New SPSA leadership?

Published 9:44 am Saturday, March 14, 2009

A few months of improved governance of the Southeastern Public Service Authority, unfortunately, can’t reverse decades of inept management, poor stewardship and lax oversight of the regional garbage agency. Nor can it quickly restore the public’s trust in an entity that has abused that trust in recent years.

Therefore, the Isle of Wight County Board of Supervisors and the Franklin City Council are asking a lot of Gov. Tim Kaine with their recent appeals for the governor to veto — or to gut through amendments — legislation that would replace elected officials on the SPSA Board of Directors with appointed citizens.

The bill, which passed overwhelmingly in the final days of the General Assembly’s regular session, would require each of SPSA’s eight member localities, including Franklin, Southampton and Isle of Wight, to nominate three non-elected officials to the governor, who would then choose one from each locality to serve on the SPSA board. The new board would be seated on Jan. 1.

“Trust us,” the Isle of Wight and Franklin boards seem to be saying to Kaine. “We can fix this mess if you give us a little more time.”

Perhaps. It’s hard, though, for taxpayers to be optimistic when several generations of elected officials have failed to govern the garbage agency effectively. The SPSA board’s fresh faces, such as Franklin’s Barry Cheatham and Isle of Wight’s Stan Clark, in whom much hope is invested, are an election away from leaving the board. Then what?

Citizen representatives, at a minimum, would remove much of the politics from SPSA governance. Elected officials over the years have been unwilling to make the hard decisions necessary to keep SPSA fiscally sound, presumably because they didn’t want to anger their constituents back home with higher garbage bills or service


Appointed representatives would answer only to the governor and would therefore be free to make those difficult decisions. Notably, the bill would require that nominees have business acumen — something sorely lacking among

SPSA board members over the years, as evidenced by the agency’s current fiscal mess.

We’re intrigued by the idea of citizen leadership of SPSA and do not believe it should be dismissed out of hand. Local officials who are trying to defeat the legislation must do better than, “Trust us.”

The taxpayers of South Hampton Roads have put a lot of misplaced trust in SPSA’s leaders over the years and having nothing to show for it.

Pardon them if they remain a little skeptical.