By: John Zippert,
At its regular meeting on Wednesday, April 15, 2020, the Eutaw City Council voted 4 to 2 to remove Mayor Raymond Steele from his position as Superintendent of the City Water System.
This decision came after months of arguments between the Council and the Mayor over the status of the water system, the condition and accuracy of new digital water meters installed as part of the upgrading of the system, software problems with the computer interface between meters and billing and problems of some customers receiving no or minimum bills and others receiving very high bills.
The issue came to a head when members of the Council questioned Mayor Steele about some high water bills that he had adjusted and others that he did not change saying that the customer had a “leak” as the reason for a high water bill.
Mayor Steele asserted, “We are close to resolving all the issues with the water system, incorrect meters and billing. This is a matter of day to day operations of the city and the council should not be involved.”
Council member Latasha Johnson moved and LaJeffrey Carpenter seconded that “the Mayor be removed from his position as Superintendent of the City Water System and he no longer be paid $800 per month for this position.” The motion was approved by a 4-2 vote with Councilmembers Joe Lee Powell and Sheila Smith joining Johnson and Carpenter in the majority. Councilman Bennie Abrams and Mayor Steele voted against the motion.
Council member Joe Lee Powell said, “Our intention is to contract out the management of the City Water Department, so we can be sure that the system including meters, computer soft wear, billing and maintenance of the pipes are correct and giving accurate readings for billing purposes. We may need to have this request for management services put out for competitive bidding at our next meeting.”
Following this motion, the Eutaw City Council voted 4 to 2 to no longer receive cash as payment for water bills, due to the coronavirus. Some of the members of the Council had been arguing for months that the City should suspend the collection of cash for water bills to insure a clear paper trail on revenues received by the water department.
At the beginning of the meeting, Councilman Joe Lee Powell asked permission to make a statement to the City Council as a citizen. In his statement, Powell raised some serious questions about the way the Mayor had been operating city business and urged him not to run for re-election as mayor in August.
The most serious charges in Powell’s statement were that the Mayor Steele was conducting city business in a “dictatorial manner” and misusing city automobiles and funds. Powell questioned a number of recent personnel decisions made by the Mayor. Powell also questioned an insurance claim filed against the City by the Mayor’s wife on flooding and mold in a building that she and the Mayor own on the Courthouse Square. The Mayor submitted this claim to the city’s insurance without the approval of the City Council.
The Democrat was unable to research and verify Powell’s charges for this article. We will continue to seek information and documentation before discussing these claims in detail.
In other actions, the City Council:
• approved on a 4-2 vote, the purchase and installation of surveillance cameras in Branch Heights, King Village and Carter Circle for crime deterrence;
• questioned why the property on Park Lane had not yet been sold
• questioned the Mayor and City Attorney on insurance claims filed against the City.