Athens Review, Athens, Texas

January 4, 2014

City of Athens responds to AMWA’s 'delay tactics'

The Athens Review

Athens — Following the Athens City Council’s unanimous first-reading vote on Dec. 23 to dissolve the Athens Municipal Water Authority and consolidate water operations within the city, AMWA filed a motion in court seeking a Temporary Restraining Order and Temporary Injunction to prohibit the city council from holding a second and final vote to dissolve AMWA.

The city filed a response in opposition to the restraining order. Both actions are pending a judge’s ruling.

Athens Mayor Jerry Don Vaught expressed his regret that AMWA was using the courts to take the matter away from the citizens of Athens.

The Texas Local Government Code provides a clear process which allows City Council members to dissolve AMWA. AMWA’s court-first tactics only waste Athens taxpayer and water customer money” he said.

The council’s first-reading vote followed months of negotiations with AMWA.

Despite the city’s efforts to mediate the dispute at the lowest possible cost to Athens taxpayers and water customers, AMWA unilaterally terminated negotiations and filed a lawsuit on Dec. 10, 2013.

This and other recent AMWA actions led the city council to re-evaluate whether AMWA today operates in the public interest and continues to serve a useful or valuable function to the citizens of Athens.

Pursuant to the ordinance dissolving AMWA passed on first reading by the city council, the city will continue to provide all services and functions of AMWA while eliminating an unnecessary and costly layer of government and a taxing authority separate from the City of Athens.

AMWA was created by the City decades ago to issue bonds needed to build Lake Athens, and to operate Lake Athens and the water treatment plant.

However, AMWA uses city staff to do its day-to-day work, including operating the water treatment plant. It has no employees other than its well-paid Executive Director, who serves as an independent contractor to AMWA and reviews all expenses AMWA incurs.

The executive director subsequently makes recommendations to AMWA’s publicly elected Board of Directors regarding invoices for payment.

The current Executive Director Wylie Pirkle has held his position for almost four years. AMWA has employed its own Executive Director, separate from any City staff, since 2002.

AMWA’s most recent decision to try to use the courts to block the citizens of Athens from deciding in accordance with Texas law is yet another example of AMWA attempting to put its own interests ahead of the larger public interest. It’s very disappointing to see a public entity behave that way,” Vaught said. “The members of the Athens City Council will continue to seek ways to streamline government and hold down costs, including water rates, for Athenians.”