Committee hears Hampton Utility complaints

Photo by Lesley Hughes
Hampton Utility Board President Lee Miller tells citizens at a Monday meeting that the utility is running smoothly and is finacially stable.

By Lesley Hughes
star staff
lhughes@starhq.com

  "If it ain't broke, don't fix it" seemed to be the opinion of the majority during a Monday evening meeting of the Carter County Utilities Committee. The called public input meeting arose from concerns voiced by County Commissioner John Lewis about the appointment process of Hampton Utility Board members. Roughly five percent, or approximately 70, of the district's 1,489 connections, were present at the meeting.
  Lewis argued that some Hampton Utility customers don't agree with board members being appointed. Instead, he asked to hear from citizens who want to elect board members in order to provide more accountability to the public. Presently, the three board members are appointed to terms by the County Mayor, Dale Fair.
  Lewis said, "This meeting here is to get input on what the people want to do; if we should elect the commissioners of Hampton Utility by a vote or if they can appoint one another like the way they do now. Contrary to the rumors, John Lewis is not trying to sell Hampton Utility to Elizabethton. A lot of people has came to me with the same problem. They go to the utility district and can't get no cooperation out of them. They don't seem to know what the law is." He also accused them of refusing to provide copies of the minutes, which is against state law.
  Many citizens in attendance didn't seem to agree with Lewis' claims and argued that the utility is being run efficiently and "if it ain't broke don't fix it," said one woman.
  Employees and representatives of the utility refuted Lewis' accusations that anyone who wants the minutes of meetings is provided them as long as they pay the price for photocopies. When one man said he had been refused copies of the minutes, John Randall, attorney for the Hampton Utility District said, "There is an injunction by the court that prohibits you from being there because you got in a fight with some of the employees. If you request a copy they will be mailed to you at cost."
  Randall also informed citizens that anyone who is a property owner in the district or who is a water customer is qualified to apply for the position. Ultimately, recommendations are made to Fair by the board, which he can either approve or deny.
  One man also accused the board and office of nepotism. To this, another man replied, "Hampton is a small community. Everybody in here is kin to one another." President of the utility, Lee Miller, said he only hires people who are the most qualified and in the best interest of the department.
  Miller said the utility is running smoothly and is in good financial shape. "We are the only utility district with the water as pure as we got. Culligan tried to check our water and said it came out less pure after they filtered it. That's how pure your water is. Right now is the most dynamic time in the Hampton Utility District.
  "Regional water is coming. It has too. The only natural resource we have to bring industry in here is water. People down there saw that and they are making plans to bring it and we are going to be part of it. Hampton Utility District is going to come out like a fat rat. We are going to come out better than any other utility district and we are going to keep our independence. You will own your water. Your children will own their water. Your children's children will own their water, if everything goes accordingly," Miller said.