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Rockdale Water Authority limits access of staff to candidates

CONYERS -- The Water and Sewerage Authority of Rockdale County was faced with a dilemma not from either water or sewerage but from figuring out who to talk about it with and when.

It started when Jason Hill, who recently announced plans to run for county chairman in 2012, asked Water Authority Chairwoman Elaine Nash for a briefing on the operations of Rockdale Water Resources. Nash complied and set an appointment to meet with Hill and RWR director Dwight Wicks on Tuesday.

Water Authority member Garvin Haynes opposed the briefing and argued that it was against county policy. He said Hill and other candidates are not truly running for office until they pay their qualifying fees in May. Any discussions with county staff could be seen as preferential treatment.

The authority left the door open on the subject after a called meeting Thursday and no action was taken.

"My advice was given that the BOC are the ones who make the final vote, they ought to be up on all the issues and would have it anyway, candidate or not," Haynes said. "Until they actually are qualified they are citizens like anybody else, so I advised them to talk to the BOC members if they wanted information. They're doing the voting. Shouldn't they know?"

Hill said Nash called him to cancel the meeting due to Haynes' concerns. He questioned the objections and said it "flies in the face of open government."

"I'm not even sure what the argument could be, especially since not only am I a candidate, I am a rate payer and citizen," Hill said. "I assume everything they do is open record. I can obtain any records and information I need. While I would love to talk to Elaine and gain any knowledge she has, I am not going to lose any sleep over it. This is just the kind of problem and government operation that will stop when I am elected."

Nash said she welcomes any citizen taking an interest in the Water Authority and RWR. She believes there is nothing wrong with Authority members, or members of other volunteer county boards, from speaking to whoever they wish.

Nash said she felt badly for putting Wicks on the spot by asking him to join her in the meeting with Hill. "I don't know everything, so I just wanted to have Dwight there to help."

Nash added that after checking with a couple of people in the county government, it appeared Haynes' assertion was correct as an unwritten practice to limit political candidates from contact with department heads until after they qualify to run for office.

"The feeling of the (Authority) was that certainly anybody could email us, call us up, ask us questions and hopefully anybody on the Authority would be able to answer about what we are doing or anything else," Nash said. "The meetings are open to the public. ... I would have preferred to talk to any non-candidate with Dwight Wicks, but if he can't go around talking to non-candidates then I can't control that."