Barrington Councilor Suggests Dissolving BCWA
Barrington Town Councilor Jeff Brenner thinks the dissolution of the water authority needs to be explored given the findings and recommendations of the performance audit.
Dissolve the Bristol County Water Authority.
Jeff Brenner, vice president of the Barrington Town Council, would like to explore that option after digesting the recently completed performance audit of the BCWA. He floated that idea at Tuesday night’s Town Council workshop on the audit in the library auditorium.
“The BCWA was created when all of the water came from within Bristol County,” Brenner said. “Now most of it comes from outside.”
He sees selling off all the water authority assets at a fair price to a private company, which would work “as any other utility” to provide water to Barrington, Warren and Bristol.
“Organizationally, it’s just broken,” he said of the BCWA after assessing the audit by B&E Consulting of Providence. “And the three-town structure, I don’t think works. Having three directors from three towns is a way to be paralyzed.”
Brenner also said he doesn’t believe the executive director, Pasquale DeLise, “is making tough decisions in order to deliver a certain level of service expected by the community at the lowest cost possible.”
“We can debate the directors from each town, and come up with a list of things to do,” Brenner said. “But at the end of the day, the group needs to look and ask itself: Does it still need to exist?”
Town Councilor Bill DeWitt had suggested a similar option about 10 days ago after reading the study. He said then that he would terminate all the directors and the executive director.
DeWitt didn’t repeat that comment Tuesday night, although he would still terminate all three of Barrington's directors "to send a message." He also went right at Barrington’s directors, Allan Klepper, Lloyd Matsumoto and John McElroy Jr., who sat side by side in the front row. The councilors sat on the stage.
“How would you grade the BCWA if you were a ratepayer?” DeWitt asked them.
McElroy, who said he was surprised at some of the findings in the study, especially the excessive amount of overtime paid out by the authority, said he would give it a B minus.”
Klepper and Matsumoto would not give the water authority a grade.
Before asking them to grade the BCWA, DeWitt said to McElroy, “I’m concerned that you’re surprised."
He also slammed them for the negotiations with the utility workers’ union that has resulted in many of the overtime expenses.
“A labor attorney did the negotiations,” said Klepper. “Paid by the hour.”
“And you’re pleased with the results?” DeWitt responded. “If you were sitting where we are, wouldn’t you scratch your heads a little?”
“I am sufficiently outraged at some of these things,” he added.
Town Council President June Speakman said: “I’m not outraged. But I am troubled.”
Speakman prefaced those comments with: “I am grateful that when I turn on the tap there is a clean, reliable source of water. Their primary goal is to do that, although for less money, perhaps.”
“The whole thing with the Shad pipeline mystifies me, though,” Speakman said. “And why does the board not seem to be able to get clear answers from the executive director?”
She asked the Barrington directors if they had a sense of how the board might proceed when it meets on Wednesday evening, June 29, in a special meeting to address the performance audit?
Klepper said he has identified all those subjects that he would take to union negotiations.
“My thought is not to wait another year to start negotiations,” he said of the contract, which expires in 2012.
“We have this report and this information,” Klepper said. “Which items are eye-openers? We need to put our package together and go into negotiations.”
Town Councilor Cynthia Coyne suggested developing a specific timeline for addressing the findings and recommendations in the study.
“Clearly, this study has identified ineffectiveness that needs to be dealt with immediately,” she said. “I would feel more comfortable with a timeline so there isn’t any confusion.”
Coyne added: “This is only a starting point. I urge the directors to take advantage of this. There is plenty to be discussed.”
Gary Morse of Barrington, the spokesman for Operation Clean Government and the Rhode Island Statewide Coalition, said both groups have been investigating the BCWA and its mandate under the 1993 Water Supply Act.
Of the three original priorities, build a cross-bay pipeline that now supplies 70 percent of the county’s water, set up an emergency interconnection with East Providence, and build the Shad pipeline from Rehoboth, Mass., he said, only two of the three have been completed in all these years.
“The plan for the Shad is still not completed,” he said. “This speaks to me of total incompetence.”
The emergency interconnection also needs a written agreement with East Providence, he said.
“There is no written agreement,” he said, citing the DPW director in East Providence.
The board members, Morse said, “are clearly in a position to know this and nothing is done."
Morse asked the council to reconcile OCG’s research along with the B&E study to formulate their response to BCWA.
After the workshop, Brenner said that he has not looked deeply into what it would require to dissolve the water authority.
“It would take enabling legislation,” he said.
But to get to that point, Brenner said, would require a lot more research on how best to replace the BCWA.
“I just think we need to explore it as an option,” he said.