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Rockdale's WSA to submit report outlining its role in management of water system

CONYERS -- The Rockdale Water and Sewerage Authority voted this week to submit to the Board of Commissioners a report outlining what the Authority believes to be its proper role in the management of the county's water system.

The WSA, the BOC and Rockdale Water Resources have been at odds over WSA's proper function and what authority it has over RWR, which operates the county's water and sewerage system.

State legislation passed in 1995 created the WSA and gave it the authority to, among other things, acquire, construct, improve and operate the county's water supply. The WSA then entered into a lease agreement with the county in 1996 where it leased this authority to the Board of Commissioners. The BOC then created the Department of Water Resources, which later became RWR. At that time, the WSA was tasked with being a financial mechanism with no formal role in the day-to-day operations of the water system.

This role was reinforced in 2004, when then-BOC Chairman Norman Wheeler stated that the WSA was created for the sole purpose of financing and to be used as a borrowing agency.

In 2009, BOC Chairman Richard Oden refined the role of the WSA by stating it will act as an advisory board to the director of RWR.

Authority members contend that the WSA has a fiduciary responsibility to make sure RWR and its assets are properly maintained.

In January, BOC Chairman Richard Oden created a task force consisting of WSA members Phyllis Turner and William Murrain, RWR Director Dwight Wicks and Greg Pridgeon, the BOC's chief of staff. The task force was to "identify definitive roles for governance and operation of our overall water resources system," Oden stated in a June 12 memorandum to WSA Chairwoman Elaine Nash.

After months of communication, the task force members developed a report of their findings, although not all members of the task force agree with all the issues in the report.

According to the task force report approved by the WSA at its meeting on Thursday, the WSA takes the position that it should have more oversight over the financial functions of RWR. For example, the WSA asserts it should review and make recommendations on RWR's budgets, including operations and maintenance and capital budgets, audits, contracts and land purchases in excess of $25,000, and any new initiatives undertaken by RWR.

The WSA also states it should review rates and make recommendations to fund RWR's master plan and capital improvement plans. Furthermore, the WSA should have "the authority and obligation to make recommendations as it deems necessary to enforce performance and observance of county obligations under the lease contract."

The WSA also voted that it would communicate directly with the BOC and copy the RWR director on any of its recommendations.

Wicks and Oden submitted addenda to this report that took issue with a number of the task force findings. For instance, Wicks and Oden stated they believe the WSA should be informed of new initiatives undertaken by RWR, but should not have the right to review or comment on those unless they require debt financing.

Oden also reinforced in his addendum that any recommendations by the Authority should be made to the RWR director.

The WSA voted during its meeting Thursday to accept the task force's report and refer it to the BOC.

Recently, tensions between RWR and the WSA have grown, culminating with a recommendation from the WSA that RWR Director Dwight Wicks' contract not be renewed when it expires in December. The BOC voted in June by a 2-1 vote to not renew Wicks' contract. Oden was the dissenting voter.

In a separate action, Terrell Gibbs, deputy director of RWR, distributed a memorandum to the WSA outlining a number of grievances against authority member Garvin Haynes, requesting he be dismissed from the WSA.

On Thursday, Haynes agreed that any communication between the WSA's Master Plan committee that he chairs and RWR would go through Chairwoman Nash.