City creates utility board

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, September 3, 2002

The City of Andalusia now has a second utility board. In a 4-2 vote at the City Council meeting last night, the council approved a motion for The move did not go unopposed. Council member Jerry Andrews stated that he was for a utility board when he ran for office and is still for a utility board,

but added that he had serious reservation about how this particular board was being set up.

"I think we need to discuss it some more," said Andrews at the work session held before the regular meeting. "We need to let the public be aware of the ramifications."

The new utility board will consist of five board members, three "lay persons" (civilians) and two council members. The mayor would serve as superintendent. The lay members would have staggered terms of six years each. The board members will receive $350 a month, including the council members, and the mayor, as superintendent, would receive an as yet unspecified salary.

The initial civilian board members are William E. Bryant, who will serve as chairman, and serve for two years only in order to begin the stagger rotation; Mike Ward, who will serve four years; and Linda Czap, who will be the only initial member to serve full term at six years. The board members from the council will serve the four years they hold office as council members.

Andrews, who said that he had not seen the proposal until Saturday when he received his meeting agenda, moved to table to issue for further study. His motion was seconded by Mike Jones, who said." I don't think we need to fly into it blind."

At the regular meeting, however, the issue was reintroduced.

Andrews addressed the council.

"First of all, while it may appear that I am opinionated at times, I detest controversy and in fact I will walk away from controversy any way I can, however when an issue comes up in city government of the magnitude of creating a utility board with an annual budget of $18 million, I will risk controversy to make sure the citizens of Andalusia understand the major ramifications we are facing if this utility board is created," he said.

"Sylacauga is recognized as having one of the most effective utility boards in the state. Their utility board is not a political entity and is not subject to political whims. Until my recent retirement, my vocation has been with the utility business as I worked for (Alabama Electric Cooperative) for 34 years and I don't claim to be the smartest individual in the area, but having been around the utility operations for 34 years, it has provided me with a more in-depth insight into utilities. I will not support the formation of a utility board for the City of Andalusia that is tainted with political control," Andrews added.

After the meeting, Johnson pointed out that Sylacauga is with a different power company which offers a lower wholesale price.

"There are some factors we can't do anything about," said Johnson. "We can't do anything about our wholesale costs."

Andrews admitted that having the civilian members outnumber the elected officials on the board was a

good idea, but expressed additional reservations about those chosen to serve.

"I have been placed in the position of appearing to personally oppose the three named individuals in the proposal, but that is not true, as I have known these three individuals for years and consider them my friends and have the utmost respect for their abilities. When you consider these suggested appointees and two appointees of the council combined, all five people will have zero years experience, and I believe they would admit their lack of knowledge of utility operations is not good for our city," he said.

He also objected to the appointed of the mayor as superintendent.

"The one proposal I most strenuously object to is the mayor being appointed superintendent of the utility board. Pray tell, what makes the mayor an expert to manage an operation like the utility board?

Is it for money or ego? In my opinion and judgment, this is not practical or good business sense," Andrews said.

"We've been talking about a utility board for over two years and this started back in the campaign," said Johnson. " Me and Mr. Andrews might have a disagreement about the makeup of the board,

and he is entitled to his opinion about that, and I have a right to mine. My opinion is that we have to start somewhere."

Attorney Thomas Albritton pointed out that if the mayor was not performing as needed as the superintendent, there were provisions made to remove him or her from the utility board position

Johnson also said that he suggested the addition of mayor as superintendent because the

"The mayor is the only elected official who is elected by the majority of all voters - he is answerable to all the people."

"It's done all over this state," Johnson said. "It should have been done in Andalusia long ago."

Another point made my Andrews was that the city should combine all utilities by including the water board. The mayor countered by saying that the water board would have to dissolve itself before that could happen and it couldn't do so until it was solvent, all bonds paid off.

"I don't see that happening, not right now," the Mayor said Johnson said after the meeting.

"I have nothing but the highest respect for the water board," he told the council at the meeting. "They are doing a good job and I don't want them to be dissolved at this time. As time goes on they could work their way into this board, and it's the right time to do it, then that's fine with me and I have no problem with that.

After Andrews repeated his request to "keep politics out of the utilities,",Johnson answered with "As far as taking politics out of a board, anytime you put one person on a board, there are politics involved. The word politics comes from the word people and you can't take politics out of anything that you have people in, whether they are elected or appointed."

Andrews and Jones voted against the incorporation of the utility board, with Council members

Bridges Anderson, Andy Alexander, Harry Hinson, and Mayor Johnson voting for it. Bridges and Alexander were named to the newly formed board as members.

Mayor Johnson gave several reasons for the formation of the utility board, including:

Professionalism - The utility board, operating as a business, would remove the onus of everyday management from the city council.

Continuity - Unlike the city council, which has the potential for 100 percent turnover every four years, the staggered six-year terms of the utility board would allow stability.

Expertise - six years on the board would allow more time to learn about the operational aspects of the utility system.

Cost - According to Johnson, as long as the city operates the utilities, it is required to keep10 percent of projected revenues as a contingency fund - approximately $1.8 million. With the Utility board in place, the city would only have to keep approximately 5 percent as a contingency fund.

Bonds - The utility board can issue bonds separately from the city.

Rates - Johnson foresees rates rising at a slower rate, and when they have to be raised, he said it could be done "without political overtones."

Johnson said that the issue was being pushed now was because equipment and materials ownership will have to be transferred to the utility board before the beginning of the next fiscal year on Oct. 1.

(EDITOR'S NOTE: Additional reports from the Tuesday night meeting of the Andalusia City Council will be reported in the Thursday edition of the Star-News.)