OUR OPINION: Require transparency in water associations

By NEMS Daily Journal

Rep. Jerry Turner’s effort to require open meetings of water associations and notice of meetings in which members of boards of directors will be elected remains alive in the Legislature. It should be enacted in the interests of transparency in the running of the nonprofit associations providing water for a significant percentage of Mississippi’s population.
Turner, a Republican who represents District 18 (Lee and Prentiss counties), amended Senate Bill 2322, which in original form simply would have removed water associations from any oversight by the Public Service Commission.
Turner, who represents an area that includes at least part of the North Lee County Water Association, was instrumental in reorganizing the water association after internal mismanagement and criminality by a staff member led to its board’s resignation in 2011 and re-election of a new board.
North Lee’s new leadership sends notice of its annual directors election meeting, and its regular meetings are open.
However, Turner has said transparency is the key to keeping water associations on the straight and narrow. We agree.
House Accountability, Efficiency and Transparency chairman Turner amended the legislation before it passed his committee to require that all rural water associations’ meetings 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.”
Informed citizens and consumers often are the best watchdogs over the affairs of public associations, including those classified as non-profits.
It was customers unhappy with the quality of North Lee’s service that raised questions leading to the investigation culminating in North Lee’s reorganization.
Mississippi has 950 water associations, and all will benefit from transparency in their operations.
It might be helpful if all water associations with Internet capacity send notices of all meetings to customers with Internet access. It would be virtually without cost if the technology is in place.
The bill will be taken up by the full House, and if it passes there, it would go back to the Senate.