Friday, November 4, 2016
Norton Water Board Needs Changing
Posted: Friday, November 4, 2016 12:05 am
Several times over the last decade or two, Norton voters have chosen to keep their board of water/sewer commissioners elected, rather than have them appointed as part of a consolidated department of public works.
They are currently paying the price for that decision.
That statement is not intended as a knock on the current occupants of those three slots, although their actions and votes are as much fair game as those of any other elected official. But it most definitely is a clear and proven conclusion supported by the facts. This board, by its very structure, is destined to fail.
The water/sewer department in Norton is a multimillion dollar enterprise. It is a key to both industrial and residential development in this growing community. It is a vital component of the town's infrastructure. Norton citizens depend on it every day when they take showers, get a drink, clean their dishes or wash their clothes.
Businesses and industrial concerns also rely on the water and sewer system. Without it, they could not operate and provide jobs for their employees or services for their customers.
Yet the system is ultimately run by three volunteer citizens chosen with little to no consideration of their abilities, experience or leadership skills. All you have to do in order to run this system and set the rules, rates and regulations affecting an entire town is - vote for yourself on local election day.
I say vote for yourself because it is rare to have a candidate for water/sewer commissioner opposed in an election. It happens, but not often.
In fact, it is not unusual to have no one at all run for the position. That has been the case many times, with the office eventually filled via - ironically - an appointment.
The current elected board is a public body that comes under the auspices of the Open Meeting Law. It appears to have done a good job of posting all meetings and complying with that statute.
However, they don't get much of an audience. They meet in a place where there is no ability for live broadcasting on community cable. People can't watch their meetings on TV like they watch selectmen or the school committee.
And honestly - why would they go to a meeting in a place not frequented by the public, to watch a board they aren't really familiar with conduct business they don't understand?
But the problem is not the lack of attendance at commission meetings, it is the commission itself.
At a recent meeting with selectmen it was revealed the water/sewer board had instituted a revised system of rates for connections. They did this without communicating to the board of selectmen, other town officials or the public at large.
Selectmen discovered the new regulations when the town's library got an unexpected and unanticipated bill, one it now must find the funds to pay.
How does that happen? How does such a major change occur without the knowledge of the town manager and the town's top elected leaders?
Simple - lack of communication, a nonsensical line of authority and a dash of politics.
Norton has no board of police commissioners. It has no fire commissioners. There is no board of highway commissioners. All those departments come under the general jurisdiction of the town manager. They don't need a separate elected board to create policy that conflicts with the efficient operation of the town as a whole.
Just because water/sewer commissioners have the right to take action without telling or consulting other town boards and officials first does not mean it is wise to do so. And frankly, their results in recent years have not been good.
Many in town right now have brown water, a situation caused by many factors - including ones not under the control of the commission. When people complain, they can't just go to Town Hall and see the head of the local government and expect results. It was painfully obvious the regional tri-town sewer agreement was slowed and complicated because of the Norton water/sewer commission and the layer of bureaucracy it added.
There is nothing the water/sewer commissioners do that could not be better accomplished by consolidating into a DPW. It is a long overdue move.
Bill Gouveia is a local columnist and longtime local official. He can be emailed at firstname.lastname@example.org and followed on Twitter at @Billinsidelook.