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Utility facing standoff

3/17/2012

By MEGHAN PITTMAN
The Brunswick News

State Rep. Alex Atwood says he respects the opinion of the Brunswick and Glynn County Joint Water-Sewer Commission, but he's going to pursue changes to the makeup of its board that he thinks are in the best interest of the community.

The utility board said House Bill 1271, filed Thursday in the Legislature, calls for changes that are not what it asked for in a restructuring and not what was in a resolution it adopted, and which the Brunswick and Glynn County commissions also adopted.

Water-sewer commissioners were to let Atwood and other members of the legislative delegation know they disapproved of the legislation by email Friday.

Atwood, R-St. Simons Island, said he was guided by the voice of the residents when writing the bill that will change the composition of the utility's board from four city and county commissioners and one resident to two commissioners and five residents.

"The legislation filed (Thursday) reflects and respects the best of those views, and I believe will help to further confidence in our governmental structure and the day-to-day operations of the (water-sewer commission)," Atwood said.

The local House delegation, which includes Reps. Roger Lane, R-St. Simons Island, Jason Spencer, R-Woodbine and Atwood, maintains that the legislation is fair, Atwood said.

The legislation does not allow the utility board to make the final decision on who will serve on it in the future. The board had requested that it be allowed to play a significant role in selecting new members.

Under the House bill, three citizen members would be chosen by a county grand jury and two elected by voters. The city and county commissions would continue to appoint their representatives.

"It ... allows for citizens who possess expertise in those occupational specialties conductive to the professional operation of the (utility) to be selected by a truly independent body," Atwood said. "This bill also allows average citizens to have a voice, be it from an appointed position or through the ballot box, whichever the citizens of our community determine is best for all concerned."

Atwood also responded to concerns expressed by City Commissioner Cornell Harvey, a member of the utility board who complained Thursday about the bill's omission of the $500 monthly stipend for elected officials on the utility board.

Under the House bill, citizens members would receive it, but it would not be paid to the city commissioner and county commissioner on the reconstituted board.

Atwood says officials should know better than most about the tough economic times communities and taxpayers are facing. "All governmental operations must continue to operate within the realm of frugality and efficiency," he said.

The bill must pass both houses of the Legislature and be signed by the governor before it goes to a referendum of city and county voters.

The water-sewer commission board had hoped to have a change in effect by the end of the year.

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