Judge quashes D.A.’s Water Authority subpoenas; MWA moves to hire Ron Shipman for permanent position

Shipman has been serving as interim president and executive director of the Macon Water Authority since December and has the votes when the full board meets next month


Liz Fabian

Interim Macon Water Authority Executive Director Ron Shipman, center, listens as Personnel Committee Chair Anissa Jones-Aiken suggests the authority offer Shipman the permanent position.

A Bibb County Superior Court Judge has ruled against the District Attorney in a Grand Jury probe of the Macon Water Authority launched late last year to look into allegations of illegal meetings.

In a ruling posted Friday, Judge David L. Mincey determined the MWA is not a public authority of Macon-Bibb County, so “the grand jury is not authorized to use its civil authority to inspect or investigate MWA or its board members… .” The ruling quashes D.A. Anita Howard’s subpoenas for authority members to testify before the grand jury.

The court also ruled that MWA’s board members are not county officers and are not subject to investigation under Georgia law governing grand juries.

Mincey halted the probe in December and gave the parties 20 days to file responses, which he examined before ruling.

In October, Former Chairman Sam Hart contacted Howard after County Commissioner Valerie Wynn raised concerns about possible illegal meetings involving four authority members before the departure of former executive director and president Joey Leverette in late October.

Hart alleged board members violated open meetings laws and ran afoul of bylaws.

Authority members Dwight Jones, Bill Howell, Anissa Jones-Aiken and Frank Patterson hired attorneys to ask the court to throw out the subpoenas. Those attorney expenses will be paid by the Macon Water Authority.

D.A. Howard issued a statement Friday afternoon that read in part: “In spite of the decision in this case, I will always continue to do my part when needed to hold elected officials, government agencies, and those who are answerable to the community, accountable for their actions. Elections at all levels matter, and public service positions are often held by individuals appointed by one elected official. Now is the time for others to join me in reviewing local and state laws to ensure there is public accountability and transparency for organizations like the Macon Water Authority, as there must be a mechanism for all elected officials to be accountable to the communities they serve.”

Thursday evening, the policy committee agreed that authority members would not use any type of recording devices in executive session while legal counsel drafts a policy that will be voted on by the full board. Elected officials can go into closed session to privately discuss personnel, real estate details and legal issues in discussions that are not public.

Attorney Jay Strickland said he was working to preserve the “sacrosanct environment” of attorney-client privilege.

“The board was advised in a closed session meeting last year of a recording issue,” Dwight Jones said during that debate.

Shipman tapped to remove ‘interim’ from executive director title

Interim Macon Water Authority Executive Director and President Ron Shipman has been tapped to take the job permanently pending full authority approval. (Macon Water Authority)

Interim Executive Director and President Ron Shipman had been on the job 73 days when the personnel committee voted to offer him the permanent position Thursday night.

After all five committee members gave their endorsement, committee chair Anissa Jones-Akin sang out her “aye” in a long sustained note as MWA employees began to applaud.

Macon-Bibb Commissioner Howell, who is appointed to represent the county on the authority, commented, “That was easy.”

MWA legal counsel Jay Strickland reminded them the appointment still must pass the full board, when it meets next month.

“That was five out of seven,” Howell remarked, noting that is a majority of the board.

“Hey, all you’ve got to do is count to four,” District 4’s Patterson said, meaning Shipman has the votes going into next month’s authority meeting.

Shipman, who served as vice president of the Georgia Powers southwest region before retiring in 2020, most recently served a stint as interim president and CEO of the Greater Macon Chamber of Commerce before Jessica Walden was hired late last year.

He is the first Black person to hold that job for the Macon Water Authority.

After the meeting, Shipman indicated he was eager to serve in the official role and continue to help the authority.

Patterson said he was pleased Shipman is willing to take the post permanently because employees need some stability at the helm. He supported Shipman for the post in 2020 after the sudden departure of Tony Rojas. A nationwide search by Myers McRae led the authority to Leverette, who lasted 10 months in the job before leaving in what then-chairman Hart referred to as a “forced resignation.”

His abrupt departure led to the allegations that members were conducting illegal meetings to orchestrate the change, which prompted the investigation.

Wynn, whose comment led Hart to initiate a legal investigation, was denied the chance Thursday night to continue serving as vice chair of the personnel committee.

Frank Patterson, left, gets a round of applause after unveiling the plaque dedicating the MWA’s engineering building in his honor Thursday morning.

Chair Anissa Jones said Patterson, who chairs the engineering committee and was honored Thursday morning with the dedication of the MWA’s engineering building, also expressed interest in the vice chairman post. His name was placed into consideration first and Patterson was approved.

Dwight Jones said that it has been authority practice to reserve leadership on committees for elected members of the board, but Wynn noted Commissioner Howell serves as vice chair of the finance committee Dwight Jones chairs.

The policy committee also voted to pursue a change in bylaws to allow committee meetings to be held on the same day as authority meetings. Shipman has organized a schedule that will be finalized and put into place in April.

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