New Administration Not Transparent With Carthage Water
Last fall I campaigned on bringing you, the constituency, more transparency in our city government. I knocked on every citizens’ door, speaking with thousands of you and my slogan was “Transparency in Government”. My mission statement was simple:
”Our local government must be more transparent about issues that affect not only the community, but the taxpayer’s wallet. New building projects, grants, and drastic building code changes should be shared openly with the community, not spring up suddenly. Projects should be out in the open. and companies allowed to openly bid on the projects, without special favors between government officials and their close friends. The community should have more of a voice in these decisions before they are made, not hear about them afterwards. “
Recently, a project between the city and the county has been discussed. The details of this project, I have shared openly with you. The meetings that have happened, have been documented, thanks to Smith County Insider showing up. I have written various details about this project, freely accessing our vital infrastructures in both the county and the city. Neither of which I have had to ask permission, until now…
Last Wednesday, following our meeting with Brett Ward, the MTAS Waste Water Specialist, and many other experts, I visited our water and sewer plants to follow up and document some photographs for the public to see and learn the process of treating water and wastewater. Visiting the water plant was encouraged by Mr. Ward, as you can see in this video clip, courtesy of Smith County Insider, at the 3:00 mark:
Since before I took the oath of office, I had begun to visit the water and sewer plants. I know many of the employees on a first name basis. They have been nothing but completely transparent with me, teaching me, and helping me understand as a citizen and elected official, what it takes to operate a water and sewer plant including the expertise, the equipment, and the governing standards which must be maintained.
When I visited on Wednesday, I received an email from Mayor Sarah Marie Smith which stated the following:
This email was received the evening before I was scheduled to take the MTAS Module 1 Water Training. I replied the following:
As planned, I did attend the training. I learned quite a bit which I will be sharing after I am able to confirm with our water and sewer treatment plant some follow up information. We were told that as city council members, we are OBLIGATED to make sure regulatory requirements are met. So not only can a city council member not be banned from these facilities, a city council member has a duty to ensure we are improving the health and safety of the system. Just around an hour before this training was to take place, I was sent the following email from our City Attorney, David Bass:
I immediately replied with a couple emails of why I disagreed with this judgement.
As of Monday, January 28th at 8:30 PM, I have still not received any documentation which allows a mayor to prevent a council member from visiting, requesting information, documenting, and distributing. I was though presented with a limit to documentation based on security concerns. This I had already read into, but would like to make note this was sent to me by Mayor Smith.
As security of our water treatment and river is very important to me, I take note not to take pictures of particular chemicals, the manner in which they are stored or of any security feature which may cause harm to our water supply. You can look back, my pictures are taken of different water stages, beakers, areas visible from public highways, etc. The fact of the matter is that the city council is the check and balance to make sure the Mayor and the city are adhering to the wishes of the council and the constituents regarding these security measures.
For the Mayor to try to control the flow of information is not only not being transparent, but unethical as our government is set up to balance itself between an executive and a governing body. I am not here to just take the government’s word for it, nor should anyone in our community. We should all have the right to know what exactly is going into our drinking water and into our waterways. We should not make judgements on pre-determined agendas in areas which are not our expertise, but have free access to the people who have been caring for our facilities for decades.
I received other emails demanding that I stop trying to visit and document these plants without express permission from the Mayor. I asked other council members if they had ever had restricted access to our infrastructure and I was told this had never happened before. I’m not here to play politics with this, I am here to get answers and my final email to the Mayor, sent this morning was as follows:
With that, I went to the water treatment plant with a followup question and then to the sewer plant with a couple more followup questions.
1) What is the Ammonia, Chloride and BOD levels previously tested in our drinking water?
2) What life span does our sewer plant have left, and should we look at expanding it, as well as training new staff?
3) Why do we have a capacity differential of 500,000 gallons to 625,000 gallons, and where did it come from?
When I visited the water plant, the employee I spoke with was very kind and took down my request. They stated they could not give me that information, per instructions of the Mayor without her permission. They were very courteous and wanted to help but their hands were tied.
I then went to visit the sewer plant and was met with a pad locked door, something I hadn’t encountered since I have been visiting our employees there.
I then went to City Hall and requested to speak with City Recorder, Michael Ray to which I was told he was in a meeting with the Mayor. I expressed the importance of getting a call back and as of 8:30 pm, I have not received one.
In summary, it is vital that I am able to communicate freely with city employees. I continually am told these employees are “the Mayor’s” employees. This simply is not true. These employees serve the community, and I may add, that most I speak with, do so proudly. Many feel intimidated by mayoral administrations, past and present. This has to stop. We should be transparent. A city employee should not be instructed to withhold information from a council member or a member of the public for that matter. We have the absolute right to know what is going on with our taxpayer money, our environment, and especially our water.
I am not out to get anyone. I am simply following through on a promise I made to you. I have put this issue on the agenda next week. I sincerely hope that Mayor Smith changes her stance on this and we can get back to more transparency in government. Thank you for allowing me to serve you.