Flo Meeting Offers Few Answers

FLO WATER BOARD -- Part of the crowd attending the Flo Water Board meeting held in the Cowboy Church near Centerville.

Directors of the Flo Water Supply Corporation (FWSC) met Thursday, November 29th, at the Cowboy Church in Centerville for their monthly meeting. All directors were in attendance. President Mike Meade presided.

Also present were many members of the FWSC. Concern for how the water company is being run has been a subject of conversation since Lela Patterson, the Office Manager for the past 5 years, was put on suspension with pay and then terminated from her position at the last board meeting without revealing specifically the grievance against Patterson.

Meade told Patterson at the time she was put on suspension that there were questionable charges on a credit card. Later in a FWSC meeting, the attorney, Patricia Coy and the forensic auditor, Trish Fritshe hired to look at the financial records, said that they could not say that any charges were made for Patterson?s personal gain or benefit, but that the charges were unclear or unsubstantiated.

Patterson has stated she has never been shown the charges in question and given an opportunity to explain them. Meade and the auditor contend that Patterson has been uncooperative and refused to talk with them. Patterson has not attended a meeting since the first one held after her suspension. She was not present at this meeting.

Also, concern has been raised because the FWSC meetings which have always been held in Buffalo where most of the customers live, was moved to Centerville where no customers live. The meetings began being held in Centerville in early October following the suspension of Patterson.

It seemed the crowd present for the meeting were divided. Some came seeking answers to why Patterson was terminated. Some came in support of the board. All were concerned for FWSC and hoping to hear some clarity.

Meade began the meeting by addressing the crowd with an update on the corporation. ?Contrary to what you may have heard,? said Meade, ?we are doing fine. We are not about to go ?belly up?. The hysteria about the company saddens me. The state is not taking us over. We are in a transition mode. We are cutting back on excessive spending and trying to streamline the budget.?

?We don?t know if we can afford a new well at this point. We know we need a new well. But we have to be sure we can pay for it. But we are going to get there. We are doing fine, concluded Meade.?

The meeting was then opened up to allow those who had signed the request to speak in open forum could be heard. Meade cautioned the directors to not respond to anything that was said or asked in the open forum from the public. Before the public spoke, Meade introduced his wife, Monica. Monica Meade presented each director with a tray of decorated cookies she had prepared.

Barbara Johnson, a former FCSW director, asked about the financial statements. ?The end of the month financial statements have not been included at the meetings since August. When will we see those statements??

The vice-president of the Flo Volunteer Water Department asked about the payments that were being made to that department. Many of the members of FCSW include an extra payment in their water bill that is earmarked for the Fire Department.

This concern was later addressed by Fritshe when she said, ?due diligence is being done to be certain the fire department will receive monies owed them.?

Gary Helmcamp said that he was in support of the board. He also advised that records should be kept so that anyone can see them. ?I think it is a fine water system and run very well.? Some in the crowd applauded those words.

Another individual said that he had come to the meeting to get an answer as to why Patterson was fired ?out of the blue?. Meade responded that it was not ?out of the blue?; that Patterson was suspended over questionable credit cared abuse, and looking into that led to other things. However, no specifics were given.

Another person said that she thought things look ?shady? to the public because the person who is the office manager keeps getting fired. (Patterson is one of several office managers whose position has been terminated in the past years.)

Asked how many people have access to the money and if some of the money was missing, Meade said, ?No money is missing, but we have to reel in the excessive spending.?

As more questions continued, Meade pushed back by reminding those speaking that they had not signed up for a public comment, and in the interest of time the meeting would have to continue.

Field Manager Mark Collins gave a report on the work that has been done in service repairs this past month. A lightening strike caused serious problems at the Russell Plant.

Caroline Salinas, who has worked at the FCSW office for five years, reported on her department. Salinas said that it was decided to not follow through with the purchase of a new billing software. This was a purchase that was approved by the board over a year ago at a cost of $15,000.

Salinas said also that packages that had been ordered on September 20 and 21 from Apple were successfully returned for reimbursement of almost $2,000. The items purchased from Apple were two Ipads and two Apple pencils and two Beats headphones.

Also mentioned was a check for $85,000 from Rodell Water Supply that was paid to FCSW about three months ago when Flo Water agreed to take about 38 meters from the Rodell System. Though it was thought that the check had been deposited, it was found inside a folder in the office. Since then, the check has been deposited in a separate account to be used to pay for any expensive FCSW might incur in transitioning the Rodell Water lines into FCSW.

Meade addressed reconstruction of the personnel. Meade recommended that Caroline be promoted to Office Manager and two part time employees be hired to aid Caroline in the management of the office.

It was also suggested by Meade that Collins train one of the current employees to be an assistant to Collins so that when Collins is on vacation or otherwise not at work, that the assistant can perform his duties. The board approved the plan to reconstruct the office and the field as suggested by Meade.

Patricia Coy, Attorney for FCSW, spoke of the annual members meeting in April. There will be three seats on the board that will come up for re-election. Meade said that one of the seats was his, and he has made the decision not to run again. The process of becoming a candidate for a board position was addressed by Coy.

Director Joe Graves spoke about a petition being circulated to unseat the current directors. ?I encourage anyone who wants to be on the board to get involved,? said Graves. ?Fill out the the application, get the signatures, and run for office.?

Stan Hayes, a consultant engineer, presented the board with the bids regarding the New Water Well on FM 1618. Meade informed the directors and the audience that the USDA loan that had been approved was now expired. FCSW would have to reapply. ?But we don?t have the cash flow just now to be able to pay for it. Even though I was told in August we did have enough cash flow, now I have learned that we don?t have it.?

According to Fritshe, FCSW has had several years of a negative cash flow. ?We do not know if we can afford the new well on 1618. Due diligence needs to be done.?

Addressing the agenda item concerning the addition of a ADA bathroom at the office, Collins reported that the estimate to upgrade the existing bathroom in the office was $28,000. Collins suggested purchasing a shell for $3,800 that he and some of the other employees could eventually finish as an ADA bathroom for the office. This was voted on and approved.

Also tabled was the agenda item to allow Salinas to purchase a surplus Ipad from FCWS.

The board again discussed a permanent place to hold their meetings. Director Joe Graves again said that the meetings should be held in Buffalo closest to where most of the residents live. ?We don?t have customers in Centerville. It does now look good for us to hold meetings here rather than in Buffalo.?

Director Buck Buchanan made a motion that the meetings continue to be held at the Cowboy Church outside Centerville on Highway 7, and all voted in favor except Graves who did not vote.