The Dade County Commission meeting on Thursday was led by District 3's Robert Goff in Executive Chairman Ted Rumley's absence.
At its regular December meeting Thursday night, the Dade County Commission formally approved an intergovernmental agreement (IGA) with the Dade Water Authority for purchase of land for the ultimate purpose of building Dade's controversial proposed reservoir on Lookout Creek.
As approved the week before by Dade Water, the agreement specifies the water authority will pay $400,000 of the $500,000 asking price for the land, with the Dade County Commission making up the remainder. As the commission has already paid $75,000 to option the land and then to extend the option, it will only owe an additional $25,000 at closing. The extension was due to expire at the end of this month.
After months of public discord about the purchase, the final approval came without much drama except for a little pro forma resistance from outgoing District 1 Commissioner Mitchell Smith. Smith, possibly with sarcastic intent--irony is harder to discern in some individuals than in others--suggested a better use of the county's money would be to sue Tennessee for rights on the Tennessee River. Smith, who is leaving the commission at the end of the year, has interjected aggressive anti-reservoir notes into his swan song since announcing earlier this year he would not seek reelection, as well as tones discordant with the harmonious unanimity sung by the rest of the commission on other local issues.
Smith also questioned a clause in the IGA that transfers ownership of a wastewater treatment plant at the Canyon Ridge golf course to the water company as compensation by the county. "This has never been discussed by the commission whatsoever," said Smith. He said he had thought the water company already owned the sewer.
County Attorney Robin Rogers' lawerly baritone joined the melody at this point to explain that the Tauqueta clause was his bad, and nothing to do with the issue at hand: He had happened to notice two or three weeks ago that Dade's stealth sewer had been deeded over to the county commission rather than to the water company by Randy Baker, the developer of the luxury subdivision whose failure had made Dade Water the proud sewer operator of a development mostly in Walker County (pursuant to a contract between Baker and the then-water board of which the Dade County Commission had not been apprised).
Rogers explained that, being unable to locate Baker, who could have corrected the ownership glitch with a simple deed correction, he had had to figure out some other method of transferring the sewer from one entity to the other. The difficulty, he said, was that an agreement between two government bodies required some kind of consideration, or payment, to be legal, and that as far as he knew in this case neither entity owed each other any money. Therefore, went on Rogers, in drafting the IGA, he had thrown in the wastewater treatment plant "as additional compensation" as if it were a payment, when in fact it was no such thing.
"I just did this to facilitate the process," said Rogers.
And if that had audience members checking their ear trumpets for moths, their attention was soon diverted from the creativity and resourcefulness of the county attorney to District 3 Commissioner Robert Goff, who proceeded to give throat to a colorful solo involving a Times Free Press article about the Supreme Court, the importance of water, the Tennessee River and the state of Tennessee declaring defiantly of same: "Yes, we stole it and they're not getting it back."
In any case, Smith's was the only dissenting vote to the IGA, and it passed easily.
County Executive Chairman Ted Rumley was absent from the meeting on account of his mother's health, which perhaps made the ensuing discussion of ousting him from the water board a little less awkward for his colleagues. Rumley has chaired the water board as well as the county commission since, in 2010-11, the Tauqueta Falls fiasco had convinced the commission it needed more insight into the doings of the water board. Commissioner Smith at a previous meeting had put forth his suggestion that Rumley be removed and the board reorganized to represent Dade's geographical districts and to exclude elected county or city officials or anyone closely related to them by blood or marriage.
District 1 Commissioner Scotty Pittman suggested that the chairman of the water board might be elected by the county at large, but that didn't seem to suit anyone else. "What I'm trying to do is take the politics out of this," said Smith.
H.A. McKaig, a water board member in the audience, piped up at this juncture to agree. "The consensus of it is we need the politics out of it period," he said. Also, intriguingly: "The reservoir is not the only problem we have." But after the meeting he declined to name what the other one might be.
None of the commissioners objected to Chairman Rumley's removal from the water board. There were, however, some other sticking points: Trenton Mayor Alex Case would want to make sure the city's interests were represented on the board, since the city ran the (non-stealth) sewer system and needed to keep a finger on the pulse of water capacity as it sought to bring in new industry; and shouldn't the chairperson of the board be elected by the other members? And shouldn't newly elected Lamar Lowery and Phillip Hartline, who will take seats on the board come January, be two of the members who elect the chair?
"January would solve all the problems," said Pittman.
Accordingly, the commissioners agreed to table the matter until January, Smith stipulating before he ceded the point that the matter be added to next month's agenda.
The purchase of the reservoir land should take place sometime before the extended option on it expires at the end of this month.
The Planet will continue reporting on the reservoir issue. The Planet wouldn't miss it for the world.