LELAND — At the opening of H2GO’s first regularly scheduled meeting with newly-elected members, the public utility’s attorney Stephen Coble advised the public utility board of its actual voting power, which was still not clear.
Coble was clear to state that a valid board would comprise of a total of five voting members. But, on Tuesday, six people, both former or current members of H2GO Brunswick Regional Water and Sewer, cast votes on an item.
The discrepancy in voting power originated after Bill Beer was sworn into office at 12:10 a.m. on Dec. 4. That swearing in allowed the H2GO board to call an emergency meeting at 8 a.m. on the same day to undo the sale of its assets to the town of Belville.
Read more: H2GO timeline, How we got here
Beer, newly-elected on an anti-reverse osmosis platform, would have been sworn in during the Tuesday, Dec. 19, regularly scheduled meeting under normal circumstances.
Instead, Beer had already exercised voting power on the board in emergency and special meetings this month. He did so under the pretense that he had been sworn in on Dec. 4.
Beers’ Nov. 7 election swung the board’s power to a majority opposing the construction of a reverse osmosis plant and began a domino effect of transactions that ultimately landed Belville, Leland and H2GO in court last week.
On Dec. 13, Judge Thomas Lock ordered H2GO’s assets to remain under the operation of Belville and for all construction on the reverse osmosis plant to cease for the time being.
No, really, who is in charge here?
The voting power of standing commissioners Trudy Trombley and Jeff Gerken, whose terms expire in 2019, was not in question.
“We believe that the two commissioners that are still seated that did not run do have valid votes,” Coble told the board.
Beer’s vote would also be considered valid according to Coble.
“Mr. Beer would also be a third valid vote,” he said.
However, Coble said the validity of votes cast by the two remaining commissioners on their final day of office, is up to the courts.
“Two additional votes would be a valid question,” he said.
Outgoing commissioners Carl Antos and William Browning did not attend the board’s special and emergency meetings after being named in Leland’s restraining order against H2GO. Their last day of voting power under normal circumstances would be during the Dec. 19 meeting.
With six active members sworn in Tuesday, six members voted 3-3 on a motion to approve the minutes of the contentious Nov. 28 meeting that sold H2GO’s assets to Belville.
Coble could not offer the board a solid answer on the impact or validity of a motion voted on with six members.
Some governing bodies are required to be comprised of an odd number of elected officials with voting power, so as to not create a stalemate in decision-making. H2GO is designed to only consider the five votes of its elected commissioners.
Board elects chairman
Beer, along with pro-reverse osmosis newcomer Rodney McCoy and the incumbent commissioner Ron Jenkins were all elected to H2GO’s board in the Nov. 7 election.
With Beer already having been sworn in since Dec. 4, McCoy and Jenkins were officially sworn in on halfway through the Dec. 19 meeting.
The new board elected Gerken as chairman of the board, Trombley as vice-chairman, and Beer as secretary. Each move was voted on 3-2, signifying McCoy and Jenkins clear opposition to the majority anti-reverse osmosis board.
Nearly one hundred residents were present in the audience as the commissioners met regularly for the first time. Throughout the evening, public interjections were consistent and audible, many in opposition to anti-reverse osmosis commissioners and the split board.
This story has been changed to correctly identify Stephen Coble.
Johanna Ferebee can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or @j__ferebee on Twitter