DA seeks Macon Water Authority member inquiry over allegations of violations

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Liz Fabian

Macon Water Authority Chairman Sam Hart began last Thursday’s called meeting by sharing concerns about a report of possible board member misconduct.

Macon Judicial Circuit District Attorney Anita Howard is asking Macon Water Authority board members to submit to voluntary questioning in the wake of allegations of open meeting violations and other misconduct.

Authority Chairman Sam Hart called on Howard for advice this week after an unnamed board member raised allegations that four others were holding illegal meetings and not following chain of command protocols in the by-laws.

Wednesday afternoon, Howard emailed authority members to invite them to a one-hour voluntary interview at her office to “gain further clarity” about the allegations that have reached her office.

“I understand in an abundance of caution you might want to have your attorney present at this meeting. Please know that option is available to you but is certainly not required,” stated the email that was sent to Chairman Sam Hart, Frank Patterson, Dwight Jones, Bill Howell, Valerie Wynn, Anissa Jones and Sheddrick Clark and obtained by The Macon Newsroom.

Howard gave authority members blocks of time to schedule appointments Friday, Monday and Tuesday.

‘Forced resignation’

The anonymous board member contacted Hart the day after former MWA president and executive director Joey Leverette tendered what Hart referred to as a “forced resignation.”

Under Leverette’s one-year contract he signed last November before starting on the job in January, he was entitled to a review this month to see if his contract would be renewed.

Hart wants an investigation into Leverette’s abrupt departure and the other allegations.

“We never did an evaluation of Joey, and I thought we should have,” Hart told The Macon Newsroom Tuesday. “And if it leads to the same thing, then I’m OK.”

As far as Hart is concerned, since the authority was still winning awards and finances were sound, that there was no cause to oust Leverette without a formal evaluation of his work.

“And that’s why I guess I’m suspicious that for some reason, four people have gotten together and decided that,” Hart said. “‘No, no, no, no. We aren’t going to do that (evaluation), we’re just going to go ahead.’ … I guess it is almost like bullying to me. You’re just going and saying I’m gong to fire you, no matter what. And I think a professional deserves more courtesy than that.”

Under Leverette’s separation agreement obtained by The Macon Newsroom, he will receive six months salary totaling $150,000.

When former president and executive director Tony Rojas abruptly resigned in May of 2021, the authority had to pay out a $1.4 million settlement under the terms of his contract.

Last week, when the board voted to accept Leverette’s resignation, they also named former Georgia Power executive Ron Shipman as a candidate for interim executive director. There is a two-week waiting period before a nominee can be hired.

Hart said he is also concerned for the authority’s rate payers and about the utility’s financial reputation.

“Somebody still has to pay a double salary of whoever comes in. If Ron comes in and starts earlier, then you’ve got that one, and then you’ve got this other guy to pay off, right?” Hart asked. “When it seems like you are unstable and doing things… you’ve got to worry about the perception of the finance people. You know, even though you’re doing well, you’ve got to reassure your bond raters that you are doing well.”

Hart completes his two terms as chairman at the end of the year and does not want to rush into appointing Leverette’s successor. He wants incoming chairman Gary Bechtel to have input on who will be running the organization in the future.

Hart said the authority does personality tests on applicants, but doesn’t fully take advantage of the results to better manage employees.

“Recognize that people can have different personalities and different approaches, but doesn’t make them, that you got to push them out, just a different way of how they work,” he said.

Leverette didn’t even finish out his tenth month on the job. Hart said the board didn’t give him a chance.

If you don’t last a year, but more importantly and more telling, if you don’t give me an evaluation, then wait a minute, what kind of thing are you running here?” Hart asked.

He would have preferred for Leverette to have had a chance to meet the board’s expectations.

“We had talked pretty often and I thought he was, you know, headed on the right track. Was slow because again, you come into an organization where you’ve been without a person a minute. You can imagine it takes a minute to get situated in that.”

Civic Journalism Senior Fellow Liz Fabian covers Macon-Bibb County government entities and can be reached at [email protected] or 478-301-2976.