Money issues

Published 6:24 am Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Newly elected board member Johnny Shell, far left, talks with attorney Mark Ryan Monday night during the Freemanville Water System’s annual meeting.

Newly elected board member Johnny Shell, far left, talks with attorney Mark Ryan Monday night during the Freemanville Water System’s annual meeting.

The issues involving the alleged misuse of a truck and the alleged overpaying of employees sparked a heated exchange between the Freemanville Water System Board and some of the system’s members Monday night during the system’s annual meeting.

A little more than a month after the FBI raided its office on Woods Road, the Freemanville Water Board answered questions concerning former system manager Mitch Williams, a truck that members said he hasn’t returned and a severance package the board paid to him.

The questions began during the reading of the financial report. Member Wilma Quarker Smith wanted an itemized list of the March 2013 expenses since the board spent $71,584 that month and only took in $36,399.

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Among the items listed was $14,000 paid for unused vacation and sick leave as part of a severance package to Williams, who resigned earlier this year. Board members voted down the severance package last month.

“What in the world is going on with you up there?” said member Eddie Kirby, who noted that Williams was paid $85,000 a year. Board attorney Mark Ryan said Williams was paid almost $70,000 a year.

Smith told the board that by her calculations Williams received nearly $35,000 from the board in March.

“Now we are here to elect board members again,” she said. “Business hasn’t been handled here by members. Cast your vote for people who will step up and keep this Freemanville Water System.”

“Too much business has been manipulated by Mitch Williams,” she added.

Ryan said an accountant hired by the board calculated that Williams owed the board almost $14,000 in severance money since the severance pay measure was voted down by the board as a whole in May. Ryan said steps would be taken to get that money back.
Member Johnny Shell questioned whether board member Harold Williams was a member of the system.

“I don’t think anyone should be on this board who’s not a member of the system,” Shell said.

Williams, who was up for re-election Monday, said he owned land in the system, but a renter paid the bill each month.

Ryan said, under the bylaws, Williams was considered a member, but office staff searched during the meeting for paperwork verifying that the system still held Williams’ deposit. When no such paperwork was found, Williams gave up his seat.

Shell was voted in to replace him.

The seat held by Joe Pierce was also up during the meeting. Pierce retained the seat with 153 votes.

Seventy-five of those votes came at the discretion of President Edward Adams through general proxy votes. The system allows its members who can’t attend the meeting to vote by proxy.

Members can either vote by limited proxy, meaning they can designate another member to vote in their stead, or by general proxy, meaning they give their votes to the board chairman to use at his discretion.

That practice has drawn fire recently from Freemanville residents, including John Thomas, founder of the Concerned Citizens of Freemanville. Thomas says board members are using the proxy votes to stack the board with like-minded friends and colleagues. Thomas has also alleged the board has used proxy votes to maintain an all African-American panel, the majority of which are deacons or members at Mount Gilead Baptist Church.

Last week, Dailey dismissed such claims, saying the board’s membership was the direct result of both votes cast by the people of Freemanville and the mostly black candidates they were able to choose from and nothing else.

During its regular June business meeting, the board voted to maintain Adams as president and Dailey as vice president.