By Emily Le Coz/NEMS Daily Journal
TUPELO – North Lee County Water Association customers got a progress report this month detailing several gains made by the new board of directors.
The three-page letter, written by board President Ken Clemons, details how the group has corrected water quality, customer service, equipment deficiencies and the overall operation of the once-plagued association.
“We were faced with many conditions that demanded immediate action,” Clemons wrote. “We reviewed the rather long list and set priorities. The number one priority was to make sure the water was safe to drink.”
Despite a few non-threatening red flags, tests proved the water had been safe long before North Lee County Water Association plunged into trouble with state and federal investigators.
In September, water employees alleged the association’s manager forced them to work outside jobs while on the clock at North Lee. The jobs directly benefited then-manager Dan Durham and then-board President Mitchell Scruggs, employees said.
Scruggs and Durham repeatedly denied the accusations but ultimately resigned their positions, as did the entire board of directors. The allegations, first reported in the Daily Journal, now are under investigation by the state Attorney General and the FBI, among others.
The new board took over in mid-November and has performed a series of steps to turn around the association, which serves some 4,400 customers in north Lee County.
Among the accomplishments:
* A comprehensive flushing program to improve water clarity. The program includes signs to notify customers of the flushing and log books to track progress.
* Hired a full-time manager, Jim Banker, who also serves on the board.
* All board members completed the state board training program to learn the laws governing water associations and best practices for running such a system.
* Uniforms and cellphones for employees to better identify them and communicate with them.
* A new purchasing protocol requiring at least two bids before buying equipment.
* A new computer and an additional phone line in the office, plus a credit/debit card machine to accept customer payments.
* Repairs to all well sites, vehicles and equipment.
* Making plans to test water pressure and fix areas where pressure is low.
* Going through the legal channels to formally acquire areas already served by the system, such as Auburn.
* Setting the upcoming fiscal year budget and creating long-term financial plans.
“We are confident that with the understanding and help of you, our customers, that North Lee County Water Association can be a model for the rural water systems across the state,” Clemons wrote. “We want you to be proud of your system.”
Most, if not all, of the improvements have been communicated to the Mississippi Department of Health, which has provided both guidance and assistance to North Lee, said Melissa Parker, the state agency’s deputy director of the Bureau of Public Water Supply.
“We are very encouraged by the accomplishments of this new board so far, and we expect continued improvements in the future,” Parker said. “It speaks to the commitment of the new board and the customers of North Lee, and MSDH, as always, is here to offer any assistance to ensure their success.”