Fayette disciplines 5 water employees

Fayette County Administrator Steve Rapson in a July 2013 photo.

Rapson reorganizes water dept.; stresses need for 'accountability' among staff

Five employees of the Fayette County Water System have been disciplined following two independent reports of basic operational problems at the county’s two water treatment plants.

County Manager Steve Rapson, who handed down the discipline Friday, said each of the employees were receiving suspensions without pay, pay classification and title changes, varying performance improvement plans, and each would be subject to a probationary period. Names were not released pending a period of five days in which the employees could file appeals.

“We need to work to earn the public confidence lost over these past few months,” Rapson said.

Rapson noted that none of the water problems experienced earlier this year made the water unsafe to drink. But starting in May, problems literally left a bad taste in people’s mouths as taste and odor problems dragged on for several weeks.

A consultant who helped ameliorate the taste and odor issue determined that significant problems with operations at the Crosstown Water Treatment Plant in Peachtree City were to blame. In a separate report documenting a review of the water treatment plants following the taste and odor problems, the Georgia Environmental Protection Division cited the water system for violating 10 Georgia safe drinking water rules and listed 147 deficiencies in the system that needed to be addressed.

The EPD report also recommended that five water system employees, including water system director Tony Parrott, be investigated to determine if they “practiced fraud or deception,” or instead were “incompetent or unable to perform their duties properly.”

Faulty plant operations were also at the heart of an episode with high manganese levels in raw water that forced the shutdown of the Crosstown and South Fayette water plants, according to the consultant’s report July 25. That report cited improper lab testing, use of the wrong intake gate to draw water from Lake Horton and a failure of an automatic switchover machine that caused chlorine levels to drop at the Crosstown plant, which should have been detected by the overnight plant operator.

Rapson’s discipline includes requirements for “senior management” to prepare a corrective plan to address the findings of the EPD sanitary survey. Also, senior water system management must also prepare:

• A comprehensive capital improvement plan for the system;

• An update to standard operating procedures;

• A comprehensive communication improvement plan; and

• A customer service improvement plan.

“I think the steps I took today will get us heading in the right direction and install a sense of accountability,” Rapson said. “So these folks will either follow the directions I have provided, or we’ll go to step number two.”

Any further action if necessary could include additional discipline “up to termination,” Rapson said.

Rapson would not release the names nor details of the discipline, saying he wanted to allow the disciplined employee five days to file an appeal as allowed by county policy. Rapson committed that he would release a host of related documents relating to the dismissals which have been requested by The Citizen under the Georgia Open Records Act.

Under that law, the county is allowed to wait up to 10 days after the conclusion or termination of the investigation to release the records.

“I think when you actually get that document that the employees signed today, it will be very clear in that document what the consequences are not to comply,” Rapson said. “... This is all stuff we’re talking about how we can do better, and not only do better but we want to be recognized as one of the superior water systems in the state. I’m saying we can do better, our residents expect better, and I think I have charged this department to move in a direction that will put us in that superior mode.”

The county is also proceeding with sorting through bids to select an “engineer of record” for the water system with the chance of a staff recommendation for action by the county commission sometime in September, Rapson said in the news release.

If any of the employees choose to appeal the discipline handed down by Rapson, three county department heads will be appointed to a panel to hear the appeal, Rapson said. The employee will get to choose one of the panel members, Rapson will get to choose one, and then those two appointed panelists will get to choose the third appeals panel member, Rapson explained.

moelarrycurly
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MajorMike-address

For Steve Rapson

srapson@fayettecountyga.gov

MajorMike
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moelarrycurly - thanx

Jim Sessoms popped me a copy of it last night and also forwarded my blog post to Steve Rapson.

I received a short reply from Steve R. today that said he had not received any phone calls of emails from me. Uhhhhhh hello, hello, can you hear me now. As of 1630 hrs today his email address is still not posted on the FC website.

In a return email I stated my positions about getting to the origins of the problems and perhaps investing a few shekels in a Preventive maintenance scheduling system. I was not overly kind in my opinions stated and tried my best not to be abusive. I did however, state my admiration for Mr.Rapson for putting up with Don Haddix for four years without killing him.

I went outside this morning and was immediately blinded by this bright shiny object in the sky. Enough rain already! I hope we're good for the fireworks display.

