Former board member says WASA poorly managed, resists change, foot-drags on info requests

In 2013, I applied for one of the vacancies on the Peachtree City Water and Sewer Authority Board of Directors because I felt my background in the areas of ISO 9000, quality assurance (QA) and process management (PM), would add value to the operations and management of WASA.

As a retired program management consultant for the state of Georgia, I applied these methodologies to state agencies and was successful in overcoming bureaucratic barriers which resulted in saving millions of dollars for taxpayers.

My understanding was that the primary purpose of a board of directors is to ensure that the leadership understands the mission of the organization and has the tools and training in place to be successful.

The organization is expected to have documentation that fully defines it, along with the methods, procedures and operational quality system in place that offers the opportunity to improve. It was through this documentation that I felt I could add value. That was an incorrect assumption on my part.

While serving on the WASA board, I spent too much time penetrating the resistance from key players. I discovered basic quality tools were inadequate, poorly written or unavailable.

These are critical tools that will guide an organization to control daily operations as well as to prepare it to survive the loss of key staff, a disaster or other unexpected dramatic events.

In other words, I found WASA to be a poorly managed public unit.

I also found passive-aggressive behavior in response to requests for information and a wall of resistance to any notion of change. In addition, I found the usual defense against criticism, using the audit report to declare, “We’re doing things right,” when in fact the audit is intended to test financial numbers.

I watched Board Chairman Terry Garlock try to pin down the general manager on common sense initiatives that should be basic to an organization like WASA, such as a 5-year capital improvement plan.

The request resulted in slippery wiggles that wasted months with responses like, “Oh, you wanted that in writing?”

Other board members like Terry and me also struggled getting the simplest of requests, which were generally delayed due to incomplete, inadequate or outdated records, or intentional foot-dragging. But those other board members did not seem to recognize management was working at cross purposes.

Furthermore, management practices were to favor liberal employee compensation and benefits with scant attention to ratepayers and, of course, resistance to change.

In 2014 I resigned in frustration. My previous experiences told me life is too short to butt my head against a very familiar brick wall.

Having spent the last 18 years of my working life in state government fighting the same fights with agency bureaucrats and politicians, I found that the crusader in me no longer existed

Today I applaud Councilman Mike King for his recommendation to select a vendor to perform an assessment of the WASA operations. Hopefully, the selected vendor will receive the necessary requirements to ensure a successful assessment that will identify the efficiencies and deficiencies of WASA operations.

John Harrell
Peachtree City, Ga.