Rural water caught in cross hairs

By Emily Le Coz | NEMS Daily Journal

TUPELO – A tug-of-war between two state entities leaves dozens of rural water associations facing potential legal action.
Northern District Public Service Commissioner Brandon Presley gave the 218 rural water associations in his district until Jan. 18 to turn over their bylaws to his office. When 92 of them missed the deadline, he extended it to Friday and threatened subpoenas and lawsuits if they declined.
But the Mississippi Rural Water Association advised those entities they’re under no obligation to comply, prompting many to ignore Presley’s demands.
“If they’re listening to that advice, I hope they ask the Mississippi Rural Water Association to pay their legal bills when I take them to court,” Presley said Monday.
Presley’s office began requesting bylaws two months ago to ensure compliance with the state Non-Profit Corporation Act. He did so after discovering North Lee County Water Association’s bylaws didn’t comply. They since have been corrected, with the help of the MRWA.
But last month, MRWA Chief Executive Officer Kirby Mayfield issued a memorandum to all rural water associations. It questioned Presley’s legal authority to request bylaws and said the Public Service Commission has no jurisdiction in that area.
Only the Secretary of State has that authority, Mayfield wrote in the document, posted on the MRWA website.
“The jurisdiction of the commission over rural water associations,” Mayfield wrote, “is extremely limited and certainly does not extend to the en masse demanding of documents from hundreds of water associations without some statutory authority of legitimate purpose.”
Presley defended his requests for bylaws as legitimate and legal. He further questioned the MRWA’s motives for blocking his effort.
The Daily Journal was not immediately able to contact the Secretary of State’s office.
emily.lecoz@journalinc.com