By Bobby Harrison/NEMS Daily Journal
JACKSON – Gov. Phil Bryant has signed into law legislation that “clarifies” that the three-member elected Public Service Commission does not have authority over rural water associations.
The legislation was vigorously opposed by Northern District Public Service Commissioner Brandon Presley, but became more palatable to legislators because of language inserted by Rep. Jerry Turner, R-Baldwyn, requiring more transparency by rural water associations.
Turner’s amendment, which was part of the bill signed into law Wednesday by Bryant, requires the rural water associations’ meetings to be open to their customers and to require that the customers receive notice of meetings where boards of directors are elected.
The bill originated in the Senate Accountability, Efficiency and Transparency Committee chaired by Sen. Nancy Collins, R-Tupelo.
At the time the legislation passed, Sen. Hob Bryan, D-Amory, who opposed it, said, “For a committee with accountability and transparency in its name, this is a very strange bill.”
Collins said the bill just clarifies existing law.
The issue of jurisdiction over the state’s about 950 rural water associations arose during allegations of mismanagement by the North Lee County Water Association in 2011. The Board of the Lee County rural water association eventually resigned, and the director pleaded guilty to lying about federal water quality reports.
The current management of the water associations credits Presley’s involvement as important in ending mismanagement at North Lee.
In general, the three-member PSC has oversight over utilities.
In an earlier interview, Sen. Perry Lee, R-Mendenhall, said under existing law, the state Department of Health is responsible for oversight as it relates “to everything from finances to water quality to management” of rural water associations.