Thursday, August 11, 2011

Oakland County Opposes Dismissal of Federal Case, Seeks Greater Authority for Detroit Water Board

Oakland County opposes dismissal of the 34 year old federal lawsuit involving the Detroit Water and Sewerage Department, and seeks changes to the Water Board's by-laws, which would give the Board greater authority over the affairs of DWSD.

Earlier this week, in response to the City of Detroit's July 25, 2011 Motion to Dismiss, Oakland County filed a Response, which challenges the assumption that transferring oversight of DWSD to the Michigan DEQ, through the Administrative Consent Order (ACO), will solve DWSD's compliance problems.

Citing over 30 years of efforts to bring the Detroit Wastewater Treatment Plant (WWTP) into long-term compliance with the Clean Water Act, Oakland County has "grave concerns" with DWSD's ability to achieve the milestones set forth in the ACO.  

Among the chronic problems cited by Oakland County, which are the same problems identified in more than half a dozen reports and findings by the late Judge John Feikens, are the following: 
  • insufficient number of adequately trained personnel
  • inadequate repair and maintenance of dewatering equipment
  • cumbersome bidding and arcane purchasing policies 
To address these long-standing problems, Oakland County contends, requires more than another recovery plan or another set of milestone dates.  Citing a 2010 report by one of Judge Feikens' technical experts (Prof. Jonathan Bulkley), Oakland County argues that now is the time for fundamental change: 
"It may be appropriate to consider more fundamental corrective measures to address the institutional problems which are adversely impacting the performance of DWSD's wastewater treatment plant." 
Oakland County requests that Judge Cox order amendments to the Water Board's by-laws that would provide for the following: 
  • allow the Water Board to adopt its own procurement policy and allow DWSD to contract in its own name for construction and professional services
  • allow the Water Board to control the expenditure of funds from the DWSD enterprise fund and limit transfers to the City of Detroit's general fund
  • allow the Water Board to develop a policy for ensuring and maintaining the financial health of DWSD
  • give DWSD exclusive authority to handle all human resources and employee matters, including hiring and firing, notwithstanding any contrary provisions or prohibitions of any collective bargaining agreements, civil service rules or past practices
  • allow DWSD to hire its own legal counsel, both general and special counsel, as needed
Oakland County also requests an order "enjoining the City of Detroit and each of its executives, officers, managers, departments, boards, contractors, employees . . . from attempting to interfere with or exercise authority over any of the matters vested in the Board [of Water Commissioners] by the Amended By-Laws." 

Click here to read Oakland County's Response in its entirety. 

Comment: Without using the word, Oakland County is really seeking autonomy for DWSD and the Water Board.  Autonomy from the City of Detroit's arcane purchasing and hiring practices. Autonomy from outside interference.  With all signs pointing toward an end to the 1977 federal lawsuit, Oakland County's request, if granted, would require that Judge Cox keep the case open to enforce a new order.  There will probably be changes to the Water Board's by-laws, but I don't think it will come by court order.  Much like the changes to the Water Board in February, Oakland County's request will likely precipitate negotiations with Mayor Bing that will lead to changes. 

For more about DWSD Update, click here.

1 comment:

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