Clayton water authority member’s removal raises questions

Did a Clayton County Water Authority board member lose her seat because she voted against a company favored by county commissioners? People involved in the decision aren’t saying but a local civil rights group is seeking answers.

Sylvia Wright was one of eight people reconsidered for board appointments last week by county commissioners. But the 59-year-old Riverdale resident was the only one who did not regain her seat. She was replaced after only four months on the water authority.

“We were deeply concerned that Ms. Wright was removed without cause,” said Clayton NAACP president C. Synamon Baldwin who attended the commission meeting. Baldwin said the NAACP has filed an open records request with the water authority hoping to get some understanding of what happened. “It was clearly a move to gain control of the water authority.”

The commission’s decision to replace Wright came just days after the water authority chose a company to underwrite its bond-refinancing, which is projected to save the county nearly $7.5 million.The company that was recently hired by the county commission as the county’s new financial advisor was up for the job but did not get it.

The water authority had narrowed its selection to a short list which included Raymond James Morgan Keegan and Terminus Securities, the company that was awarded the work, and Piper Jaffray & Co., which was recently hired by the county to serve as its financial advisor. Former MARTA chairman Ed Wall is Piper Jaffray’s representative to Clayton.

The Raymond James group had the overall highest final score - 113 out of a possible 130. Piper Jaffray’s final score was 108. Scoring was based on qualification, experience and other criteria. An evaluation team judging the competing companies recommended Raymond James et al to provide bond underwriting services for the 2013A and 2013B bond issues and to provide similar services for any bond issues for the next three years, according to documents obtained by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

In a called meeting on March 14, the water authority board voted for Raymond James 4-3. Wright was among those who voted for the Raymond James company. The next day, Wright’s name appeared on the commission’s agenda as part of group of appointees being reconsidered.

Water Authority chairwoman Marie Barber declined to discuss Wright’s dismissal or the meeting involving the selection process for the company that will handle the county’s bond-refinancing.

When asked if she had been contacted by any of the commissioners during the selection process of the company, Barber said “no comment.”

But water authority board member Sophia Haynes, who also participated in the bond-refinancing selection process, questioned Wright’s removal at the county commission meeting and called the timing of her removal “ironic.”

“She stood with the rest of us who said ‘do the right thing’,” Haynes told The AJC. “The very next day, an agenda for the county commission comes out saying she was being reconsidered and she’s the only one who did not get reappointed. To me, that’s very ironic, very coincidental right after it appears that she did not go along with something else.”

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