EDITORIAL: North Lee needs voluntarily opened full board meetings [Northeast Mississippi Daily Journal, Tupelo :: ]
(Northeast Mississippi Daily Journal (Tupelo) Via Acquire Media NewsEdge) July 17--The North Lee County Water Association's members/customers should thank members of the board of directors who asserted themselves and insisted on having an open meeting today in spite of an email from board president Terry Anderson canceling the scheduled meeting, citing concerns about an open meetings law.
Board members who support going forward with an open meeting for members are following the advice of their attorney, Bill Beasley, a member of the Phelps Dunbar firm.
Why would the board's transactions not be the members'/customers' business, and indeed, the business of the public at large?
A North Lee member/customer, George Rutledge, was kicked out of a work session last week.
North Lee, which is legally a nonprofit entity, functions as a public utility, borrows money, in part, from government-backed programs, and is answerable to state health authorities about issues of water safety.
North Lee's chaotic operations in the past few years have led to investigations of alleged criminal behavior by employees (and a conviction), the reconstituting of the board of directors following revelations of mismanagement, and shoddy governance.
Its customer base, in part, in the past has made known significant dissatisfaction with North Lee's quality of service and the quality of water piped from wells to thousands of residences and businesses.
Its decision not to cooperate with the city of Tupelo in providing water and fire protection to North Lee customers annexed into the city is irresponsible -- especially in light of protests from that customer base about being denied the more reliable water supply and better fire protection from the city of Tupelo.
North Lee's water lines are too small to support Tupelo's fully staffed, full-time fire-fighting department.
The North Lee board certainly should have the right to enter executive sessions for the same reasons fully public bodies like a city council or a board of supervisors enter executive sessions, but it is difficult to imagine that all business conducted by the water association board meets that criteria.
Northern District Public Service Commissioner Brandon Presley, from Nettleton, repeated his position Wednesday that state law requires open meetings of the North Lee board. Presley, however, under state law does not have direct jurisdiction of North Lee or any other water association, but he is free to act as an advocate.
The best course would be for the North Lee directors to make open meetings the board policy with timely public notice.
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