Eutaw City Council votes to remove Mayor Steele as Superintendent of Water System

Central Alabama Asphalt and Construction of Tuscaloosa started resurfacing the roads in King Village April 13, 2020. A representative of Central Alabama Asphalt and & Construction, Eutaw City Councilman LaJeffery Carpenter, Anita Lewis, Housing Authority Director and Eutaw City Councilman Joe Powell were on hand to oversee operation

By: John Zippert,
Co-Publisher

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.

Water and sewage problems in Branch Heights go unattended

Shown L to R: Anita Lewis, CEO and Spiver Gordon, Board Chairperson of Greene Co. Housing Authority inspecting raw sewage in Branch Heights yard.

“We have four units with a total of 19 children in the 800 block of Branch Heights where there are water and sewer problems that are impacting the health and safety of this community,” said Anita Lewis, Director of the Greene County Housing Authority.
Mrs. Lewis says that she has been trying to work with the City of Eutaw to resolve the problems but says the Mayor is unresponsive.
“The Streets in Branch Heights belong to the City of Eutaw.
The water and sewer flow in pipes under the streets, which are the City’s responsibility. Some of the pipes are old terracotta and are deteriorating. Since the City repaved the streets in Branch Heights this has put additional pressure on the old pipes and they are leaking,” said Lewis.
Mrs. Lewis had a licensed plumber to come and dig down to the level of the pipes, where sewage was leaking.

     “The plumber says the blockage and the problems with the pipes, which is putting raw sewage in resident’s yards and backing up into their bathrooms, is under the city’s streets and will have to be fixed by the City or paid for by the City,” says Lewis. 

Lewis also points out that the City of Eutaw collects water, sewage and garbage fees from residents in Branch Heights, and should be responsible for repairs to their system.
Mayor Raymond Steele said in a Council Working Session on Tuesday evening that “Water and sewer problems are our top priority and we are working with a reduced staff and old equipment, so it will take time to get to all the leaks in the city.”
The Mayor said he is working on numerous water leaks and is aware of the sewage leak in Branch Heights. The Mayor asked for patience by the Council members and the residents, so the City could get to fixing all the leaking pipes, clearing drainage ditches and cutting grass over the coming months.
Councilman Joe Lee Powell, whose district includes Branch Heights said, “ I will not be voting for the Courthouse Streetscape Project or other projects in other parts of the City until these critical safety hazards in Branch Heights are cleared up.”
Mrs. Lewis suggests that the City may be facing a larger problem since it repaved the streets in Branch Heights without dealing with the aging pipes that are buried in the ground. “ I spoke to HUD, ADEM, Congresswoman Terri Sewell and others about this problem and there may be grant funds available to fix the water and sewer pipes but the City of Eutaw is the responsible party to apply for the funds. The streets and the pipes under them belong to the City.”
“I have set up meetings with HUD, ADECA and others to resolve this problem but the Mayor has not been willing to attend