Hamilton County: Former WWTA chairmam blames politics for ouster

Hamilton County: Former WWTA chairmam blames politics for ouster

January 14th, 2009 by Matt Wilson in Local Regional News

At least three Hamilton County commissioners had political or personal motivations to ramp up a document fight with the county's Water and Wastewater Treatment Authority, the authority's former chairman said.

Specifically, former Chairman Henry Hoss singled out three commissioners - Curtis Adams, John Allen Brooks and Fred Skillern - as having their own reasons to prod the authority for documents.

"It sort of gravitated all the county commissioners together," Mr. Hoss told the Chattanooga Times Free Press editorial board in a Tuesday meeting.

Mr. Hoss said Mr. Adams led the charge in the fight for the documents as a way of "trying to redeem himself for the situation he's been involved with in East Ridge."

WHERE THE FEES WENT

Former Hamilton County Water and Wastewater Treatment Authority Chairman Henry Hoss said five factors contributed to the $104,176 the authority paid attorney John Anderson between July 2007 and June 2008, nearly three times more than he received from the authority between July 2006 and June 2007:

* Legal work on a project to build a sewage processing plant in Meigs County

* Dealing with a lawsuit with a Cookeville, Tenn., firm

* Legal work with a sewer moratorium on Signal Mountain

* Working with brand-new committees to the authority board

* More research on projects after the 2007 death of County Engineer Mike Howard, whose knowledge was "irreplaceable," Mr. Hoss said.

Mr. Adams resigned as East Ridge city manager in July after public uproar over his comments about a proposed 47-cent property tax increase. In October, he asked the authority, on behalf of an East Ridge citizens group, for the legal bills of John Anderson, who serves as attorney for the authority and East Ridge.

But Mr. Adams said his request and persistence had to do only with the transparency of the authority. He said he would not have kept pushing if the authority had provided the bills immediately.

"It had nothing to do with East Ridge," he said.

Mr. Anderson could not be reached for comment Tuesday.

Mr. Hoss said he has told Mr. Anderson that, to avoid the perception of a conflict of interest, the attorney can stay with the authority or East Ridge but not both.

Mr. Hoss said Mr. Skillern's issue with the authority had to do with the fact that a sewer line runs in front of his house, which he must pay for even though he has not hooked onto the sewer system.

Mr. Skillern said he did have a problem with people having to pay for sewer lines they weren't using, especially since those people will be charged a new $8 monthly fee for repairs to sewer lines all over the county.

"I'm not upset as much for me as I am for some of my neighbors who are on minimum Social Security," he said.

The legal fee squabble added to his outrage with the authority, Mr. Skillern said.

Mr. Brooks' outrage was due to the fact that the authority did not provide him a list of its 26,000 customers when the commission asked for them, Mr. Hoss said. He and the authority board members didn't see a reason why they should provide the list, he said.

"(Mr. Brooks) has been very diligent in coming after us," Mr. Hoss said.

Mr. Brooks could not be reached for comment Tuesday.

Mr. Hoss resigned from the authority board last month at the request of County Mayor Claude Ramsey.

At last week's County Commission meeting, when commissioners voted to appoint county Finance Administrator Louis Wright to the board in Mr. Hoss' place, Mr. Brooks criticized the authority for paying Mr. Anderson so much.

"I'm an attorney. I know that (the bills are) outlandish," Mr. Brooks said. "That just upsets me greatly."