SUD Progress on Consecutive-Terms Issue

by Leslie Lytle, Messenger Staff Writer

At the Jan. 19 meeting of the Sewanee Utility District Board of Commissioners, Commissioner Doug Cameron reported on a promising interchange with Tennessee State Senator Janice Bowling about the board’s long-standing efforts to modify the consecutive-terms clause in the SUD charter. The board also reviewed financial reporting documents and approved the election of commissioner Charlie Smith to a second term. Smith ran for reelection unopposed.

In early 2020, Board President Smith reached out to Tennessee State Representative Iris Rudder who agreed to introduce legislation to the Tennessee legislature on SUD’s behalf. The charter that established the utility limits commissioners to two consecutive terms. Smith asked Rudder to petition the legislature to change the language to allow for unlimited consecutive terms. The change would allow commissioners with accumulated knowledge of the utility to continue serving and also address the difficulty of finding SUD customers to serve as commissioner.

Smith has not received a reply from Rudder on his request for progress on introducing the legislation. Cameron met with Bowling in a virtual meeting to discuss fire flows at a women’s shelter. Following the meeting, Cameron sent a note thanking Bowling for her help and took the opportunity to speak on SUD’s behalf. Cameron brought up the consecutive-terms dilemma. In her reply Bowling said, “The issue of getting competent people to serve on these boards is prevalent across rural Tennessee.” Bowling committed to introducing legislation “to correct the problem” and to work to get it passed.

Smith suggested contacting the Winchester Springs water utility and encouraging them “to get on board.” Winchester Springs previously contacted him about being confronted with the same problem.

Also in the arena of long-term significance, the board reviewed two documents on financial reporting prepared by Commissioner Paul Evans, who compiled information from multiple sources.

“This is a good synopsis on what to look for and not overly technical,” said SUD manager Ben Beavers. Beavers recommended including the documents in the information packet provided to new commissioners.

Evans created a 10-point summary of items that needed to “be tracked to ensure financial health.” The top three points were: maintaining an operating cash reserve equal to 12.5 percent of the annual operation and maintenance budget; maintaining a capital cash reserve equal to the replacement cost of critical components of the water system (i.e., major pumping or filtration equipment); and rates should not exceed 1.5 percent of median household income.

At the next meeting on Feb. 16, the board will elect officers and set meeting dates for 2021.