SUD Considers Legislative Action on Term Limits
Thursday, January 24, 2019
by Leslie Lytle, Messenger Staff Writer
At the Jan. 22 meeting, the Sewanee Utility District (SUD) Board of Commissioners discussed pursuing legislative action to remove the stipulation barring a commissioner from serving more than two consecutive terms. Difficulty in finding candidates to run for commissioner in the recent election and low voter turnout prompted the debate.
Commissioners Randall Henley and Ronnie Hoosier ran for reelection unopposed. The call for candidates was published monthly in the Messenger beginning in September and announced since October on customer bills. No other candidates stepped forward.
Equally disturbing to the board, only three votes were cast in this election.
“Three votes is not acceptable when something as critical as water production and wastewater treatment is at stake,” said Commissioner Paul Evans.
Henley and Hoosier were both elected for a second term. Law bars them from serving another consecutive term, although they could seek re-election after sitting out for a full four-year term.
“How do we get people to serve as commissioner without dragging them into the process?” asked SUD manager Ben Beavers.
If no candidates step forward to serve as commissioner, appointment of commissioners falls to the county mayor. The mayor can appoint anyone who lives in the county. The appointee would not need to reside in the Sewanee Utility District and would not need to be a SUD customer.
Commissioner Art Hanson pointed out that by “keeping commissioner selection as an election process” the customers had a voice.
Evans questioned whether reducing the term length from four to two years might make people more willing to serve on the board. Changing the term length would also require a legislative action.
A year ago, Board President Charlie Smith consulted with then State Representative David Alexander about removing the two consecutive term stipulation. Alexander advised Smith “broad public support” would be needed to usher in a change.
Given the apparent apathy, Smith proposed a more effective strategy would be to rally the water utilities struggling with the same issue. Of more than 200 water utilities, only eight are governed by elected boards. All others boards are appointed.
In a related discussion, Smith encouraged the commissioners to support the Tennessee Utility Political Action Committee (TUPAC), the lobbying group for public utilities.
“TUPAC looks after our interests,” Smith said.
Beavers noted that without TUPAC’s influence the legislature would have “changed how SUD elects commissioners and made all water boards appointed.”
Updating the board on the waterline replacement project, Beavers said all the main lines had been tested and passed inspection. He anticipated all taps would be tied in by the end of next week and clean up and seeding would take an additional two weeks.
SUD undertook the $666,835 project without taking out a loan by drawing on cash reserves. Aging, constricted, leak prone cast-iron water lines on South and North Carolina Avenues, Clara’s Point Road, and Florida Avenue were replaced.
SUD’s long term budget projects tackling the aging, leak-prone waterlines on Tennessee Avenue in 2020. “That will give the cash reserves a chance to recover from the current project,” Beavers said. Again, SUD intends to complete the project without a loan.
The next SUD board meeting is Tuesday, Feb. 26. Go to the website at https://www.sewaneeutility.org