(AUDIO LINK AT BOTTOM OF STORY)
More than 50 people braved the weather Tuesday evening to come to a public forum at the East Ridge Community Center concerning the operation of the Hamilton County Water and Wastewater Treatment Authority.
Those people were virtually unanimous in their distaste for the WWTA, calling for the firing of its executive director, Cleveland Grimes, and for the state legislature to pass new laws reining in the organization’s authority.
Hamilton County Commissioner Tim Boyd, who represents District 8, which includes East Ridge, held the meeting. He was clear to point out that this meeting was inspired by a letter that Boyd had received from Robert Kelly III. Kelly had written to Boyd on Jan. 14 complaining that he was being extorted by WWTA to pay the previous two tenants’ water bills before he could have water service to his house.
“This is a citizen of Hamilton County against WWTA,” Boyd said. “This is not a Tim Boyd issue against the WWTA.”
Boyd told those in attendance of bills before the Tennessee General Assembly which would prevent any utility from holding a person moving into a house responsible for delinquent bills from a previous owner or tenant. Another bill, he said, would have a “sunset” provision for the WWTA. In essence, the bill would make WWTA subject to review for its relevance. If WWTA is no longer relevant by July 2021 it could be dissolved.
The measures, Boyd said, would call for accountability from the organization that is charged with providing sewer service to unincorporated parts of Hamilton County and several municipalities, including East Ridge, Soddy-Daisy, Signal Mountain and Red Bank.
The WWTA’s accountability was a central point of discussion in the hour and a half meeting. Rick Carpenter, a longtime critic of WWTA, told the audience that he could not pay his WWTA bill with cash, in spite of literature that he said WWTA had which stated that the entity would accept cash.
“They are liars, lie, lie, lie,” Carpenter said. “Everything they (WWTA) say is wrapped in conjecture. They don’t take cash, they take electronic cash transfers. I don’t like being lied to.”
Carpenter said that the WWTA sends out literature in the mail stating it does accept cash. Carpenter accused the WWTA of mail fraud.
A number of people associated with the plumbing industry attended the meeting. Those folks accused the WWTA of not being forthright with its lateral line replacement program. Gene Shipley, a plumber and Soddy-Daisy City Commissioner, said the forum was “not touching the surface of how broke WWTA is.”
Shipley said the WWTA is not only broken, but the leadership of the organization is broken. He complained that plumbing companies couldn’t get information about the lateral line replacement program.
“I hope that out of this meeting we get Mayor (Jim) Coppinger to look harder at what’s going on at the WWTA,” Shipley said.
According to Shipley, Grimes and several top managers at the WWTA got a $17,000 pay raise this past year. He claimed that sewer rates would be increasing in the future.
“Before long it’s going to cost more to flush your toilet than to watch TV,” Shipley said.
Boyd told the audience that the WWTA was hindering development in East Ridge and in the county. He said he was concerned that development would shift from Hamilton County to neighboring counties because the WWTA is too difficult to do business with.
Boyd said that the WWTA is not only an impediment to business, but not offering any solutions to problems.
“I want to fight hard to make sure we stay competitive,” Boyd said.
Bill Foxworth, who said he has operated a Roto-Rooter franchise in the county for 41 years, termed the WWTA “out of control.”
He alleged that when the WWTA set up the lateral line program that the utility wanted to cut out private contractors from doing the work. He claims that the plan was for WWTA to set up a “sideline” company to do the sewer line replacement on private property. “It’s a fact,” he said.
Foxworth said that Grimes kicked his company out of the program after a WWTA inspector came three times to inspect a job and couldn’t find any of Foxworths’ staff.
Foxworth said it was his belief that the WWTA was not spending it’s county budgeted $2.3 million on lateral line replacement and said it was “a disgrace” the way WWTA treats people.
At the end of the meeting, Dave Hammel, who works for Raines Brothers Construction, said he operated the sewers in the Windstone development in North Georgia. He said he was approached by WWTA for them to take over the sewer system. He declined.
Hammel said that the WWTA hired Grimes from the enforcement arm of the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation. Hammel said Grimes is more concerned with regulation and less with customer service.
“Somebody hired him and somebody should fire him,” Hammel said, as he held up a homemade sign with words to that effect.
Boyd said other meetings throughout the county would be scheduled in the future to discuss problems with WWTA.
Then Audio from the meeting is below: