Tough job

Published 9:18 am Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Wanted: volunteer to fill thankless job. Must travel to Chesapeake several times a week and sit through long, tedious meetings. Business acumen necessary to rescue an organization teetering on insolvency. Thick skin not essential but desirable.

Such an ad in the Classified section of this newspaper likely would draw few resumes. Yet, area localities must find not one but three takers under a new state law that overhauls the governance of the Southeastern Public Service Authority.

Gov. Tim Kaine signed legislation, passed overwhelmingly during the recent General Assembly session, that will replace elected officials on the regional garbage agency’s board with appointed citizens beginning Jan. 1. Each SPSA locality, including Franklin, Southampton County and Isle of Wight County, will submit three names to the governor, who will appoint one representative from each to sit on SPSA’s board.

The Isle of Wight County Board of Supervisors and Franklin City Council went on record against the bill, and the current SPSA board asked the governor to delay implementation until July 1, 2010. Given the lousy service rendered by elected officials over the years and the current fiscal mess at SPSA, incumbents probably were not the best ones to beat the drum for the status quo.

There was a compelling case to be made for change, and SPSA will now get it.

The challenge, which localities should begin working on now, is to find competent, business-minded citizens who will allow their names to be submitted to the governor. It will take some digging, and perhaps even some gentle arm-twisting, but the guess here is that some qualified citizens will step forward to tackle one of the greatest public-policy challenges confronting our communities and region.

SPSA will benefit from fresh perspectives and, theoretically, the objectivity that non-elected officials will bring to the table. A big part of SPSA’s current fiscal problems has been politicians’ unwillingness over the years to take hard stands and make prudent fiscal decisions due to fear of backlash from angry constituents back home. That should no longer be a problem.

Will a new board be enough to rescue SPSA from decades of poor decision-making and the mess those decisions have wrought? State lawmakers and the governor probably figured that things couldn’t get much worse.