August 20, 2010 by wcobserver
There’s a hole in the bucket dear Liza, there’s a hole”
It’s interesting how a little newspaper article about a relatively insignificant event at city hall can reveal so much about how local government works. The August 5 article by Reporter Nick DeMoss, “Vacancy on Water Commission,” reported on the resignation of the Water Commission Chairman Doyle Baker and shed light on the workings of the West Fork Water and Wastewater Commission. The Mayor, in her State of the City address back in January referred to that department as a “special entity.” How true.
The Water Commission was born along with the water district which was formed in the early seventies. In their wisdom the commission designed their organizational structure so it would be protected from the whims of electoral politics. Water and sewer were too important to be left to elected officials. We all know that it is quite possible for total idiots to be elected to public office. The law allowed for a three to five member commission. They chose a three- member commission with eight-year terms which pretty much insulated it from broad public oversight.
They did their job; held monthly meetings and reported to the mayor and council. The new system required minimal maintance and things went along pretty well for a few decades. As the system has aged over time, however, problems begin to mount; the system needs increasing attention. Old pipes leak and the sewage treatment plant is near capacity (perhaps beyond capacity).
The utility superintendent’s responsibilities crept into other areas such as building inspections and animal control. Gradually one unelected individual exerted significant influence over multiple city functions. The utility superintendent is accountable to the water commission. He also serves as head of the city’s business administration department accountable to the Mayor/Council. In this capacity he has the title City Business Manager and, among other duties, oversees personnel policies in all departments.
Sound crazy? There’s more. Again, the utility superintendent is accountable only to the water commission. The commission meets when the utility superintendent calls a meeting. This would be like a school principal being accountable to the school board but the school board only meets when the principal calls a meeting. Think about your own job. Your meeting with the boss for annual performance review only happens when you call the meeting. Sweet.
And we all know how hard it is to get folks together for a meeting. There are family obligations, career, church and school demands on time. “How does next Tuesday work for you?…first Mondays?….breakfast meeting…..?” Sure it’s hard to get three volunteers together to do what they volunteered to do – but a year and a half?
The Water Commission is not the prom decorating committee. Along with the Police Commission and Planning Commission (we’ll talk about the Public Safety Commission later) they help make a town inhabitable. The Water and Wastewater Commission determines whether we can brush our teeth and flush the toilet.
We applaud Mr. Baker’s candor regarding his reasons for resigning, “too many darn irons in the fire.” Citizens’ priorities for serving their community are often influenced by their place in the life cycle. It’s easy to get “too much on your plate” or “too many balls in the air.”
We hope that Water Commissioner Greg Tabor can take a break from his duties as Fayetteville Police Chief to meet a few hours a month with the West Fork Water Commission.
We wish Water Commissioner Rex Smith success in finding “good people to serve” in the vacant spot on the commission.
We think the city might benefit from occasional supervision of Utilities Superintendent Michael “Butch” Bartholomew.