Members of the city’s new Water Advisory Board met for the first time Wednesday, three months after being appointed to the board.
Robert Edmonds, director of public works, explained there was no agenda for the meeting and that it was a chance for board members to meet each other and representatives from the El Dorado Water Utilities, whose operations the board will help oversee.
Members include former EWU general manager Glenn Holmes; John Page Sr. of BancorpSouth; Phillip Stone, attorney with Stone & Sawyer, PLLC; Ricky McDiarmid, retired master plumber and business owner/ operator; Billy Green, owner of Pro Styles Barber Shop.
Four of five board members — Stone was unable to attend — gathered in the second conference room of City Hall.
They introduced themselves, offered their assessment of some of the functions at the water utilities, and discussed changes they’d like to see.
Holmes was picked to head up the group and Green as second in command after members randomly selected numbers between one and 10 at the behest of Alderwoman Dianne Hammond.
The board was created after the El Dorado City Council voted in July to dissolve the decades-old El Dorado Water and Sewer Commission.
At the time, city officials cited several issues that drove their decision, including ongoing complaints with the utilities, poor customer service, inefficiency while making repairs and seemingly an unwillingness by the utilities to address complaints.
The council agreed that EWU operations would fall under the management of the Department of Public Works, with the assistance of the advisory board.
In August, Mayor Frank Hash presented the slate of candidates to aldermen for approval, saying that he and Edmonds had sifted through the applications and narrowed down the pool.
In the wake of the change, former EWU general manager Mark Smith resigned, and the city revised some EWU policies, including streamlining the process by which longtime customers in good standing can open new accounts.
Edmonds told the group Wednesday that while the city has heard positive feedback about some changes that have been implemented, there are still many challenges that lie ahead for the utilities, including ongoing efforts to repair and upgrade aging infrastructure.
“The only way we can overcome it is to get after it,” Edmonds said.
For instance, he told board members that the utilities is working with the department of public works to price new dissolved air flotation units for the city’s two wastewater treatment plants.
“(The existing units) have had it,” Edmonds said.
Starting in 2018, the utilities’ budget, which had been set and maintained separately from the city’s general fund, will be aligned with city budget during the calendar year, instead of the fiscal year.
An effort is also under way to revise the city’s employee handbook.
Edmonds said the EWU’s employee handbook will be revised accordingly and merged into the city’s overall handbook.
“Basically, our handbook and their handbook is the same, except for a few items … there are some specific items regarding water and sewer operators,” Edmonds said.
Hammond asked if the advisory board will be involved in the project to amend the handbook, and Edmond said yes.
The group subsequently agreed to meet again at 8:30 a.m. on Dec. 11 to delve into the process of revising the handbook.
Holmes — who retired in 2007 after 45 years of service at the EWU, 20 as general manager — said he would like to see a change inside the EWU office on South Washington.
The office was remodeled years after Holmes retired to improve safety and security, employees and water and sewer commissioners said at the time.
The front counter was taken out and transaction windows installed.
The front office space was further enclosed with the addition of a wall and security door that requires a code to open and proceed to the rear offices.
Former EWU employees reported at the time that people would sometimes wander into the rear office spaces to use the restroom or water fountain or even sit in the employee break room.
Holmes suggested removing the wall and security door.
“It should be open to the public, and if someone wants to talk to a manager, they should be able to,” Holmes said.
“The employees need to realize they’re public employees, and the public ought to be able to have access to them,” he continued.
Several aldermen have made similar statements, saying that the office design created a “cold and uninviting atmosphere” for the public.
“We had a pretty bad public perception. Anything that you see that can make it better, let us know,” Edmonds said.
Phyilis Waller, EWU business and administration manager, also suggested that the utilities’ website be updated to reflect the changes of the past few months.
“There’s a lot of old information on there,” she said, adding that Smith typically updated the website.
Waller pointing out that the Arkansas Rural Water Association offers a web maintenance service for an annual fee of $300.
Edmonds said he would also like to see the EWU join a national database to help curtail a problem with customers skipping out on their water bills.
“So, if they move to Crossett, Crossett water won’t set them up until they settle up with the El Dorado Water Utilities,” Edmonds said.
The group also discussed ongoing and upcoming EWU projects.
Buddy Kinney, interim EWU manager, said a project to move water lines along Arkansas 335/Wyatt Drive in preparation for a highway improvement project that will be done by the state.
The project will focus on the stretch of road between U.S. 82 and Arkansas 7 and will include resurfacing the road, adding shoulders and mitigating a couple of sharp curves along the route.
Kinney said the portion of the EWU’s work is done.
The Arkansas Department of Transportation will reimburse the EWU for about 90 percent of the cost of the project, which was bid at $748,405 earlier this year.
Edmonds said the utilities is also going to have to relocate water lines for an upcoming ARDoT project to widen U.S. 82 just west of El Dorado between Wrights Lane and South Arkansas Regional Airport at Goodwin Field.
Tia Lyons may be contacted at 870-862-6611 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
This article has been corrected to show that Glenn Holmes is a former general manager of the El Dorado Water Utilities.