New LCWSA board member talks future role

When Richard Robinson takes his place on the Limestone County Water & Sewer Authority board next month, he’ll be the only member who isn’t being sued.

Robinson was formally appointed Monday by District 4 Commissioner Ben Harrison at a meeting of the Limestone County Commission. He takes the place of Vice Chairman Mike Hardaway, who has served two six-year terms on the board.

Even though Hardaway’s time on the board is at an end, he is still part of a lawsuit filed Nov. 2 by former General Manager Byron Cook and Assistant General Manager Greg Holland. Also named are Board Chairman Jim Moffatt, members John Farrar, Ty Smith and Johnny Hatchett, LCWSA attorneys Mark Maclin and Mike Cole and Limestone County Commission Chairman Mark Yarbrough.

 Cook and Holland are suing the men in their individual capacities and not as public officials.

Robinson said the ongoing lawsuit is just one of several reasons why he wanted to be on the board. He pointed to a need for greater transparency and openness moving forward.

“There are alleged external influences over the water board and that puts a cloud over the board in a lot of people’s eyes,” he said.

Harrison said he appointed Robinson because he is an electrical engineer and has experience managing contracts. According to a LinkedIn profile, Robinson is the current vice president of System Development and Integration for AEgis Technologies, a government contractor.

Robinson is a graduate of the University of Alabama in Huntsville, where he received a bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering and a master’s degree in computer science.

“He’s a very capable individual,” Harrison said. “I know him as a man of integrity and he’ll do the right thing.”

Robinson’s first meeting will be Thursday, March 23, at 3:30 p.m. at the LCWSA Operations Building, 17218 U.S. 72 West, Athens.

Homework

In an effort to prepare for his new role, Robinson has reviewed the minutes of meetings and every bid over the last 10 years. He noted all projects were awarded to the lowest bidders in all instances, with the exception of a couple of cases where the low bidder did not have the necessary experience.

He is concerned about the LCWSA’s debt. At its Jan. 26 meeting, the board voted to borrow $23 million, bringing its debt to $96 million.

Robinson said because he hasn’t been on the board, he didn’t know what the rationale was to borrow the funds or what the alternatives were. He explained he would need to get a better understanding of the utility’s overall debt-to-assets ratio to form a picture of financial stability.

 “I can’t sit here and be critical of the board,” he said. “It’s easy for someone to sit on the outside and shoot holes at those decisions. Going forward, I want to be part of the team making those decisions.”

He plans to scrutinize all projects and make decisions based on legitimate need and how it would benefit the ratepayer. A West Limestone native, he has been a LCWSA ratepayer most of his life.

“(The board) shouldn’t take the word of an external recommendation,” he said. “The projects themselves need to be thoroughly vetted. As an engineer, I’ve had to justify requirements and I think the water board should also operate at that requirement.”

Praise for Hardaway

Hardaway’s contributions were applauded Monday by Yarbrough, who previously served with Hardaway on the LCWSA board.

Harrison, who represents Hardaway’s district on the commission, said West Limestone residents are grateful for Hardaway’s contributions. The LCWSA board voted in 2016 to upgrade existing water lines, including service to residents along Lester Road.

“I served for six years with Mike Hardaway and he’s done an outstanding job as vice chairman,” Yarbrough said. “He has positively impacted Limestone County by this service to the community.”