NUK_1
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Major: U talking about Haddix or Brown here?

Rapson hasn't had to deal with 4 years of Haddix....he was in Sandy Springs and then Union City during Don's reign of error, unless you're talking about Steve Rapson the PTC citizen who has had to live under that reign :)

MajorMike
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NUK_1

I was blinded by the bright shiny object in the sky. I thought at one point Rapson worked with Haddix. Oh well, the sentiment still stands.

NUK_1
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Major: I agree with that sentiment too

I'm also loving the 60 degree weather or so in the early AM when I wake up these last few days!

MajorMike
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So sorry boy and girls (& Steve Rapson)

So sorry boy and girls (& Steve Rapson), but there is a good deal about the investigation itself that just "stinks"!

To start with, this problem did not occur overnight. I've lived in close proximity to the Crosstown plant and I will testify under oath that the problem with "stinky" water has gone on for an alsolute minimum of fifteen (15) years. During these years, if you complained, you were told that they would send someone out to flush the lines. For the last six or seven years the response has been: no response. Chlorine fumes have been so bad at times that I felt that you could bleach clean the driveway without the need of a pressure washer.

The sediment in the Crosstown settling ponds did not build up to the level it did and a consistency resembling concrete, requiring high pressure hoses and power equipment to SLOWLY remove it, in a short span of years. Ditto with large screens and filters pulling away from concrete moorings.

This past spring I broke out with urticaria (hives) over areas up to approximately 30% of my skin surface. Due to associated breathing problems I carried an Epi pen 24/7. Emergency steroid treatment wrecked utter havoc with my (diabetic) blood glucose readings. Two rounds of hospital tests showed no known problems. The allergy clinic/Doctor finally diagnosed the problem as "angio edema". Medical translation: "we don't know". Look it up for yourself.

Here it comes! Wait for it .... wait.......; All problems related above abated and ceased within a two week period of the two plant shutdowns. They have not recurred.

There is an old industrial joke about the four stages of problem solving that goes something like:
1) Identify the problem if absolutely forced to.
2) Protect the guilty at all costs.
3) Persecute the innocent.
4) Heap praise, accolades, and promotions upon those truly responsible for the problem.

Given the historical fact that government at any level has never been worth a flying flip for identifying and correcting problems, I would NSHS (not so humbly suggest) that Mr. Rapson and company exit the panic room and take a fresh look at the long term problems instead of merely sacrificing a few of the worker bees. I would also NSHS a citizens panel to, at minimum, evaluate the long term problem without political considerations.

Waiting for response ....... waiting........

Michael Jerrell
Peachtree City since 1985

michael.jerrell@comcast.net

CC: FCBOC at fjones@fayettecountyga.gov
The Citizen readership

Note: Mr. Rapson's email address is not available on FC web sit. All attempts at phone contact failed.

Bruce Jordan
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Not to say I told you so but

I Knew there had to be adverse effects from that water. It was too putride for anyone to tell me it wasn't harmful.

TinCan
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Mike, allergies

I find your experiences very interesting. In the last several months I have had 3 episodes, each more serious than the previous. Last one led to an ambulance ride and lengthy stay in the ER and hospitalization over night. I also am now packing the Epi pen 24/7. Wonder if there is more to this water issue than being released, or if others are experiencing a sudden flare up of these issues? Probably just a coincidence.

ptctaxpayer
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Meanwhile, while MajorMike and TinCan have to pack EPI pens

Meanwhile, while MajorMike and TinCan have to pack EPI pens all that many including suck-ups like AtHomeGym care about are "contracts" and "legal pitfalls" over firing these clowns. Don't that beat all.

