Trenton Mayor Alex Case is opposing a plan to push politicians off the Dade County Water and Sewer Authority board.
Case said the move is a step backward, putting too much distance between the local governments and the authority, which increases monthly water bills and can expand sewer lines. The city runs its own sewer processing plant, and the authority can increase the amount of water rushing in. And yet, he said, the city has no real control over what the authority does.
"We need input," he said. "If they're going to expand, why don't they talk to us to see what we can do? We're planning the sewer station to be used for the next 100 years. If they're not willing to work with us, we're just pissing in the wind. They say, 'The politics can't be in [the authority].' But it has to be because we have to answer questions from the taxpayers."
County Commissioner Mitchell Smith, who proposed a change in structure to the authority's board during a meeting Thursday night, believes his tweak would actually help the city. Currently, the four county commissioners each appoint one member to the authority board. County Executive Ted Rumley serves as its chair.
But Smith wants to move Rumley off the board. He proposes giving that seat to Trenton, letting the city commissioners appoint a member.
Smith proposed another wrinkle. The new rules would ban any county commissioners or city commissioners from sitting on the board. It would also ban city employees, county employees and authority employees. And on top of all those people, the rules would also ban their spouses, siblings or children.
Case opposes this part of the proposal. He said the city needs a commissioner on the board because they will have direct knowledge of how the authority's decision impacts Trenton's sewer plant. About a decade ago, the county took control of the authority's board appointments because members of the public complained they didn't know what was going on. People rarely attended board meetings.
"I need to have more input with [the authority], or the commission does," Case said. "Not just an appointee."
Smith said he wants to keep political influence out of the authority's decision making. Board member H.A. McKaig, who represents Lookout Mountain, pointed to a recent joint meeting between the county commission and the authority to discuss buying 61 acres for $500,000.
The authority and the county both hope to build a reservoir on the property. They argue it will be an asset to attracting businesses and provide adequate water supply for decades, even if the population significantly rises. (The authority currently pulls about 3.8 million gallons out of Lookout Creek a day; the reservoir would hold 158 million gallons.)
But some residents criticized the authority and the county commission during the meeting Nov. 26. They said both sets of officials should already have robust plans in place for how to build the reservoir. The projected cost is about $5.1 million, and it's not clear how the authority or the county could pay for that. They also don't have a timetable for finishing the plan.
McKaig believes Rumley's presence on the board explains some of the criticism, even though no resident brought that up during the meeting.
"Any way you try to do it, you're going to have some drawbacks somewhere," said McKaig, who has sat on the board for about a year. "But I think Ted's politics made this tough. And I'm not saying that just because it's Ted. I'm saying whoever gets there."
Rumley has no problem with the proposal. He said he doesn't get paid for the job, and the chair only votes when there is a tie among the other four members. Under Smith's proposal, the five members of the authority board would appoint a chair among themselves. That person would serve a 1-year term.
"You don't have any authority, really, any power," Rumley said. "You're more or less the person who holds the meetings. If they want to appoint the chairman through that, that would be less work for me."
The county tabled Smith's proposal for a month because he and Commissioner Scottie Pittman will be out of office at the beginning of next year, replaced by Lamar Lowery and Phillip Hartline. Commissioner Allan Bradford said he plans to carry Smith's resolution in January.
The state legislature would need to pass any change to the authority's structure, as introduced by a local delegation. This would include State Rep.-elect Colton Moore, R-Lookout Mountain, and State Sen. Jeff Mullis, R-Chickamauga.
Contact staff writer Tyler Jett at 423-757-6476 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @LetsJett.