Planet Mini-Mystery: What Happened at the Joint Water Board/County Commission Meeting?

Rep. John Deffenbaugh addresses the water board at its Sept. 21 meeting.

At the last regular Dade County Commission meeting on Sept. 6, Executive Chairman Ted Rumley spoke of arranging a joint meeting between the commission and the board of directors of the Dade Water Authority, or so-called water board. It does seem the two bodies would have a lot to talk about, not least of which is a proposed reservoir on Lookout Creek for which the commission has so far ponied up $75,000 in earnest money to buy land, and for which the water board has secured a $450,000 loan in case the commission can't come up with the rest of the half-million-dollar price tag of the creekside acreage.

No such meeting has yet been announced, but such a meeting did take place this morning.

Sort of.

It was not a formal joint meeting, but the water board's regularly-scheduled Sept. 21 meeting was unusually well-attended for one at 8 a.m. sharp on a Friday. Not only did John Deffenbaugh, Dade's voice in the Georgia House of Representatives (until January), show up to address the water board on behalf of his West Brow neighborhood, but so did two of the four district county commissioners (the two who will retain their commission seats past January), and so did County Attorney Robin Rogers.

District 3 Commissioner Robert Goff and District 4's Allan Bradford listened quietly in the audience as Deffenbaugh presented his case to the water board: His neighborhood has a fire hydrant but: "In effect, it's not much use to us," because, he explained, the water main was on the other side of the road. This is an old problem, said Deffenbaugh, that had pestered the volunteer fire department for ages, and on which he'd been working himself for several years. He requested that a water line be bored through or worked around the roadbed.

The problem with that, pointed out Dade County Executive Ted Rumley, who also chairs the water board, is: "It's solid rock."

But Deffenbaugh had a solution to that: The neighbors were perfectly willing to pay for the work.

Board members discussed the problem a little longer, touching on what was in place now--3-inch or 4-inch pipe--versus what was needed to do the job--6-inch pipe; then sent Deffenbaugh on his way with assurances they would have an answer for him soon. "It's not something that's going to be drug out for months and months," promised Rumley.

It was by then getting on for 8:15 and at this point Chairman Rumley announced the board would go into executive, or closed-door session, to discuss personnel, and the audience would therefore go into the hall. The audience included water company employees, the two county district commissioners and The Dade Planet (the only local media outlet that covers meetings at 8 a.m. sharp on Fridays).

Executive, or closed-door, sessions being increasingly the norm in local government, and this not being The Planet's first rodeo, The Planet was equipped with a particularly gripping murder mystery novel to while away such lonely hours as Rumley, the water board and the county attorney should discuss personnel. And as, moreover, The Planet was regaled with District 4 Commissioner Bradford's sparkling conversation, as well as with District 3 Commissioner Goff's matutinal melodies (I'm in the Mood for Love, performed in falsetto), the time flew by until executive session was exited, and the audience allowed to enter, at 8:50 a.m.

Only, however to be kicked out again at 8:52 a.m. when the water board and county attorney sat for a second executive, or closed-door, session, this time on real estate. For session no. 2, Commissioners Goff and Bradford were allowed to stay but Chairman Rumley was required to leave, Rumley explained himself, as open-meeting laws forbade three of the five commissioners to be present at the same time at such sessions.

During this second session of hall-waiting and murder-mystery-reading, matutinal melodies and sparkling conversation were thinner on the ground sans Goff and Bradford, and sans Rumley, too, who exchanged pleasantries and then took himself busily off, presumably to his own office, which if The Planet mentions communicates with the meeting room by a back door, The Planet does not mean thereby to convey any sinister connotation therefrom.

Except that when, at 9:37 a.m., the second executive, or closed-door, session was ended, and The Planet was readmitted to the meeting room to hear the unwelcome but not unexpected words no action taken, the chairman did say: "I'm sorry it took so long, but I think we got a lot done"; and The Planet did wonder at the word "we."

The meeting adjourned at 9:38 a.m. without further business.

The Planet asked County Attorney Rogers about the legality of this unprecedented attendance and expulsion of alternating county commissioners at water board executive sessions. He replied that the only pertinent rule was that three commissioners could not attend simultaneously but that otherwise, whoever else was needed at such sessions was allowed to attend.

So what happened at today's meeting between the water board and the three county commissioners who will retain their seats next year?

The Planet, brushing off a butt numb from bench-sitting, and inserting a bookmark at page 55 of a particularly gripping whodunit, can only report: It's a mystery.

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