AtHomeGym
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ptctaxpayer & "suck-ups"

Got a hot flash for you sport--those who know me would never characterize me as a "suck-up"-I like to think I'm a realist. And who knew about the epi-pens until yesterday? I merely point out some supervisory pitfalls that must be faced. At times in yrs gone by,I have had to face those and it's not as easy as those without the responsibility sometimes think.

cogitoergofay
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Regrettably, knowledge of the

Regrettably, knowledge of the poor water conditions in Fayette County pre-date this administration and the one before. Mr. Parrott and the EPD, however, have been very well informed of the systemic problems for a long time and have done effectively nothing. I would prefer to be concerned about the health of my children and the water they drink in their homes.

suggarfoot
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When I had all the skin problems

I thought it could only be the water. But I live close to Sandy Creek High school and thought it was because Sandy was on septic and they had this spray thing on the fields there. Since they put Sandy on sewer, it cleared up. What may have really happened is my skin got use to the water....sort of like how we get the Montezuma's revenge when we go to Mexico, yet the Mexicans don't? They are use to the water?

mudcat
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Sandy Creek fine; Starr's Mill where your skin will really itch

That's where all the sludge was spread for years and years from the Georgia Utilities sewage treatment plants. Sludge makes great fertilizer and whatever grain crops they were growing there to attract birds for hunting was really healthy. I guess the school system knew about all that when they bought that land, but I never heard any public acknowledgement of that. Wonder if that stuff sinks into the ground and gets into the water table or even the lakes. Come to think of it, that football field is mighty green.

Hubby tells me that the people in Korea used to use that same substance (without bothering to treat it in a sewage plant) to fertilize their vegetables and rice. Nasty. No thanks.

Bruce Jordan
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LOL Sugarfoot

Who knew? When you go to Mexico AND PTC don't drink the water!

MajorMike
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TinCan - coincidences

There are no coincidences.

Mike Mahoney
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They shudda been fired...

The conduct of these county employees displays incompetence, long-term blatant negligence and a total lack of leadership and supervision. At the least their behavior culminated in a serious breach of the public trust and at worst could have created a countywide health hazard. We are talking the purity and health of Fayette County's drinking water.

How did I know this crew of clowns would get nothing more than a slap on the wrist? They are county employees. And just like government employees, they pretty much can't get fired no matter how onerous their behavior. And we the taxpayers, many of whom were the recipients of their carelessness, stand moot as we watch the County take care of its own. I have to wonder who they are related to in landing such a "cush" job working hidden away at the Fayette County Water Department? Obviously they weren't hired for their skill and competency. Because of the long term ineptitude on the part of these "employees", we the taxpayers are footing the bill for a private consulting firm to oversee and figure out what these knuckleheads did or didn't do to screw up the system.

Double shame goes to Tony Parrot, the Fayette County Water System Director, for running such a shoddy operation and failing to *LEAD* ...a quality sadly lacking in many whose position requires them to do so. All this happened on Mr Parrot's watch; he had the position of ultimate responsibility. You learn a basic tenet in the military as an officer: you can delegate authority but never responsibility. This, too, is a lesson most modern civilian "leaders" don't have written in their play book.

Much like the raw water the Fayette County Water System (supposedly) purifies, it's time to filter out the scum and debris and start afresh. The actions and reactions by the County are an affront to every Fayette taxpayer especially those who depend on the County Water System for their drinking water.

johenry
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I have to agree with Mike Mahoney

We deserve much better!!!

suggarfoot
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I agree with everything you said

If it is this hard to fire a county employee.....our laws need to be changed.

Let me guess, this is a 2nd job, held solely for the insurance perks, and they parked their truck under a big old oak tree and slept all day!

We deserve better than this.

Robert W. Morgan
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Patience Mike, they will be gone one way or another

Delegating authority, but not responsibility in this case would mean firing Rapson since he is the county manager. That works in football and the military but not government. I think Rapson is doing the right thing even though we don't know exactly what is being done to whom - but we will learn more in 10 days - they say.

Government is tricky as so many newly elected people find out. Regular common sense rules don't apply and department heads have almost mystical powers. Rapson of course know all this and knows how to work within the system and that's what he is doing. This whole thing ends with Parrot retired, the others demoted or let go and the most important part - no silly lawsuit against the county for wrongful termination. Rapson is building a case based upon the EPD reports that procedure was not followed and that there will be an admission of that as each of the five goes through their remedial assignments.

Better he should do it that way than handle it the way Skip did in PTC Police Dept. with that Lisa person. He tried to demote, slide her sideways, intimidate and disparage - end result a lawsuit and a six-figure settlement. Not the result we need here.

Of course if I am wrong and we see Parrot and the other still there after September, then I'm right with you except Rapson and Brown will be added to the list.

Husband and Fat...
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Not so fast RWM

All of this is dependent on the harshness of the suspension, pay cut, and classification reduction.

