Engage expert help with water contract

Published 3:26 pm Monday, July 27, 2015

To the editor:

This is an update of a citizen comment I sent to the Polk County Board of Commissioners on July 2, 2015. Last week’s Tryon Daily Bulletin contained a frightening news article stating that the Commission majority see no need to hire expert help regarding the proposed contract between Polk County and the Inman-Campobello Water District.

Because the majority has taken that position, I am sharing this comment with the public. I sincerely hope that the majority will reconsider their refusal to engage expert help with this complicated contract. I do not know of any significant private corporation that would refuse to engage expert help in such a situation.

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Here is the comment as sent to the commissioners:

As you may know, I spent most of my professional life practicing environmental law. You may also know that among my environmental clients were public and private utility companies, including water utility companies.

In addition to doing environmental work for my clients, early in my career I represented some of the utilities in rate-making cases before the state utilities commission and before the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission in Washington, D.C.

Many of my clients were very large companies, Fortune 100 and larger. Many of them had large in-house departments of experts such as geologists, chemical engineers, and many others.

In the rate-making cases, the companies also had in-house expert economists, accountants and others.

But, still, when involved in rate-making cases or in significant cases with state or federal EPA agencies, they always engaged additional outside experts with the very specific areas of expertise needed to guide them and help present their cases.

Even with their large, highly trained, and experienced departments of in-house experts, they still hired outside experts to be sure they were getting the best advice and the best outcome for the companies in the particular cases.  Reliance on “common sense,” “gut feelings” or trust in the opposing parties would never have been enough for these corporate leaders.

Polk County needs to do the same. Even if I were on the Board of Commissioners, with my considerable background with legal issues, contract negotiation and water utilities, I would feel the need for outside experts to assist me. There’s no shame in it. The best and the brightest engage experts to assist them.  It is the wise thing to do.

There’s no way any of us are up to the task of negotiating such an important and far-reaching contract as that proposed between Polk County and ICWD (so much water over such a long period of time).  There are so many issues of valuation and economics, forecasting costs and revenues, and much more that lay people and non-experts just aren’t equipped to address.

Please do what wise corporate CEOs do and find and hire a water utility valuation expert who can help ensure that Polk County’s future is a good, sound one.  If you would like, I will be glad to help locate such a person.

One additional note beyond my July 2 comment:

This comment/letter should in no way be taken to say our commissioners are not intelligent people or to impugn their capabilities. Experts in the world’s largest corporations seek further expert advice in areas in which they do not, themselves, have years of experience and specialized training.

Getting needed help is not a sign of weakness.  In fact, it’s more likely a sign of confidence and strength, and wisdom.

As Donald Rumsfeld might say, “We need someone to help us identify and address the unknown unknowns.”

Renée McDermott
Tryon, N.C.