SPSA reportedly to get new board Jan. 1

Published 8:22 am Saturday, March 28, 2009

Gov. Tim Kaine reportedly signed into law Friday a bill that would overhaul the board that leads the troubled Southeastern Public Service Authority.

An e-mail circulating among SPSA member localities said that Kaine had signed House Bill 1872, which passed the General Assembly overwhelmingly last month. Gordon Hickey, a spokesman for the governor, said Friday afternoon that he could not confirm the bill had been signed.

The legislation means that SPSA’s current Board of Directors, which consists of an elected official from each member locality, would be replaced on Jan. 1 with citizens appointed by the governor.

“I’m glad that he signed the bill,” said Delegate John Cosgrove, R-Chesapeake, author of the bill, as word spread of Kaine’s approval. “SPSA has been a disaster for many years. This is going to require them to be very forthright and honest about how they do business.”

The governor’s apparent decision disappointed Barry Cheatham, a Franklin city councilman and the city’s delegate on the SPSA board since last summer.

“I do not think it is necessary to replace the board, as it has already changed (to include) the type of people (Kaine) wanted on the board,” Cheatham said Friday. “There are four new members — three lawyers and a certified public accountant — and it appears to me that a change in attitude has taken place.”

Under the bill, each of SPSA’s eight member localities will submit the names of three prospective board members to the governor, who will choose one representative from each locality. The nominees must “possess general business knowledge, and shall not be elected officials.” Nominees selected by the governor will serve four-year terms and can serve for no more than two consecutive terms.

Cosgrove said previous board members had “drawn the short straw with their city councils” and didn’t possess the know-how to govern the authority.

“Those types of decisions need to be made by people who understand business and the bond markets and the bottom line,” he said.

Cheatham said that by the time the new board takes over, SPSA “should be well on the way down the reorganization path that we know is best for the area and getting out of the garbage business.”

He added that he is concerned about accountability.

“What representation will the citizens have from a board that is appointed by the governor, and not having a real duty to represent the citizens?” he asked.

HB1872 was unanimously approved by the state Senate on Feb. 23 and passed unanimously again in the House of Delegates on Feb. 25. It is one of hundreds of bills that Kaine has until Monday to veto or sign into law. The governor could also have suggested amendments to legislation, which the General Assembly would have taken up upon reconvening April 8 for a veto session.

Kaine’s approval would buck the wishes of the Franklin City Council and the Isle of Wight County Board of Supervisors; both elected bodies wanted a veto. The SPSA board itself wanted the governor to amend the bill to delay implementation until July 1, 2010. The board’s chairman wrote a letter to Kaine suggesting the amendment.

Dallas Jones, chairman of the Southampton County Board of Supervisors and the county’s representative on the SPSA board, echoed Cheatham’s sentiment.

“We’ve already started getting things going the right way,” Jones said. “But if (Kaine) thinks that he can get some other people in there to do a better job, so it will be.”

Jones said he isn’t sure who in the county would be interested in sitting on the board, pointing out that there will be no compensation for doing so.

Supervisor Stan Clark, who represents Isle of Wight County on the SPSA board, could not be reached for comment.

The new board will be responsible for developing and maintaining a strategic plan of at least five years, which would be reviewed annually, according to the legislation.

Outsourcing is another stipulation. According to the bill, SPSA’s board “shall consider outsourcing any or all functions that may result in reduced costs to the authority, and the authority shall annually issue requests for proposals that potentially reduce the costs of any of its programs.”

The board will also need to approve spending on any items costing more than $30,000.