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Texas Rural Water Companies Threatened by Lack of Community Participation

As the reader may be aware from one of my prior blogs concerning Texas rural water companies, not only have I served as an attorney for rural water and sewer companies in Texas for years, I have also spent the last year as President of the rural water company where I reside in east Texas. My term as a director and president will end next month, when our company holds its annual members meeting and elections. I have chosen not to run again because I believe it is important for the long term health of a water company for as many people as possible in the community to take a turn at being a director and an officer.

Alas, the problem is getting people interested. I have talked to many people in our community about running. Some say that they don’t know anything about treating water. My response is that they do not need to be an expert, they simply need integrity, common sense, and a willingness to base their decisions on what is best for the company and the community as a whole, rather than what may help a friend or neighbor.Some have told me that they are just too busy. I ask those people to consider that it is only a commitment for one board meeting a month. Is that too much of a price in terms of time for healthy drinking water for ourselves and for our children and parents, who are the people most vulnerable to pathogens in improperly treated water?

What often happens is that the people in the community who are best suited to serve on the board of directors don’t run for one reason or another. Instead, we often get candidates who are people who have been caught violating the rules, who have been forced to comply, and who are now mad. They want to be on the board so they can change those rules! This has got to be among the poorest of reasons to become a member of the board. In addition, in their ignorance and anger, these people are unaware that the local water company does not make the rules, the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality does that. However, we do have to enforce the rules. Not only can the board of directors not change the TCEQ’s rules, but in addition, the Texas Non-Profit Corporation Act prohibits a member of the board from voting on something that affects the member directly. Also important is the probability that if a rural water company director votes to violate the TCEQ rules, the water company may be fined and their officers and directors liability insurance will not pay for those fines. That means that those fines can come out of the pocket of the directors who voted to violate the rules.

In companies where these types of angry people form a majority of the board, the water company’s operations and finances can go downhill dramatically. This little drama has played itself out in community after community, all over Texas. This is one of the reasons that the TCEQ, not surprisingly, has formed the view that leaving production of potable water up to local communities may not be a good idea.