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Term Limits Approved for Water Authority Board

Town councils in Barrington, Bristol and Warren agree to limit terms of Bristol County Water Authority directors in amended enabling legislation sent to General Assembly.

Term limits are being established for members of the board of directors of the Bristol County Water Authority. And competing bids must be sought for legal services.

The term limits and legal bids are among a dozen amendments to the enabling legislation that set up the water authority and the by-laws of the agency.

Those amendments will now be sent to each legislator representing Barrington, Bristol and Warren for introduction to the General Assembly and anticipated passage during the current session.

“I can’t imagine the amendments not passing with all three town councils unanimously supporting it,” said Solicitor Andrew Teitz.

The town councils of Barrington, Bristol and Warren agreed unanimously to the changes last Thursday evening in a meeting in Barrington Town Hall. The changes were recommended by an ad hoc committee of representatives from each town as a reaction to the audit report that identified a host of problems with the way the authority is operated and managed.

Under the term limits, members of the BCWA board now may serve no more than four consecutive three-year terms before stepping aside for at least three years. Current members may continue to serve two more terms before giving up their seats.

The term limits do not protect any member from being removed at any time by a majority vote of their respective town councils.  Each town is expected to develop standards for removal of and expectations for its representatives.

Setting a term limit for a board member who serves as chair was not approved by the town councils. The chair has to be elected from now on by at least six members, however; previously, the chair was selected by the board.

Competitive bids must be sought for all professional services, including legal services that have been provided by Sandra Mack for many years.

The board debated going out for bid for legal services at its most recent meeting. Any future debate on bids for legal services becomes moot if the amendments are approved by the General Assembly.

“The board doesn’t have to take the low bidder,” said Teitz. “It just has to go to bid for legal services.”

Directors will now be paid $1,000 per year -- no longer $50 per meeting up to $1,500 a year. The chairman will receive $1,500.

A vice chairman of the board also will be elected and must live in a different town than the chairman.

A super-majority of seven directors was reduced to six directors for the approval of most major business handled by the board. At least one director, however, must come from each town.

At least one public hearing to which ratepayers are invited must be held before new water rates or fees are set. It must be advertised in a local newspaper and online and posted in the town halls to accommodate Rhode Island’s open meeting law.

The executive director’s compensation must be negotiated separately by the board. It cannot be tied in any way to the contract for union employees.

Members of the board are now prohibited from involvement in day-to-day operations of the water authority.

Notices of all meetings must now comply with the Rhode Island Open Meetings Act.

The ad hoc task force was formed by the Barrington, Warren and Bristol town councils to study the BCWA-creating legislation and by-laws.

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