Controversy shadows hiring rules for water board head

BY Jan Murray

Controversy shadows hiring rules for water board head
Mayor Claudia Wigglesworth was appointed as the chief officer of the board on Dec. 18, 2012 after her election as the city’s mayor in August that year. She was paid $24,000 annually out of receipts of the utility system, which currently has a budget of $1.6 million. Wigglesworth said she received no health, retirement or other benefits from the board while serving as executive director/water superintendent. The Water Board executive director/water superintendent position is not an elected position, but rather a hired position, although traditionally, the sitting mayor of the city has held the job. At an earlier Sept. 20 board meeting, Wigglesworth tendered her resignation with an effective date of Sept. 30, a month before her contract expiration. At that, Board Chairman Scott Moore recommended the board hire current Water Department Supervisor Orson Bullard as incoming superintendent. Moore thanked Wigglesworth for her service and then recommended the hiring of Bullard, “the most qualified superintendent the board has ever had.” A proposed five-year contract and Bullard’s resume’ were provided to the board members and Moore reiterated the board’s corporate bylaws that allow for the hiring of a qualified person to manage the water and sewer system. “The safety of our drinking water and proper management of wastewater is paramount to the city,” Moore told the board. “Orson is actually the highest qualified person the water board has ever had the opportunity to hire, especially in light of his recent completion of the Water University Utility Managers course, which provides, simply, the executive-level knowledge…needed. Interestingly enough, he is actually one of only one of 19 total people in the entire state of Alabama to be a nationally certified utility manager.” Moore recommended Bullard be employed fulltime in the executive director position for a period of five years at an annual salary of $50,000, which, ultimately, would be an increase of $4,400 per year for him. The board did not officially accept Wigglesworth’s resignation, nor did they approve the hiring of Bullard. Wigglesworth withdrew her letter of resignation during last week’s meeting and will remain executive director through Oct. 30. In her resignation letter, she stated she felt it was in the “best interest of the board to have a new superintendent hired and ready to assume the duties on the first day of the new fiscal year.” The second special meeting was called for Sept. 28 for informational purposes only, said Moore, because new board members need “to understand the hiring process under which the board now operates” and that “citizens needed to also have a refresher on the new process.” Last week, board and city attorney Henry B. Steagall III addressed the board and said the water board was first created in 1965 and the city council, at that time, granted the board a franchise to operate a water and sewer system within the city. The attorney then showed board members an ordinance from 1965 that indicates “the mayor shall be the superintendent of the Water and Sewer Board. So, that’s clear and that’s strong. But there is also… a state law that says the Water and Sewer Board may select the mayor as the superintendent. It does not say shall. So, in other words, there is some discretion on the part of the Water and Sewer Board as to the superintendent.” Steagall said that while the city council made it a requirement that the mayor be superintendent of the Water Board, “it is not absolute. The board has the authority and the discretion to take a look at the mayor’s qualifications to make sure that the mayor is somewhat qualified. It doesn’t have to be a certified, licensed person to operate a water system, but to have some qualifications.” The attorney said that is one of the reasons the bylaws were written in 2012 to allow the board to look at the qualifications of a potential superintendent. “This is a multimillion dollar a year operation,” he said. “You don’t want somebody to come on and be forced on you, as a superintendent, that is just unfit, so you do have the right to review the qualifications of that person.” Steagall went on to say that he thinks the board is “obligated” to appoint the (incoming) mayor (Jayme Stayton) as the superintendent unless it finds something that is clear and convincing that shows him to be “unsuitable, unfit, or unqualified.” The attorney also told the board that making any decision now, he feels, is premature. “I just feel like the mayor should be sworn into office and then should make application to you to be appointed the superintendent and then you should review that at some point after that…” said Steagall, pointing out the make-up of the water board will likely be different after the new council and administration takes over in November. After Steagall spoke to the board, Wigglesworth addressed the board and said, “In 2012 when I was elected mayor, I made the assumption that the mayor was automatically the superintendent. On Sept. 14, 2012, I met with the city clerk (Angelia Filmore) and asked specific questions regarding the process for selecting the superintendent. For example, city ordinances. She was not aware of one for the city. I contacted the Alabama League of Municipalities and spoke with the attorney, Rob Johnson. He said that the Water Board cannot be compelled to appoint the mayor without supporting documentation. I met with our attorney, Henry Steagall, who also stated the Water Board was not compelled to hire the mayor as superintendent if that individual is not capable or qualified. “…A review of the board’s action at that time reflects that a superintendent separate from the mayor was a viable option. The building of a new, separate office signaled that the board was willing to consider a separate superintendent. And, also the rewrite and the updates of the governing bylaws, which took two months, also solidified the board’s desire to have options in the selection of the superintendent. All of that was done before any action was taken in 2012 to select a superintendent.” The water authority became a corporate entity unto itself in 2012, completed with bylaws as set out by Alabama law. The Certificate of Incorporation is recorded in the Dale County Probate Office in Book C on page 467. According to the bylaws of the organization, “The purpose for the corporation is to acquire, own, operate, maintain, enlarge, extend and improve both a water system and a sanitary sewer system for the city of Daleville. Statutory powers of the corporation are conferred by Alabama State Law and additional local ordinances.” In Article III of the bylaws it states, “In accordance with the laws of the State of Alabama and the Articles of Incorporation, the authority to create, manage and operate a water and sewer system in the city is vested in a board of directors” and Article IV states “The board shall have complete authority and control of the management and operation of the Water and Sewer System for the city and have complete authority over the expenditure of its revenues with the same freedom and manner as a board of directors of a private corporation operating properties of a similar nature…The Executive Director (Water Superintendent) of the system shall be selected by the board for a term and the board shall compensate such person in accordance with the qualifications of said person and the work to be performed in accordance with a job description which it approves in advance for the position…the board shall have the authority to enter into a contract with the executive director…or the board may employ such person strictly on an ‘at will’ basis. The board may exempt these administrative officials from the city’s personnel classification plan… The executive director shall serve at the direction and under the instruction of the board and will report directly to the board.”
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