Fayette commissioners respond to The Citizen’s water questions
The Citizen posed a series of questions to the Fayette County Commission as a group during the Aug. 26 commission meeting to get their comments on the record about the discipline issued to county water system employees.
The employees were disciplined following a report from state regulators that detailed 10 drinking water rule violations and 141 deficiencies with the water system. That same report also called for an investigation into five water system employees as to whether they “may have practiced fraud or deception,” or might perhaps be “incompetent or unable to perform their duties properly.”
Following are the questions, and each commissioner’s response that was received via email, as requested:
1. How many times did you meet with the county administrator about water system issues both prior to and following the conclusion of his internal investigation?
Charles Oddo: With all due respect, I don’t count meetings. Since taking office, I have communicated with the county administrator frequently about many issues, including the water system.
The day before the press release of 8/23/13, the two of us met one time specifically for Mr. Rapson to advise me of the decision he had come to regarding the situation in the water department. At that time, I also advised Mr. Rapson of my position. Prior to that, neither Mr. Rapson nor any other commissioner was aware of what my recommendations would be.
Randy Ognio: I talked to Mr. Steve Rapson a couple of times while he was still on vacation. When he got back I went to his office several times to get updates on things that were going on including the water department issues.
Allen McCarty: One time in his office.
David Barlow: I specifically remember one time, during lunch at Partners Pizza II, I asked Mr. Rapson what he intended to do regarding our water department employees. He showed me a draft of his potential recommendations. No other commissioners were present.
Steve Brown: I have a lot of daily contact with the county administrator. His office is across the hall from mine and we constantly discuss issues related to the county, including water issues. I did speak with him on the phone several times while he was on vacation to keep him informed of the recent manganese situation and the special called meeting.
In terms of the county administrator’s disciplinary actions for water system employees, I was not involved in that at all other than he provided me with a copy of his disciplinary actions prior to notifying the affected employees. Both prior and following the disciplinary actions, the county administrator was aware of my personal estimation of what I thought should be done. I have the utmost respect for the county administrator and, as I have said before, we will move on.
2. How many other commissioners were in the room at that time, and who were they?
Oddo: At what time are you referring to? If The Citizen is suggesting a time when I, along with more than one other commissioner met to discuss water issues, I have never participated in such a meeting. From time to time I have discussed the situation in the water department with other commissioners, but never with more than two of us together.
Ognio: I did talk to the other commissioners one at a time.
McCarty: No other commissioners.
Barlow: I did not meet with Mr. Rapson in his office or anywhere else.
Brown: I have personally spoken to all the commissioners about the occurrences within the water system. The meetings were one-on-one, never a quorum present.
3. Exactly what penalties did you advocate for, and why?
Oddo: NONE. Such matters involving personnel are the county administrator’s responsibility, and not a commissioner’s. I deferred to Mr. Rapson.
Ognio: This is something that should not be discussed. Putting that information out there can cause more issues with how the department employees interact with one another. I will say I support Mr. Steve Rapson’s decision.
McCarty: I recommended Mr. Rapson do what he thought was applicable under the circumstances. To make a lasting impression and increase the seriousness of the events.
He is the one we hired as the county administrator to take care of business.
Barlow: I have never advocated for any penalties at any time because I have consistently stated we need to allow Mr. Rapson time to respond to the survey. Chairman Brown contacted me and attempted to get me to agree to “fire” Tony Parrott and the entire water department. It was ludicrous of him to attempt to orchestrate such an action.
Brown: My position was to terminate two top officials in the water system and initiate a thorough training program for the staff. I have previously expressed my rationale in a letter to the editor. However, I do believe the penalties imposed by the county administrator are a step in the right direction and most of my colleagues had a rational basis for their positions.
4. Are you 100 percent sure the penalties enacted will prevent significant issues such as broken and malfunctioning equipment at our water plants, improper raw water testing, improper operations and a complete lack of documentation as to the chemicals put into our water during treatment, which are required to be kept by Georgia law.
Oddo: NO. I’m not even 100 percent sure the sun will rise tomorrow. Perhaps you could rephrase your question. If you are asking whether or not I am confident of the measures being taken, then my answer is yes. I am confident the necessary remedial measures are in place to ultimately restore our water system to the quality we expect.
Ognio: No one can ever be 100 percent sure of anything.
Barlow: Short answer: YES! Mr. Rapson and county attorney Dennis Davenport are investigating issues spelled out in the survey. I am confident both men have the knowledge and expertise to give a thoroughly researched answer to each violation listed above. Chairman Brown, to my knowledge, has never run a water plant; consequently his numerous letters/statements regarding actions that need to be taken, in my opinion, are not credible.
Brown: As the county administrator stated at the Board of Commissioners meeting, no one can guarantee 100 percent of anything. As for 10 violations cited by EPD, the county is preparing a response to which EPD will reply. There may not, in fact, be 10 violations by the end of the process which is why I and most of my colleagues have refrained from discussing the EPD Sanitary Survey until the process is complete.
I can say with confidence that all employees are acutely aware of any deficiencies within the system and they will be working to the best of their abilities to make the necessary corrections.
5. What other steps beyond the employee punishment have been taken to insure our water system gets back on the right track?
Oddo: Please refer to Mr. Rapson’s plan. His plan is public record. It will be initiated and revised when, if, and as, necessary.
Ognio: You would have to ask Mr. Steve Rapson.
McCarty: Mr. Rapson and our county attorney are doing a thorough investigation into what has to be done to resolve the issues involved with our water department and system.
That is their job.
Barlow: I am not and never have been involved in the day-to-day management of Fayette County. Commissioners are not managers. Mr. Rapson is our county manager and is exceedingly qualified to conduct investigations and implement corrective actions as he deems necessary. I support Mr. Rapson completely. Chairman Brown places himself in a precarious position when he inserts himself into day-to-day operations of Fayette County. For the record; I do not believe Chairman Brown should be involved in the day-to-day operations of Fayette County. In my opinion, he is lacking in the leadership qualities Mr. Rapson clearly demonstrates each and every day.
In conclusion, Mr. Rapson and Mr. Davenport are preparing a response to all NOV’s (Notice of Violation) issues by EPD. It would be prudent for everyone concerned to wait for their response and, at that time, you may be shocked at the ultimate outcome of the EPD’s final report.
Please feel free to contact me should you, or anyone on your staff, wish to discuss further.
Brown: I will defer to the county administrator and the water system director to answer that question as I do not have day-to-day detailed information.