CHARLESTOWN — The potential creation of a Sanitary Sewer Board by the lame duck Charlestown City Council is being criticized by the city's incoming mayor.
Mayor-elect Treva Hodges issued a late Saturday night news release, alerting citizens to a move she criticized as seeking to "subvert the authority" of both herself and the Board of Public Works.
"As Mayor-Elect, I have expressed my opposition to the timing of this ordinance to current council members," Hodges stated in the news release. "If the mayor is to sit on a newly created board, then the mayor who will hold that seat should have a voice in the board’s creation."
The release indicated that while the mayor will chair the Sewer Board, the City Council will have full control of Charlestown’s Sewer Utility by giving itself the power to appoint the other two members of the three-person board.
The ordinance to be taken up by the council Monday night calls for one of the Sewer Board appointees to be a "registered, professional engineer in Indiana." The non-engineer appointee must be a resident of the city, as does the mayor, of course. The ordinance further outlines terms to be served by appointees and operational aspects of how the board will function.
Creation of the Sewer Board would transfer "supervision and control of the construction, acquisition, improvement, operation, and maintenance of sewage works from the municipal works board to the sanitary board," the ordinance stipulates.
"If the creation of a sewer board is a good idea," Hodges noted in the release, "then there is no reason why it cannot wait until January and include the involvement of the council and mayor the people have elected to serve for the next four years, and with the input of the citizens we serve. There simply is no logical reason to rush this vote."
Charlestown City Councilman Brian Hester, who is sponsoring the ordinance, said there is a possibility the council will not vote on creating the Sewer Board Monday.
"It may be tabled to get more input," said Hester, a Republican who was re-elected to the council last month.
He said he talked to Hodges after Monday's agenda was released. He also said he thinks creating the Sewer Board would help "create checks and balances within the city." Hester said the council has been considering a Sewer Board for "a short time."
In criticizing the move to create a Sewer Board, Hodges stated "this is the same council that voted yes to selling Charlestown’s water utility to a private company after circumventing the citizens’ petition for a vote on the sale. The ramifications of this action to the ratepayers of Charlestown are huge."
The news release then outlined what Hodges believes is at stake for current sewer ratepayers:
• Sewer rates would be controlled by a City Council appointed engineer and another City Council appointee. (This means that the council can, if they desire, appoint Bob Hall to this new board for a three-year term.)
• The ordinance allows the appointees to be paid $1,000 a month for attending board meetings. Currently, Board of Public Works members who oversee the sewer system are unpaid.
• The ratepayers will also foot the bill for additional engineers and attorneys hired by the new Board. This alone could cost ratepayers hundreds of thousands of dollars a year.
• This action has the potential to set up a sale of the utility to a private company, mirroring what was done with the water utility.
Hodges encouraged residents to reach out to their City Council representatives and urge them to vote against the ordinance. She also asked residents to not only attend the 6:30 p.m. meeting in City Hall, but also to arrive at 6 p.m. "to gather peacefully in opposition of any radical change to our government structure that would impede our ability to move Charlestown forward."
The mayor-elect tied the vote to Charlestown's future.
"The vote Monday night will determine if we are to have a collaborative and effective local government," she stated in the release, "or if we will start our new year and new administration with a destructive partisan divide."