Rural Water Associations

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Subpoenas issued by PSC to rural water associations

By Billy Davis
Public Service Commissioner Brandon Presley has issued subpoenas to rural water associations, including five in Panola County, to demand a copy of their bylaws.

Presley’s office faxed copies of the subpoenas to The Panolian last week to acknowledge he was following up on an earlier promise to take legal action after January 27.

The subpoenas show Presley’s office is seeking bylaws from Pope-Courtland, Hotophia, Independence, Panola-Union and Enon, Locke-Station, Curtis.

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Nine members of the five water associations were served a subpoena over the weekend according to Presley.

The Panolian reported in late January that an apparent standoff is brewing between Presley and many water associations, which operate independently from the Mississippi Public Service Commission.

Presley is pressing for more oversight of rural water associations following an ongoing investigation of the North Lee County Water Association. The FBI and EPA, along with state agencies, announced last fall they were investigating allegations of wrongdoing at North Lee.

Meanwhile, local water associations describe the standoff with Presley as a test of their independence versus Presley’s apparent attempt to gain more control over them through the PSC.

In the January 31 story, The Panolian quoted spokesmen from four water associations — Eureka, Mt. Olivet, Hotophia, and Pope Courtland — and none of them spoke favorably about Presley’s efforts.

The bylaws are being requested to ensure water associations are operating in compliance with the Miss. Non-profit Corporation Act, Presley told The Panolian Monday.

 “That law sets the parameters for business operations,” Presley said. “What we have found, for example, is that board members are serving terms longer than Mississippi law allows, which is seven years before seeking re-election.”

Presley also said many of the water association bylaws were written in the 1950s and have never been updated to comply with current state laws.

The three-member Public Service Commission oversees public utilities — telecommunications, water, gas and electricity — in Mississippi.

Presley won election in 2007 in the Northern District, then won re-election last year. He has taken a populist-like stance by claiming he represents bill payers — especially the poor and the elderly — with utility companies and their lobbyists opposing his efforts.

Rural water associations are represented by the Miss. Rural Water Association, based in Raymond, which advised its clients that the PSC has no legal authority to request a copy of association bylaws.

Presley, however, has said the agency is giving “bad legal advice” to water associations and maintained that his office has the legal right to issue subpoenas.