Dade County, Trenton to vote on new water authority structure

Dade County, Trenton to vote on new water authority structure

January 22nd, 2019 by Tyler Jett in Local Regional News

Dade County Executive Ted Rumley works in his office in Trenton, Georgia on Thursday, Dec. 13, 2018. Rumley talked about the county's environmental concerns about logging on the side of Lookout Mountain.

Photo by Tim Barber /Times Free Press.

After a controversial land buy in December, commissioners in Dade County, Georgia, and the city of Trenton will vote Thursday on whether to boot County Executive Ted Rumley off the Water and Sewer Authority. The move also would give the city more power and allow members of the authority to set their own compensation.

The county executive, who runs the local government's day-to-day operations, automatically serves as the authority's chairman under the current setup, which went into effect in 2010. The chairman sets meetings and votes when the other four authority board members are locked in a tie. The other four authority board members are appointed by each of the county commissioners.

Under the proposed changes, those four county commissioners will still get to appoint authority board members. But Rumley's seat will go to Trenton, whose city commission will vote on the board's fifth member.

The county and city commissions will hold a joint meeting to vote on the proposed changes at 5 p.m. Thursday.

"It's all good," Trenton Mayor Alex Case said of the proposal. "As long as we have our input from somebody who was appointed, it's better than we have now. We're very excited. We had a lot of good one-on-one [conversations] with each authority board member. We're all on the same sheet of music."

Current authority board members called for a change in structure after they voted in December to spend $400,000 on a land purchase. They plan to use the property to build a reservoir one day — though there is no timeline on that project. The county commission, led by Rumley, voted to spend $100,000 on the land buy, too.

The authority's vote on the purchase did not directly require support from Rumley. The other four board members unanimously approved of the buy, with some telling the Times Free Press that a reservoir would help recruit manufacturers to the county.

But at the same time, those authority members believe Rumley's presence on the board tarnished public opinion of the purchase. Board member H.A. McKaig said that Rumley, as an elected official, has political enemies that criticize many of his decisions.

While this controversy stirred up, Case lobbied for Trenton to have a say on the authority, too. The city controls the sewer plant, and he believes the authority and the city leaders have not communicated well over the years. For example, the authority extended sewer lines in the south end of the county but did not share a map of the lines with the city.

Case argued the city needs direct involvement with the authority because the sewer system depends on the city's plant. At the same time, he said, the city needs to know everything about the sewer system to properly keep the plant up to date.

Case originally asked to be appointed to the board — or to at least let a city commissioner sit on the board. But members of the authority believed this was a step in the wrong direction, giving rise to the same critics the board ran into because of Rumley's presence. After a joint meeting last week, officials with the county, city and the authority reached an agreement.

Going forward, nobody can sit on the authority if they are on the city or county commissions, or if they work for the city, county or the authority. The restrictions also extended to the elected officials' and employees' spouses, siblings and children.

"It's really good," McKaig said of the changes. "I think it does what the water board wanted to do, and it takes care of what the city wanted to do. It's good for both."

The resolution also gives the authority board the ability to dictate how much members make. Under the current rules, the county commission sets the pay rate, which now sits at $50 a meeting, per board member. But the money itself comes from the authority's coffers.

Under the resolution, the authority board members will vote on how much they make. McKaig said the meetings are still open to the public, and the county and city commissioners have oversight in that they appoint the board members.

"If it ever came a time where that was a problem, they could take care of it," he said.

If approved by the commissioners Thursday, a draft of the changes will go to state Rep. Colton Moore, R-Trenton, and state Sen. Jeff Mullis, R-Chickamauga. The legislators would need to push the changes through both chambers of the capitol in a local act.

Contact staff writer Tyler Jett at 423-757-6476 or tjett@timesfreepress.com. Follow him on Twitter @LetsJett.