Saturday, February 4, 2023

CFPUA reviews communication process, doesn’t talk to former communications chief

After it became clear that CFPUA had known about GenX for over a year, an internal review was launched. A week later the results were announced. (Port City Daily photo / BENJAMIN SCHACHTMAN)
After it became clear that CFPUA had known about GenX for over a year, an internal review was launched. A week later the results were announced. (Port City Daily photo/BENJAMIN SCHACHTMAN)

NEW HANOVER COUNTY — After revelations that the Cape Fear Public Utility Authority knew about GenX in the water supply for over a year, an internal review was launched. The results were presented at a special meeting today. But there seems to have been a conspicuous oversight in that review.

Last week, CFPUA Chairman Mike Brown announced the authority would launch an investigation into its communication and transparency policies. That investigation did not include Mike McGill, who was CFPUA’s chief communication officer for nearly five years.

CFPUA Vice Chair Jennifer Adams conducted the investigation. McGill said Adams declined to interview him as part of the process.

“I reached out, to make sure I didn’t miss something,” McGill said. “I asked Adams if she wanted to speak with me or ask me any questions. Adams said ‘no.’ She said, ‘we have everything we need.'”

Adams said the review team, which also included environmental attorney Robin Smith, felt they had all the information they needed.

Jennifer Adams, co-chair of the CFPUA board, headed up the investigation and presented its results. (Port City Daily photo / BENJAMIN SCHACHTMAN)
Jennifer Adams, co-chair of the CFPUA board, headed up the investigation and presented its results. (Port City Daily photo/BENJAMIN SCHACHTMAN)

McGill’s final year at CFPUA overlapped roughly with a critical year in the history of GenX. That year begins in May 2016, when a study on GenX, co-authored by Detlef Knappe of North Carolina State University and conducted with CFPUA’s cooperation, was delivered to Ben Kearns, the authority’s water operation supervisor.

Adams’ investigation details the way in which the rest of CFPUA management eventually became aware of GenX. According to Adams, the authority never had reason to believe GenX was immediately dangerous. Knappe told CFPUA’s COO Frank Styers there was “not enough information to say that you shouldn’t drink the water.” However, Knappe still had concerns about GenX based on the finalized version of his paper.

From Adams' report on CFPUA's handling of the GenX issue. Mike McGill, longtime chief communications officer, was never interviewed. (Port City Daily photo / BENJAMIN SCHACHTMAN)
From Adams’ report on CFPUA’s handling of the GenX issue. Mike McGill, longtime chief communications officer, was never interviewed. (Port City Daily photo/BENJAMIN SCHACHTMAN)

McGill said he also had concerns. In March, McGill said he made it clear he thought CFPUA should prepare a plan to tell the public about GenX.

“We were watching the data come in and I had concerns. I had a number of conversations (with CFPUA staff). I made it clear that this was something we were going to have to communicate to the public. I’m almost certain that’s what led to bringing Knappe from NC State down for the April meeting,” McGill said.

The following month, a “water team” was invited to hear Knappe present his updated finding. Invitees included CFPUA Executive Director Jim Flechtner as well as McGill. The meeting was scheduled for Wednesday, April 19, 2017.

McGill never made it to the meeting.

Knappe met with CFPUA on Wednesday.  McGill left the same day, and formally resigned from CFPUA two days later on Friday, April 21. There was no public comment from CFPUA about GenX until seven weeks later, on June 8, when the CFPUA finally issued a comment about GenX.

According to McGill, he didn’t make the meeting because he was fired.

“The meeting was scheduled on the 13th of April. The next week, on the 17th, I was told there would be a final disciplinary motion,” McGill said.

McGill said he met Flechtner in a witnessed meeting. McGill was initially fired but, after negotiations, he was allowed to resign.

It unclear if the GenX issue and McGill’s (sort-of) termination are related, or if they merely happened on the same day. However, Adams did say the timing occurred to the review team.

“I can’t speak to personnel issues,” Adams said. “But as for the timing of that, yes, we did ask that question.”

In the end, Adams said the review considered McGill’s termination and GenX to be two separate issues. McGill declined to offer further comment on the end of his tenure at CFPUA. (McGill retained a working relationship with CFPUA after his departure; he is contracted to write the authority’s annual reports.)

In the end, CFPUA gave itself high marks for the handling of information over the last year. (Port City Daily photo / BENJAMIN SCHACHTMAN)
In the end, CFPUA gave itself high marks for the handling of information over the last year. (Port City Daily photo / BENJAMIN SCHACHTMAN)

As for the rest of the review, Adams concluded that the CFPUA handled communication about GenX in an “appropriate, professional, timely and scientific manner.” Her report did suggest the authority consider a new policy on releasing information to the public on what she called “non-routine sampling results,” including scientific papers like Knappe’s.

Adams also answered questions about her former employer, DuPont. Adams worked at DuPont’s Cape Fear plant from 1990 until the plant’s closure in 2001. Adams then went on to work at Corning. When asked if she had any aquaintance at DuPont’s or Chemours’ Fayatteville Works facilities, Adams said she did but that she had not corresponded with the since before the GenX issue became a public concern. Adams said the relationships did not compromise her ability to perform the review.


Send comments and tips to Benjamin Schachtman at ben@localvoicemedia.com, @pcdben on Twitter, and (910) 538-2001.

Related Articles