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Code: Scotts Run illegal
[July 09, 2013]

Code: Scotts Run illegal

Jul 09, 2013 (The Dominion Post - McClatchy-Tribune Information Services via COMTEX) -- Emails between Morgantown Utility Board (MUB) and Scotts Run Public Service District (PSD) officials show that the two entities were in discussions as early as January for MUB to take over the PSD.

And, although state law mandates prior approval from the state Public Service Commission (PSC), documents from the PSC question that the proper agreement is in place.

West Virginia State Code 24-2-12 says, "Unless the consent and approval of the public service commission of West Virginia is first obtained: (a) No public utility subject to the provisions of this chapter, except railroads other than street railroads, may enter into any contract with any other utility to operate any line or plant of any other utility subject thereto, nor which will enable such public utility to operate their lines or plants in connection with each other." Earlier this summer, a sign was placed on the door of the Scotts Run PSD building that read, "As of May 15, 2013 this office is closed." That was the morning MUB officials -- flanked by Monongalia County sheriff 's deputies -- removed the files and machinery from the building and changed the building's locks. Meanwhile, Scotts Run PSD board members fired the PSD's employees.

Two weeks later, MUB general manager Tim Ball appeared before the Morgantown City Council to describe what approvals he needed from the city.

During his explanation, he told council how it will likely take the PSC "two to three months" to return a decision.

He said that until the PSC approved the acquisition, MUB was simply operating on behalf of Scotts Run PSD.

"It's that two- or three-month lag in the acquisition agreement that makes the O&M (operations and maintenance) agreement necessary. So we can operate it in the interim," Ball said.

The PSC, however, has never approved an O&M agreement.

In a memo dated June 19, Lisa Wamsley, staff attorney for the PSC, more information was requested.

"It is unclear to Staff whether MUB has already begun the operation and maintenance of the District's sewer collection system. Please clarify who currently operates and maintains the District's sewer collection system. If MUB is currently providing the operations and maintenance, is there a previous O&M agreement in place?" The answer to that question, according to Ball, is no.

Ball said Scotts Run PSD is running off the agreement struck between MUB and the Scotts Run board at a meeting held May 22 -- a week after MUB took possession of the Scotts Run files and computers and the first time the acquisition was discussed in a public forum of any kind.

Ball was then asked if MUB could run Scotts Run PSD without an O&M agreement approved by the PSC.

"We l l , that's what we're doing," he said Monday.

Ball said the PSC made Thursday the deadline to provide the additional information.

He said he remains confident that the commission will approve the acquisition.

Ball went on to say that the acquisition was never discussed in public because his conversations with the Scotts Run board did not occur until the first week of April, too late to be included in the MUB board's April 9 meeting.

However, emails released to former Scotts Run employees and board members through a Freedom of Information Act request and obtained by The Dominion Post, seem to indicate not only that Ball and members of the Scotts Run board were in communication as far back as January, but that MUB was taking a thorough look at the public service district.

In an email dated Jan. 7, 2013, MUB comptroller Debbie Osborne tells Ball, "Tim, Attached is a basic analysis of Scotts Run PSD." Then, on April 8, 2013, Osborne sent Ball another email that reads, "We looked at this in some detail after Joe Tennant called you a while back in Janu a r y. " Tennant is one of three members of the Scotts Run board.

In an email to Te n n a n t dated April 11, Ball asks for phone numbers for Scotts Run board members Joe Morris and Virgil Coulter, stating, "I just want to talk with them personally so I can build the type of good working relationship with them that you and I have developed. We all may spend some time in a fox hole together in the next few months ..." then Ball adds a smiley-face emoticon.

In another email from Monongalia County administrator Diane DeMedici to Ball on April 25, DeMedici wrote, "Joe Tennant stopped in yesterday. I assured him the Commission was fully behind the take over ... Will a public hearing be necessary before you assume the customers? Joe is concerned that if news gets out, the employees and others in the community might make things more difficult. He wants to be able to walk into one of their meetings and make the announcement that things will change immediately." State code does allow the PSC to "grant its consent in advance or exempt from the requirements of this section" those it sees fit if the terms are fair, neither side received an unfair advantage and it does not adversely affect the public.

Ball has already said that MUB will not guarantee that sewage will be expanded along Route 100 if the acquisition goes through. Providing sewage along Route 100 was Phase 3 of the Scotts Run plan.

Before being named to the Scotts Run PSD board by the Monongalia County Commission, Tennant fought the Scotts Run PSD's effort to bring sewage services to Route 100, going so far as filing a petition with the PSC.

___ (c)2013 The Dominion Post (Morgantown, W.Va.) Visit The Dominion Post (Morgantown, W.Va.) at Distributed by MCT Information Services

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