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RRCWSC debates manager's intervention in city sewer overflow

CLARKSVILLE — Red River County Water Supply Corp. manager’s reporting of an overflowing sewer lift station got him into some hot water, if not as much as he had feared.

“I think Wendell was concerned, and I commend him for that,” board member Harvey Carter said of RRCWSC Manager Wendell Davis at Monday’s meeting. “But I think he handled it wrong.”

The issue came about when Davis drove by the lift station on Highway 82 about 5 a.m. Aug. 30 and saw the warning light on. He checked back every 15 minutes, but no one showed up for a couple of hours.

The station’s two pumps are housed in a light green fiberglass shell just off the highway about a quarter-mile east of East Texas Medical Center. A sign on the locked fence surrounding the station says “In case of emergency call 903-427-3836.”

“I didn’t have to look at the sign,” he said. “I knew the number because I worked for them for 10 years.”

In the interim, Davis spoke to a police officer about the importance of calling in when the lift station’s light came on. He also talked to the person responding to the call at about 7:20.

“I saw it running personally for that amount of time, and I expect it ran longer than that,” he said.

He estimated around 10,000 gallons escaped from the lift station in the time it took for someone to respond. The city’s own estimates have been reported at closer to 150 gallons.

Davis’ actions got the attention of City Manager Wayne Dial, who called corporation President John Ragsdill to talk about the manager’s “constant intervening in Clarksville’s city business.”

“This is three times I know of a board president has had to go down there and be reprimanded because our employees can’t stay out of their business,” Ragsdill said. “If we keep on meddling in Clarksville’s business, we’re going to wind up in court.”

The board ultimately voted to put a letter in Davis’ personnel file saying he did the right thing in reporting the overflow but overstepped his authority otherwise, with instructions not to intervene in city business in the future.

Prior to the meeting, Davis worried about a lengthy suspension or outright termination. That wasn’t the board’s intention, Vice-President Billy Mitchell said.

Personnel matters are traditionally conducted in closed session under one of the provisions allowed for in the Texas Open Meetings Act, but Ragsdill said Davis asked to have it in open session.

Members of the public on hand for the meeting expressed support for Davis.

“If he’s applying a little pressure, thank you to this board for having him here to do it,” Scott St. John said.

“This rural water system is fantastic,” Tommy Welch said. “The way it’s run is fantastic.”

A few also expressing concern that the city had a problem with several sewer lines leaking into creeks.

“We can’t fix all the creeks in Clarksville,” board Secretary Tanny Emery said. “I think he was right in calling it in. I don’t think he was right to be babysitting. I think there were more jobs here that he could be doing.”

That particular station has been a problem since the 1980s, Mitchell said. Cloth rags and towels from the hospital wind up in the sewer system, which clogs the lift station. Davis said the problem would be simple to fix with a screen on the hospital’s side of the sewer line.

RRCWSC has a water line not far from the lift station that could get contaminated if the line broke or leaked. Moving the line or installing a new one without any joints or couplings could fix the problem, Davis said.

Board member Annette Welch questioned why the water supply corporation should pay for any repairs or new pipelines when the source of the problem seemed to be a city pump.

“Maybe we should sue the city for possible contamination of our lines,” she said. “I hope I haven’t opened a can of worms.”

The board indicated it planned to move forward with replacing its water line and sending a letter asking the city of Clarksville to take care of the lift station.

“The county and city need to get along,” Emery said. “All we’re doing is stirring the pot, and the more you stir it, the worse it stinks.”

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