The new Board of Directors for the Chester Water Authority has mostly been revealed with Chester City, the last of three appointing entities, announcing its appointment of two of its three members at last Wednesday’s Council meeting.
Representing the city on the nine-member board for a five-year term will be reappointed member Livia Smith and new member Patricia Lewis West, who replaces William Riley, who is also on the Chester Upland school board. The third seat is currently held by longtime community activist John Shelton, but it is not known whether he will be reappointed as no action was announced about the third seat.
The city’s board picks were anticipated for weeks as both Delaware and Chester counties had already made their selections known.
The make-up of the board, ordinarily a routine issue, became a hot-button topic earlier this year as Aqua America, a company serving three million customers in eight states, made a $250 million bid for CWA’s assets through an eight-page proposal.
In May, following the emergence of the letter, the board unanimously rejected the take-over attempt, but the five year terms of all the directors is soon to expire, leading to some political speculation that Aqua may take another swipe at an acquisition with a new board.
But the “new” board will retain a majority of the “old” members.
Delaware County Council was first to re-appoint board Secretary Joseph F. McGinn, Treasurer Wendell N. Butler, Jr. and board Chairperson Catherine F. Leitzell.
Chester County also revealed its selections at its meeting last month with county commissioners re-appointing two of its three existing board members: Thomas V. Chiomento, III and board Vice Chairperson Paul Andriole. Commissioners voted to replace Leonard J. Rivera with newly appointed Christopher Birken.
“Birken is eminently qualified,” Chester County Board of Commissioners Chairperson Michelle H. Kichline said at the meeting. “He’s an engineer and most importantly, a ratepayer. He understands the responsibilities that come along with being a board member and we are confident he will work well with (Andriole and Chiomento) in forwarding the interests that the (CWA) serves in Chester County.”
To cement their anti-acquisition decision, at the September CWA business meeting, the board passed four takeover-related resolutions.
It resolved not to sell to a for-profit utility company because it is not in the best interest of CWA ratepayers; it established a voter referendum on an Election Day ballot in the CWA service area to allow ratepayers to vote on a sale; it called for full transparency of any attempted acquisition; and made the resolutions of solidarity issued by other municipalities within the CWA service area a permanent part of the board’s meeting minutes.
Despite those actions, political paranoia lingers. Many believed that Chester City would be the sole beneficiary of the $250 million Aqua offered. The city desperately needs an infusion of that size as it hopes to avoid a state takeover in May as it is pushed out of the Act 47 state program for distressed municipalities.
Also at the CWA’s monthly board meeting, Chester City Council members William “Al” Jacobs, Elizabeth Williams and Morgan Williams attended along with Mayor Thaddeus Kirkland and city Chief of Staff Ronald Starr. Councilwoman Portia West was the only Chester elected official who did not attend.
“I don’t think we’ve ever had four out of five Council members come to a meeting,” an anonymous source said, adding that since Aqua’s proposal, overall public turnout for board meetings have been at an unprecedented high. “Prior to May, hardly anybody showed up, but in the last four months more people have showed up and they don’t always identify themselves.”
The realty, it appears, is that CWA assets, if ever liquidated, would never benefit Chester City solely.
Read Part Two of Michel Lee’s report in next week’s Spirit.