By NEMS Daily Journal
By Emily Le Coz
NEMS Daily Journal
TUPELO – The North Lee Water Association has an interim board of directors after a raucous meeting Tuesday night that followed a series of reported scandals.
Hundreds of water customers jammed an open shed behind the association’s headquarters on Birmingham Ridge Road to demand answers from the leadership about dirty water, allegations of fraud and dissatisfaction with the board.
By the time the three-hour meeting ended, four board directors had resigned and walked out, the board president had disappeared and customers had selected interim board directors to overhaul the organization.
A formal election for new directors will take place within 30 days. Those elected will serve staggered three-year terms. In the meantime, the Mississippi Rural Water Association will draft new bylaws that are current with the state laws.
Draft bylaws will be sent to all 4,400 association customers for their review before the interim board officially adopts them.
In the meantime, the interim board will meet with attorney Bill Beasley this morning to get briefed on an ongoing investigation into numerous allegations made against the water association.
Directors also will meet with members of the Mississippi Rural Water Association and the state Department of Health. Those representatives also were present at Tuesday’s meeting, along with Public Service Commissioner Brandon Presley and two of his investigators.
Don Winders started the procession by writing his resignation on a yellow legal pad and handing it to Presley. Terry Herring, Hal Swann and Jimmy Bucy then followed suit. All then left the meeting.
At that point, Scruggs left the session, too. But he didn’t resign.
One board member, Lamar Hunter, was not present and is still on the board.
Customers cheered as the men walked out.
Of the remaining members – Wayne Fitzner and Bruce Parker – Parker agreed to resign because his appointment in April violated the bylaws, which call for seven members. Parker had been number eight.
According to the bylaws, Fitzner could reappoint anyone to fill the vacancies. But he agreed to let assembled customers choose. About one dozen people were nominated, and everyone voted for four.
Fitzner appointed them. They are: recently resigned board director Bruce Parker, former Tupelo Airport Director Terry Anderson, and customers Perry Whitaker and Nancy Frideres.
The group voted to protect the employees who spoke out and to strip supervisor Dan Durham of his ability to hire and fire.
Read more in Wednesday’s NEMS Daily Journal newspaper.
UPDATE 9:22 p.m.: A new board has been appointed. Among the new members is former Tupelo Airport director Terry Anderson. Others picked are recently resigned member Bruce Parker along with residents Perry Whitaker and Nancy Freiders.
Longtime board President Mitchell Scruggs did not resign, but left the meeting before the vote for temporary members took place.
UPDATE 9 p.m. – Election taking place to fill four Water Association board positions with temporary members until an election can be held. … Northern District Public Service Commissioner Brandon Presley said at the meeting the Attorney General’s office is investigating.
Four of the seven board members who attended a meeting of the North Lee County Water Association resigned at a tense meeting Tuesday night that is still going on at this hour.
The meeting at the association’s office, 1004 Birmingham Ridge Rd. had a packed house with around 300 people attending.
Northern District Public Service Commissioner Brandon Presley was looked at the bylaws to see what can be done next after the resignations.
The only member left at the meeting is Wayne Fitzner. He could have appointed the new members. Fitzner is taking nominations from people at the meeting. Twelve names were shouted out. Voting on them will take place soon to fill the vacancies until an election can held.
Water Association employees spoke out about having to do work that was not related to the Water Association.
Numerous customer calls about dirty, oily and foul-smelling water came to the Daily Journal in the days following a report about alleged wrongdoing in the association.
A Daily Journal reporter had spotted two association employees on Sept. 27 fixing shutters at a south Tupelo apartment building during their normal working hours. Both employees said Dan Durham, the water association supervisor, sent them to do the work and that they had punched in that morning at North Lee.
Durham denied this, saying employees work for his private, side business during their time off and that he pays them cash from his own pocket for services rendered. Longtime board President Mitchell Scruggs admitted he hires Durham for a variety of jobs unrelated to the water association but said he never saw association employees perform the work.
Meanwhile, the Daily Journal found discrepancies in employees’ time cards and discovered that Durham’s grandson, who has worked at the association since his junior year in high school, clocks in daily but never clocks out.
More on this story as it is available.