published Tuesday, November 15th, 2011

South Pittsburg Water & Gas Board deal raises concerns

Ryan Lewis, Correspondent

SOUTH PITTSBURG, Tenn. -- After a recent state comptroller's report accused Mayor Mike Killian and city commissioners of illegally transferring nearly $750,000 from the town's utilities department in 2010, city administrators considered eliminating the South Pittsburg Water & Gas Board.

Last week, Killian said they had reached "a little compromise" to keep the water board intact, one that includes city commissioners being appointed to most of the water board's seats.

Commissioner Debbie Hughes said she's been approached by residents who are concerned that city commissioners control the decisions of the water board.

"They just don't think it looks good because it's like total control," she said. "We may need to look at the way appointments are made to the water board."

Killian said the city does not plan to abolish the board, even though it has the power to do so under city ordinance.

"I think [the City Commission] ought to be the governing body of the utility," he said. "That's the way it is in most of Tennessee. It is becoming the normal thing to not have a board for the department of utility."

South Pittsburg resident Jimmy Wigfall said the water board has done a good job in the past and for one board basically to reflect the other "doesn't make any sense.

"As a citizen of this community and a rate payer, I think the water board has been doing a wonderful job for a long, long time," he said. "We're not followers, and just because they're doing away with these boards everywhere else doesn't mean we have to. The one we've got works."

In the end, Killian said, there is no meaningful purpose for having the water board.

"I have to sign [the water board's] grants," he said. "I have to sign their applications. If they borrow a nickel, [the City Commission] has to vote. The business should be handled here. In my view, it's not worth it to have that board."

Killian said the compromise to keep the water board active is evidence that residents' opinions are being heard.

"I heard people like [Wigfall] and so did these members [of the City Commission], and that's the compromise we came up with," he said. "I'm not going to be here forever, and neither are the rest of these people. In the future, they can do whatever they want."

Ryan Lewis is based in Marion County. Contact him at ryanlewis34@gmail.com.

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