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OUR OPINION: Water association oversight needed
by NEMS Daily Journal
23 days ago | 562 views | 4 4 comments | 3 3 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Photo by Thomas Wells
Photo by Thomas Wells
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Three Lee County legislators have made reasonable suggestions to improve the accountability of rural water associations - ideas rising from internal upheaval and the reconstituting of the North Lee County Water Association in 2011 after serious internal mismanagement surfaced.

Two Republicans and a Democrat representing Lee County have suggested ways to increase transparency, open records, open meetings and effective regulation of all water associations, not just North Lee.

A full discussion is warranted in the Legislature.

These are the ideas so far:

* Rep. Jerry Turner, R-Baldwyn, proposes placing all rural water associations under the state's open meetings and open records laws. The associations, even though they may technically be private nonprofits, serve the public and function as public utilities and sometimes receive public funds. Their books and meetings should be open.

* Sen. Nancy Collins, R-Tupelo, supports open meetings and records and open water quality test results for every rural water system. Collins chairs the Accountability, Transparency and Efficiency Committee.

* Rep. Steve Holland, D-Plantersville, says placing water systems under the oversight of the Mississippi Public Service Commission is the way to go. It is a reasonable proposal, and some officials think the commission already has ultimate say.

Kirby Mayfield, CEO of the Mississippi Rural Water Association, thinks talk of regulation is unnecessary, but the North Lee fiasco and emerging complaints about other systems suggest otherwise.

The issue, in principle, is about reliable public service in the provision of clean, safe water, reliably delivered to every customer.

The issue is non-partisan. People in both parties in the Capitol favor discussions, and they need to go forward in all the pertinent committees and, as legislation develops, on the floor.

Hearings almost surely will be held, and among the witnesses should be customers in North Lee and other systems whose experience with water quality and service has been abysmal for an extended time.

The special interests whose testimony should be heeded in this situation are the customers - not suppliers, associations or lobbyists.

It is certainly arguable that micro-management of water associations is not necessary.

A guarantee of access to meetings, discussions and votes by boards of directors of associations, plus records transparency, and compliance with bylaws probably would suffice in most cases.

North Lee devolved into internal chaos over an extended time. Had association members been made aware of decisions and been given due public notice of every board meeting some of the problems could have been avoided.

Good legislation can make that guarantee statewide.

Should the law require open meetings and open records of all rural water associations?


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TRACTORS
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January 16, 2012
This brings the question - will these Rural Water Companies now be eligible for the perks that the Governmental agencies have like all employees being able to participate in the State insurance and retirement plans? Just wondering. Should the Public Service Comm be able to have even more than control along with the other numerous agencies it would seem fair they would be able to be on the same plans as the municipal, county and state agencies. Just remember the board and employees have no perks. Yes the previous board had allowed free water to some farmers with the excuse of "flushing" the lines. I bet that is not happening now with North Lee or with any other water association.
thebeaver32
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January 15, 2012
Um, just whose "rights" are we talking about here?

All that the proposed laws would do is open the meetings and records of the water associations. Associations are not "people", irregardless of what some idiotic members of the Supreme Court theorize. The lawmakers are wanting to AVOID fiascos like NLCWA from happening again. These proposed laws would give you MORE rights to know what these water associations are doing, and have input into same.

Now how does that take away any of your "rights"?
panther68
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January 15, 2012
It is indeed astounding to hear all these champions of smaller and less government and private and individual rights advocate just the opposite. Once again, we let bad actors compound the situation by goading us into making bad law.
Lisa49
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January 13, 2012
"Good legislation can make that guarantee statewide. "

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It seems legislation has done nothing good to expose the mismanagement of Tupelo Government.