If they really wanted them gone, they would have just fired them. This would have been justified in every county, except Clayton and DeKalb.

However, it could all be for show and just a slap on the wrist. After all, didn't one of the commissioners stand up for them at the last meeting. Surely they would prefer this not to go to appeal where the county could lose and have egg on their face.

Robert W. Morgan
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Agree Husband harshness is the measuring stick

I can't believe Rapson could be influenced to whitewash this thing - the EPD report was in itself pretty harsh and it singled out 5 people. For some reason I thought the plant operator had been fired weeks ago, but I must have misread that. I'm convinced Rapson is going through a process that rids the county of all 5 one way or another. Of course Parrot is a must to dismiss or retire - anything less, Rapson loses all credibility.

Barlow's little speech was him simply doing Brown's bidding by sticking his neck (meaning Barlow's neck, never Brown's neck) out to see which way the wind was blowing. Brown now knows and he'll back Rapson all the way. Barlow will look a little foolish for supporting Parrot before Rapson even returned but he looks real foolish for being used so transparently as Brown's stalking horse.

suggarfoot
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I have mixed feelings about this

I am amazed something more wasn't done. Our drinking water is our most precious and crucial necessity. Without it we die. I can't think of being so irresponsible with something that precious. To think these jokers are so lazy they can't even do simple test on the water, when that is their only job, is unforgivable. What did they do all day? I don't think I could live with myself if I didn't do my job and possibly a child was poisoned or left retarded due to drinking something in the water. That could have happened and we are lucky it didn't.

When I moved here about 2000, I was in and out of the Dr office with skin rashes. The Dr said he couldn't image what it was. He said he had only seen something like that when 1. someone swam in a dirty pool, or 2. didn't wash their towels. Neither was the case. This went on for about a year. Was the water so dirty it was doing this to me? Did my skin finally get use to it? It really makes you wonder.

Husband and Fat...
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Really?

Suspension = mini vacation. Allows them time to finally install the whole house water filter at their homes.

Pay and title change = a little less money, but more overtime possibilities.

Grievance clause = lawyer up for rescinding both of the above.

NUK_1
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I wouldn't call this a mini-vacation

"County Manager Steve Rapson, who handed down the discipline Friday, said each of the employees were receiving suspensions without pay, pay classification and title changes, varying performance improvement plans, and each would be subject to a probationary period. "

If this happened to me, I wouldn't think of it as some mini-vacation. I would be thinking "Oh ****" Especially the part about pay classification and title changes......that's not good if you're the person affected.

Rapson is dropping the hammer on 5 people(probably the same 5 named in the EPD report) and giving them an opportunity to either get it together or get packing. I don't know what else can be expected at this point. It's incremental discipline with a pretty strong bite to it. I applaud Rapson's actions myself.

AtHomeGym
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Nuk & Mr. Rapson's actions

I agree with you. Let's face it, none of us know what the language in their contracts says and I certainly don't know what County Personnel Regulations say about nonperformance and disciplinary actions available to management. I'm sure there are legal pitfalls that had to be avoided here.

ptctaxpayer
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"Legal Pitfalls" ??? You

"Legal Pitfalls" ??? You gotta be kidding me...Our water has been worse than that found in the dumper for a long time. Look at the EPD report. This is nothing new. And you people are worried about "legal pitfalls" ? Wow, that's amazing.

AtHomeGym
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PTC Taxpayer

So YOU are the one who knows what their contract language says and YOU are the one who understands County personnel policies--just KNEW someone would. You might check with City Admin to see what YOUR lawsuit status is today and how much it's costing the city. Ever heard of unlawful termination? I'm glad someone is watching our back when it comes to possible lawsuits--you should be too.

PTC Observer
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NUK_1

Ditto

Let's get it fixed for good.

MajorMike
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PTC Observer - for good.

That's the best comment today.

tortugaocho
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Disagree on Water Discipline

I totally disagree with this minor slap on the wrist. Yes, it is a mini-vacation.

Think about it--- if this had been a Fortune 500 company those 5 would have been long gone by now.

This is evidence of the samo-samo. Brown and Rapson are totally afraid of rocking anyone's boat. And, sadly, our water will continue to suck.

Congrats to Fitzgerald Plumbing who are installing record numbers of whole house water filters.

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