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Rogersville mayor gets the vote he needs to abolish Water Commission

Jeff Bobo • Updated May 10, 2018 at 2:59 PM

ROGERSVILLE — In August, after former Rogersville Water Superintendent Shawn Hatchett was fired for, as he explained at the time, “misplacing” $69,000, Mayor Jim Sells came up one vote short in his attempt to abolish the Rogersville Water Commission.

A lot of new information has come to light since then, and this week Sells got that extra vote he needed.

Tuesday’s vote to abolish the Water Commission came during the first BMA meeting since Hatchett was indicted last month, accused of stealing more than $300,000 from the Rogersville Water Department.

It was also the first BMA meeting since the Tennessee comptroller issued a scathing report, placing blame on the Water Commission for lack of oversight and controls that allowed Hatchett to allegedly pad his overtime and steal bank deposit funds for two years.

Water Commission has more problems

Interim Water Superintendent Bill Pearson gave the commission a report at its meeting, prior to Tuesday’s BMA meeting, showing that the system is operating $65,793 in the red for the current fiscal year.

Pearson also reported that he needs to issue a $2 million bond to upgrade the water and sewer system, which he said is constantly in need of repairs and at risk of failing to meet state regulations if improvements aren’t made.

And there are also whisperings that the Water Commission will be asking for a rate hike in its proposed 2018-19 fiscal year budget.

Why abolish the Water Commission?

The ordinance introduced by Sells Tuesday would abolish the Water Commission and place all its duties on the full BMA.

Sells said he anticipated the BMA meeting at 6 p.m. the second Tuesday of each month to conduct Water Department business, just as the Water Commission has done just prior to the 7 p.m. BMA meeting.

“Somebody asked me why I’m doing this for a second time,” Sells said. “The first time we didn’t have that (report) come back from the state comptroller.”

Sells added, “They’re asking for a $2 million bond issue, and possibly raise the rates, and I feel like if we’re going to do that, that’s a big issue, and all of us ought to be in here taking the blame, instead of just two or three of you.”

Sells noted that with three of the commission’s six members already being aldermen and City Recorder Glen Hutchins serving as its treasurer, switching to full BMA control of the Water Commission isn’t a big leap.

“When you start spending $2 million and you’re going to have to raise water rates, you all don’t get the cussings on those. I do.”

The ordinance abolishing the Water Commission was approved 3-2 with one abstention. It will require two more readings to go into effect.

Who opposed abolishing the Water Commission and why?

Pearson, who served on the Water Commission prior to Hatchett’s dismissal, asked the BMA to reconsider its decision.

Pearson noted that water commissioners, as well as members of the BMA, attended three days of mandatory state training that taught them about internal controls.

“Since this incident, we’ve tightened up on internal controls within the Water Department, especially office personnel,” Pearson told the board. “I feel the board has grown through this training. The board is more capable now of making decisions. They understand that you trust, but you also verify.”

Of the three aldermen who serve on the Water Commission, Mark DeWitte and Craig Kirkpatrick, voted “no” and Eloise Edwards abstained. The alderman who changed her vote from August was Sonda Price, who voted “yes” Tuesday, along with Bill Henderson and Brian Hartness.

DeWitte expressed concern that the many non-city water customers on Rogersville’s system won’t have the possibility of being represented if the BMA takes over. Currently a non-resident can serve on the Water Commission, but not on the BMA.

Kirkpatrick said he didn’t believe the Water Commission could be abolished without an act of the state legislature, but Phillips said there is a state statute that allows a BMA takeover. 


 

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