By Bobby Harrison/NEMS Daily Journal Jackson Bureau
JACKSON – Legislation designed “to clarify” that the Public Service Commission does not have authority over rural water associations has been amended to also mandate that the meetings of the utilities are open to their members.
House Accountability, Efficiency and Transparency Chair Jerry Turner, R-Baldwyn, amended the legislation before it passed his committee Monday afternoon to require 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.
“I am a firm believer that as long as you have transparency that will solve just about any problem you have,” Turner said. “If you have open meetings and the members are informed, they will sort out the problems.”
Northern District Public Service Commissioner Brandon Presley praised Turner’s open meetings proposal, but said he still opposed the original intent of the bill, which is to take oversight authority away from the Public Service Commission.
“It is obvious the rural water associations do not want anyone looking over their shoulder,” Presley said. “…The customers of rural water associations do not want this bill. It is the boards that want it.”
Turner said all the legislation is doing is “clarifying” existing law, which already does not provide the elected three-member PSC jurisdiction over the 950 rural water associations. Presley disagreed with the assessment, admitting the PSC cannot set water rates, but has oversight authority as it does over other public utilities that operate as a monopoly.
The legislation is coming after a PSC investigation in 2011 of the North Lee County Water Association led to the resignation of the full board after allegations of mismanagement and to a guilty plea by the manager to the charge of lying about federal water reports.
The legislation still must pass the House Public Utilities Committee by today with Turner’s changes in the legislation.
Then it would be taken up by the full House, and if it passes there, it would go back to the Senate that could accept Turner’s changes or invite negotiations.