At a time when many Prichard residents were deciding exactly how to cast their ballots in a runoff election, Mayor Jimmie Gardner decided to pick a fight with the Prichard Water Works and Sewer Board (PWWSB).
Gardner requested a meeting with members of the board and Director Nia Bradley shortly after areas of downtown suffered a shutoff due to an issue with a water main, but was rebuffed. Instead of meeting with water board leadership, Gardner held a Zoom meeting with members of the media Thursday, Oct. 1 to discuss high water rates and other issues.
In the meeting, Gardner accused PWWSB of not properly reading meters or not reading them at all, which is causing the pricier-than-expected bills.
“This has been going on for many, many years,” he said.
In an Oct. 1 statement from a spokesperson, the water board wrote it had refused to meet with Gardner because of the upcoming election.
“His continued public pursuit of matters which have been going on for years and for which there is pending litigation is clearly driven to maximize some level of publicity during this political moment,” the statement read. “The board does not want to, willingly or unwillingly, participate in any political theater so as to preserve their ability to work with this mayor, council or newly elected leaders following the election next week.”
Gardner said the meeting should not be about “an election or about litigation.”
“It’s about these citizens, hurting because of high water bills,” he said. “This is a very serious situation.”
As for Gardner’s insistence employees of the board are failing to read meters, spokesman Jon Gray told Lagniappe every meter is read and double-checked if a complaint comes in. The issue with the bills, he said, comes from previously unknown leaks.
For years the city has been in litigation with the water board over which entity is responsible for paying for the installation of fire hydrants. Councilman Lorenzo Martin, who was Gardner’s opponent in the runoff Oct. 6, said the board has agreed to install new hydrants, but the city won’t pay for them. Martin added a possible settlement would be announced soon. Gardner said there was currently no settlement in the works.
Gardner’s continued fight with the water board comes as the city missed payroll by a number of hours Friday, Oct. 2. Martin said the late pay caused a number of city employees to walk off the job. However, Gardner’s office said no employee had walked off the job and while pay for city employees was delayed, the issue would be rectified by 5 p.m. that day, according to spokesperson Robert Kennedy Jr.
In an email message, Kennedy blamed the late pay on a “communication issue” within the Mobile County Personnel Board. Personnel Director George Smith had not returned a call seeking comment as of press time.
Lagniappe went to press Tuesday prior to election results being announced.
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