of the process and myself.

Volunteers are vital to PTC. When they cease to feel appreciated or wanted, they and the City suffer. That cannot be tolerated.

We do agree on this one. Good luck in getting your answers.

Larry.Sussberg
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WASA Public Relations Budget?

Mr. Harman:

How much is WASA spending on PR?

How much is being spent?

Thanks

M Harman
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Larry, In FY 2012 a total of

Larry,
In FY 2012 a total of $28,059 and so far in 2013 $20,693 has been spent on the PR initiative. The amount so far this year is a little higher than last year at this time do to a couple of events that were held. Both events were in relation to the Authority's 15 year anniversary and were open to the public. The theme has been to try and keep the citizens up to date on the activities of the Authority. Informational flyers are included in the water bill once per quarter. The WASA website is up and funtional. Information is available to anyone who wants to see what is happening. Actually, I would appreciate any feedback that anyone may have regarding the effectivness of the informational initiative.
Also, I encourage everyone to attend our meetings, which are held on the first Monday of each month.

Larry.Sussberg
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Mr. Harman

I have 3 suggestions for reducing costs.
1-cut the PR budget and save the money.
2-let customers pay on line and save on some envelopes and postage.
3-use portions of city hall for purchasing, PR and truck maintenance and, if they have not been cooperative in the past, try again.
Every effort to reduce costs and lower rates is appreciated including using the AAA bond rating of PTC. Dig deeper to cut expenses and pass along the savings to your owners/customers.
And finally, I know you may be upset with last council meeting but don't be used or trust any politician running for public office this year. Beware of the Trojan Horse, you may be thrown under the wheels of it.

Thank you for your honest response!

Larry