By Emily Le Coz/NEMS Daily Journal
TUPELO – Longtime North Lee County Water Association Board President Mitchell Scruggs resigned Tuesday, saying in a two-page letter that he wants to protect the utility from further media assault.
Scruggs, who stepped down during a five-hour meeting at Phelps Dunbar law firm, is the sixth person to quit the board since last week. He had served 21 years.
Four board members now remain, including two who had been hastily appointed after others resigned Oct. 4.
The group had met with board attorney Bill Beasley to remedy several issues facing the water association, as well as discuss an ongoing investigation into allegations of wrongdoing that had surfaced in recent weeks.
“We have done a substantial amount of additional investigation and will be taking appropriate action,” he said, “but there’s nothing to report at this stage.”
Beasley did say the board unanimously voted to meter all water outlets, thus ending the long-held practice of allowing certain farmers free water in exchange for access to their land.
It also voted to charge all association customers – including those who serve as board directors – the same water rate. Previously, most board directors paid a flat monthly fee of $10.30, regardless of their water usage.
And it voted to ask the Mississippi Department of Health to do more water testing in addition to what the agency had done earlier this month.
Finally, the board made several management-related decisions concerning the water association, but Beasley declined to elaborate.
Mississippi Northern District Public Service Commissioner Brandon Presley had asked the board last week to act on those matters.
Presley’s involvement with the association since the allegations came to light also prompted Scruggs’ departure.
In his letter, the former president accused Presley of trying to run the association without the legal authority to do so.
“I won’t be involved in a situation where I have the liability of a director, but I don’t have the control and oversight that a director is supposed to have,” Scruggs wrote. “If Mr. Presley wants to run the system (which he apparently does) then I feel it is better for me to get out of the way to avoid any confusion.”
Scruggs also said he hoped his resignation would stop “the continuing unfair coverage which I and the Association have received from the Daily Journal and the involvement of Public Service Commissioner Brandon Presley … .”
The Daily Journal has published a series of stories since Sept. 30 about allegations the association’s supervisor forced employees to work side jobs for him while on the clock, including at properties owned by Scruggs. It also reported claims that state-mandated water samples were collected from one site instead of from various locations across the district.
Stories relied on employee interviews and records obtained by the Daily Journal, as well as on interviews with those accused.
Many of the allegations are under review by Beasley and certified public accountant Greg Jarrell, both hired by the board earlier this month. They’re also being examined by the state Public Service Commission and state Department of Health.
Presley said the state Attorney General’s Office is looking into the claims, too, but the agency wouldn’t confirm or deny that.
And the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is aware of the situation but will not comment, said spokeswoman Dawn Harris.
Scruggs went on to say in his letter the association’s water has been proven safe, that the organization is a private nonprofit and not subject to open meeting and public records laws, and that it has received high technical and financial ratings from the state.
He said the Daily Journal hasn’t given both sides fair coverage.
A copy of the entire letter is available online at www.nems360.com.