Florala Utilities Board chair to retire

Published 12:25 am Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Florala Utilities Board Chairman William H. “Billy” McDaniel said Monday he plans to retire in November — a move he hopes will put an end to the legal battle between the board and the city of Florala.

McDaniel has served as a member of the board for the last 12 years; however, the the last four years have been plagued with discord caused by disputes over term limits of board members and the number of city council members allowed to serve on the board.

The ongoing dispute prompted the city to file suit against the utilities board in January, asking for “declaratory relief” in the “matter of controversy” surrounding the number of municipal officers allowed to serve on the utilities board. The suit has yet to make it in front of a judge, and McDaniel hopes by tendering his resignation, it will end the time of controversy between the two entities.

“When I was asked to come on board, I said I’d stay a few months and that was 12 years ago,” McDaniel said. “It’s time for me to retire. (The board) is making money, saving money and not raising rates. I don’t know exactly who will be on the board, but since I won’t be I don’t see much reason for the lawsuit.”

McDaniel said he sees no reason to change the number of members on the board and plans to ask for four appointments — two reappointments of current board members and one representative from Lockhart and one from Paxton, Fla. If the four members requested by McDaniel are placed on the board, it would leave one vacant position on the board.

“Horace Bell has two more years,” he said. “I’d like to see him stay on. He has invaluable experience in dealing with the sewer treatment plant. I haven’t asked Pearl Smith, but I’d like to see her stay.

“Lockhart owns 25 percent of the sewage treatment plant, so it’s only right they have a voice,” he said. “I’d like to see Mayor Eugene Birge in that spot. Paxton (Fla.) wants gas lines and they want to merge their sewer transport to go to Lockhart. It would stand to reason they would have a representative on the board.

“That still leaves (the city council) with an open spot,” he said.

McDaniel said the board attorney has spoken with the city attorney and both agree there is no point in carrying the lawsuit forward. McDaniel said he has informed both mayoral candidates of his intention to retire.

“Unless that lawsuit progresses to the point it goes before a judge between now and November and (the judge) decides otherwise, I see no reason why it can’t remain a five-member board,” he said.

McDaniel said he plans to spend the time until November “tying up lose ends.”

“There’s a lot to be done between now and then,” he said. “I need to make sure that the people who work here are taken care of, make sure that the board is set. Things need to be in line.

“There’s a lot that needs to be done for Florala — infrastructure-wise. It’s going to take a lot of money and the right leadership, but I think it can be done.”

One such project is the recently announced $1 million renovation project at Florala State Park. McDaniel, who was instrumental in the design of the project, has been asked to serve as project manager until its completion.

“That is project is very dear to me — I can remember almost 40 years ago when I realized the potential of Lake Jackson,” he said. “I’m honored that I’ve been asked to be a part of seeing it completed.”