Mayor blasts DH Water and Sewer District
By Dwayne Bremer
Oct 7, 2014, 20:39
Members of the Hancock County Board of Supervisors on Monday said they want to sit down with the Diamondhead Water and Sewer District (DWSD) to address concerns from residents and elected officials alike; however, Board President Lisa Cowand said she wants to hold the meeting without a quorum so it would not be public.
Diamondhead Mayor Tommy Schafer on Monday addressed supervisors with a list of complaints against the water and sewer district.
The water and sewer district is an independent entity, whose commissioners are appointed by the board of supervisors.
It owns and operates millions of dollars worth of facilities and equipment and provides water through its wells to residents in and around the city.
The current commissioners include Chairman Charles Johnson Jr., Michael Schaefer, Darrell Gremillion, Karen Sites, and Shane Finley.
Commissioners are appointed on a rotating yearly schedule and serve four-year terms.
Earlier this year, supervisors voted 5-0 to send a resolution to state legislators asking that the city be given the authority to appoint commissioners to the water and sewer district.
The measure, Senate Bill 2631, passed the state senate; however, DWSD reportedly lobbied against it in the state house of representatives and it was killed in the house's county affairs committee.
Gremillion's term is expiring and a new appointment has been due for more than a month.
Schafer, who is reportedly one of the candidates being considered for appointment to DWSD, asked Monday when the board was going to act.
"Let's take some action here," Schafer said. "I am here to cooperate."
District Five Supervisor Tony Wayne Lader said that despite Senate Bill 2631 being killed in the house, supervisors have asked for the city's opinion on the previous two appointments.
Schafer said he only recalls one appointment that he signed off on.
"I was only in consensus with one, and Mr. Ladner, I now think I was wrong," Schafer said.
Schafer said he sees a lot of issues with DWSD.
He said, among other things, that the district's tap fees are too high; that the recent awarding of a $3.5 million, 17,000 square-foot administrative and maintenance facility was unnecessary; and that there is a perceived stigma that DWSD is hurting development.
"Diamondhead is important to the county," Schafer said. "When something deters development, it hurts everyone in the county. Was it necessary and logical to build this new administrative building? They do not serve you well. They do not serve the city well and there is a lack of will to change."
Lader said he agreed with Schafer about the administrative facility being too big and pointed to the county's 8,000 square-foot Emergency Operations Facility on Highway 603 as an example.
"The EOC has a lot of space and this is twice as big," he said."
The city of Diamondhead had offered DWSD space for administrative functions at city hall, however, that offer was rejected.
DWSD officials said last month that they chose to go forward with the administrative facility because it was necessary for the future; that the offer from the city did not provide enough space; and that the property was located in a flood zone.
"The facility is part of our long-range planning, which includes many other capital improvement projects such as infrastructure improvements, replacements, and expansions," DWSD said in a statement last month. "Funding has occurred through our normal rates and fees for some of the smaller projects; however, with the current rates and fees, we were able to secure long-term bonding to fund all of the planned larger projects."
DWSD General Manager Mike Collard said last month that the administrative facility has been in the plans for years.
According to the DWSD statement, the approval of the administrative facility project was well-discussed and the district was not hiding anything.
"Over the past six-year period, the district has held over 140 public meetings," the statement said. "During many of these meetings, the district's capital improvements and bond issuance were included on the agenda and discussed."
Still, supervisors said, they wanted to sit down with DWSD before the project was approved.
Last month, Ladner presented a motion that asked DWSD to meet with supervisors before it voted on it.
Ladner said he felt it was "disrespectful" that DWSD took action without meeting with supervisors.
Board President Lisa Cowand said she had conversations with Johnson prior to DWSD's vote.
"He (Johnson) assured me that he was going to do everything he could to hold it up," Cowand said.
Johnson and the rest of the DWSD board voted unanimously to approve awarding the contract on Sept. 25.
Board Vice-President Steve Seymour asked if supervisors had any legal options to stop the project.
"This is a big dog-and-pony show," Seymour said. "They have been sending out a smoke screen. They won't meet with us and every meeting, Mayor Schafer has been begging us for help. We need to do something."
District One Supervisor David Yarborough said he would like to do something, but unfortunately, there is little that can be done.
"I had some issues with the Pearlington water and sewer district," Yarborough said. "The only thing I could do is work behind the scenes to try to fix it. I did a lot of behind-the-scene work."
Cowand urged the board to schedule another a meeting with DWSD; however, she said she wanted the meeting to be held in private: "Let's pull two members from each group, so that it will not be a public meeting," Cowand said.
No supervisors objected to Cowand's idea to hold a private meeting. The meeting is tentatively scheduled for Thursday at 9 a.m.
The public and the media are not invited.