Water authority members will not be paid
by Sarah Fay Campbell
A discussion over whether members of the Coweta County Water and Sewerage Authority should be paid for their service turned briefly contentious at Tuesday’s meeting of the Coweta County Board of Commissioners.
Three Cowetans are appointed by the commissioners to the Coweta County Water and Sewerage Authority, to govern the operation that provides water service to most of unincorporated Coweta County as well as commercial and industrial sewer service.
The authority members are not paid for their work, though they are compensated for expenses. No members of Coweta’s boards or authorities are paid, including those serving on the Coweta County Development Authority, Coweta County Airport Authority, Board of Zoning Appeals and the like. Members of the Coweta County Board of Education aren’t paid, either. The county commissioners are.
Under the legislation that created the authority, members can be compensated if the county commission approves a resolution.
“I’m just thinking … the three we’ve got on board, they are a vital part, and heavily leaned on to run” an organization with $20 million in revenues and over $100 million in bonded indebtedness, said Commissioner Rodney Brooks. “So I think it’s vital that we look at properly compensating them. We’re asking executives to serve on this board who are taken away from their day jobs.”
Earlier in the meeting, the board voted to appoint Laurie Bartlett to the authority, to replace Mary Ann Sullivan, whose term expired in April.
“We appreciate everything Mrs. Sullivan has done,” said Commission Chairman Bob Blackburn. He also made a motion to have staff explore expanding the authority to five members instead of three. That would take an action of the Georgia legislature.
Commissioner Tim Lassetter asked if the main reason for expanding the board was to allow each of the five commissioners to have an appointment. “It’s very good to have five members on something as important as the water and sewerage authority,” Blackburn said. And it does allow each commissioner to have an appointment.
The motion to look at expanding the board was approved.
Melissa Griffis, attorney for the authority, spoke to the commissioners about the authority members’ responsibilities.
The authority meets once a month at 9 a.m. Griffis said the meeting is a “minimum of half a day, sometimes longer.”
The public portion of the meeting usually ends by 10:30 or 11 a.m. The authority then goes into closed session, where real estate, pending or potential litigation, and personnel matters can be discussed. Authority members also have to take numerous telephone calls, and there is typically a day-long workshop once a year.
The authority members also spent “hours at a time” during the renegotiation of the contract with the city of Griffin, according to Griffis.
Brooks made a motion to allow the authority to determine its own compensation, with a ceiling of $500 a month. “I think that is a small investment,” Brooks said.
Lassetter said surrounding counties that are similar in size pay their authority members about $100 a month. Douglas County pays $105 a month, Blackburn said.
Lassetter said he appreciates the authority members' service, and that he understands the water and sewerage authority members likely have more responsibilities “and maybe even more liability” than other boards and authorities, “and that is one of the few reasons that I would entertain reimbursing them for these meetings.”
But, Lassetter said, he would be more comfortable with the kind of compensation other counties pay.
“They don’t have to pay themselves $500,” Brooks said. “I have a problem with asking executives to serve a day or longer, endless hours, whether they are an attorney or an accountant,” Brooks said. “I think we are being hypocritical asking them to serve for nothing.”
“What about all the other people who serve on other committees? Do you not value their time?” asked Commissioner Paul Poole. “These people are better than the rest of them?”
“I’m not saying they’re better,” Brooks said. But the water and sewerage system is “a commodity that is very precious. It needs to have some value to it.”
Poole previously served on the Board of Zoning Appeals. “I never expected a dime for it… and I thought it was an honor,” he said. “I, personally, have an issue with paying somebody $500.”
Lassetter said that, when he and Poole served on the committee several years ago that chose the original members, “there was no discussion about any pay for serving on this board.”
“I think these individuals on this board and other individuals on any other board have their own choice of whether they want to continue to serve based on the time commitment and things they didn’t realize when they started serving,” Lassetter said.
“I wouldn’t want anybody to volunteer to serve on a board and it become a burden, rather than something they want to do.”
Lassetter also took issue with the authority members getting to set their own pay.
The motion failed 3 to 2, with Lassetter, Poole and Al Smith opposed and Brooks and Blackburn in favor.
No motions for different compensation were made.