Federal agencies investigate North Lee water

By Emily Le Coz/NEMS Daily Journal

TUPELO – The FBI and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency are investigating a series of claims against the North Lee County Water Association.
FBI Public Affairs Specialist Deborah Madden confirmed the federal agencies’ involvement Wednesday.
“The FBI has been made aware of allegations of wrongdoing concerning the North Lee County Water Association,” Madden said. “Together with the Environmental Protection Agency, appropriate investigative action will be taken to determine whether a violation of federal law has occurred.”
Allegations of water employees working side jobs while on the clock and customer complaints of not being able to attend board meetings were reported last month in the Daily Journal.
Environmental Protection Agency spokeswoman Dawn Harris had confirmed last week that her organization was aware of the situation but had no other statements.
The agencies join at least three state bodies also examining the claims. They are the Mississippi Department of Health, the Public Service Commission and the Attorney General’s Office.
The water association turned over numerous documents to state and federal authorities, said its attorney, Bill Beasley.
Representatives from both the MSDH and PSC confirmed their investigations, but an AG spokeswoman said she could neither confirm nor deny its role. However, Northern District Public Service Commissioner Brandon Presley revealed the AG’s involvement during a North Lee County Water Association board meeting Oct. 4.
Since that that meeting, a skeleton crew of hastily appointed board members have been trying to manage the association, which lost all its longtime directors and the supervisor after the allegations became public.
The task has overwhelmed many of those asked to serve, and several have stepped down in recent days.
“It’s a mess,” said one of those resigning members, Wayne Fitzner.
Three board directors currently remain, and they have put in 20-30 hours a week sifting through past documents to try to account for alleged missteps and get a handle on the water system.
They appointed an interim supervisor to run daily operations, and they are reviewing a proposed set of bylaws to replace the original – and outdated – ones adopted in 1966.
When the review is finished later this week, the proposed bylaws will be sent to each of the association’s roughly 4,400 customers, who will have a chance to vote for them at the next board meeting.
That meeting hasn’t yet been scheduled, but Beasley said he anticipates it happening by Nov. 4. New board directors also will be chosen at that time.
Whoever is elected to serve will inherit a disorganized association in the midst of a state and federal investigation. Current board director Bruce Parker said it’s a big job, but he hopes the work performed by the current interim board will lighten the eventual load.
emily.lecoz@journalinc.com