During the seven minutes of this morning's meeting of the board of directors of the Dade County Water Authority, or so-called water board, to which the public was allowed access, it was announced that heightened security features were to be installed at the water company to stand between employees and an angry public.
The ensuing 58 minutes of executive, or closed-door, session, from which the public was pointedly excluded, could well provide a clue as to why the public might be a little mad in the first place.
With curiosity at fever pitch about what the water company will do about Dade County's controversial proposed reservoir on Lookout Creek, and a Dec. 28 deadline on an option to buy land for the project fast approaching, the water board closed the doors firmly in the public's face for the third straight month at its regular November meeting, conducting reservoir-related business, if they conducted any, safely sheltered from the invasive nose and pricked ears of the local press.
"There's just stuff right now that they can't discuss," said Dade County Executive Chairman Ted Rumley, who also chairs the water board. "I don't like executive sessions but I agree with these because--that's just the way it is."
Rumley was speaking after the Nov. 16 meeting in response to The Planet's inquiry as to the purpose of the water board's prolonged secrecy.
The executive session was called for the announced purposes of considering personnel matters and discussing real estate. At the end of the secret session, Rumley announced that water authority manager Doug Anderton was retiring in June after leading the company for 48 years. But as to real estate matters, he made no announcement whatsoever.
The Dade County Commission in June 2017 approved $50,000 to option Jack Sells' 60-plus acres on Lookout Creek while the county looked for grant money to cover the rest of the $500,000 asking price. Only one $25,000 grant has so far emerged, and this Rumley used as a further payment to Sells to extend the option until the end of next month. Meanwhile, the water board sought and was approved for a $450,000 loan to cover such part of the price tag as would not be met by grants.
But at last month's water board meeting--or during the 16 minutes before it went into executive session that time--an auditor warned the board that it was sailing close to the wind with its debt ratio and could be out of compliance with its bond covenant (sort of a government-level loan agreement) if it took on any new debt.
During county commission meetings, Rumley has hinted that Sells might come down on his price, and also that private donors might also step up to pay some of it.
But whether either of these contingencies have come to pass, and whether the water board will take on, or will be allowed by its bond covenant to take on, whatever part of the half million dollars is left after they do, must remain veiled in mystery for the time being.
"When it happens it'll happen and we'll take a vote on whatever we were talking about," said Rumley this morning. "This board has a right to do that. We're taking care of business. That's what we're doing."
But back now to the six minutes of public meeting before the board slammed the door on the public nose: Board member Eddie Cantrell commended water authority manager Doug Anderton on his decision to tighten security measures at the water company. "I think it's a long past-due. I've been there a time or two when I've been a little scared, myself," said board member Eddie Cantrell. "Our world's not getting any kinder."
During the executive session, assistant water company manager Sherri Walker (consigned like the local press to the wrong side of the closed doors) said that customers in the water office have occasionally gotten angry enough about their bills to reach through the payment window and tear them up. She said the new security features will include a higher glass barrier between customers coming in to pay and water company employees sitting out front to accept payment.
Those barriers have not yet been installed at the water company, but Trenton Mayor and Dade 911 Director Alex Case (similarly consigned to the public side of the doors) pointed out, and demonstrated, that similar ones have recently been completed at the Dade County Tax Commissioner's office, nearby in the Administrative Building. Here's a photo of that:
The board also briefly discussed a recent request by West Brow resident and outgoing Georgia State House of Representative John Deffenbaugh for a new water line in West Brow, for the purpose of supplying a fire hydrant there. The answer seems to be no--"It's a very tight area to get a water line through," said Ms. Walker--but board members decided to defer more talk on it until next meeting, when they expected Deffenbaugh to attend.
As to the retirement of Doug Anderton, the board commended him for his long decades of service and announced that an ad for his replacement will be posted for two months. Assistant manager Sherri Walker confirmed she is a candidate for the job. She has been with the water company for 13 years and was promoted to assistant general manager in February after several years as office manager.