The city council’s wish to create a regional wastewater authority made progress Tuesday in a vote to spend F$100,000 in taxpayer money for a consultant to create the Moccasin Bend Clean Water Authority.
That deed is contingent on a bill rippling through the General Assembly to create “regional water and wastewater treatment [authorities]” in the Tennessee Code Annotated.
That bill, sponsored by Sen. Todd Gardenhire and Rep. Joanne Favors broadens the definition of municipality to include such an agency to be given the muscle of government. Mr. Gardenhire’s bill, No. 480, envisions “the creation of a single local regional authority having a single office and staff to address all matters related to the provision of clean water and storm water management.”
We have before us a legislative effort at recombinant genetics. A joint efforts in two hothouse labs will generate a creature that is a hybrid, perhaps a bit of a monster.
First, the city is hiring MWH Americas Inc. to construct a mountain of memos, accords, protocols and specifications to create the Moccasin Bend authority. Secondarily, state legislators are weaving toward a bill giving MWH’s creature legal authority.
Weird agency to offer white collar welfare
Current law enumerates 15 grants of authority for the proposed agency, but the listing “is not limited to” these 15. In other words, the agency is given an internal self-conscious government exercising implied powers for its own survival and cash flow. We have before us the birth of one more actor in commercial government.
Let’s manhandle the protean octopus of the Moccasin Bend authority before it is born. If we plunge hands in utero, we will manipulate the fetus and examine its features. It’s sort of like a sonogram, but with our own hands. Yes, we’ll wear gloves.
The octupus’ tentacles are not smooth and featureless, like the gums of an old man with no teeth. They bear suction cups, ready for action. Let’s check them out.
➤ The agency is able, as a corporation, to have eternal life, what’s called “perpetual succession” as an artificial person, a corporate avatar.
➤ It can create plans for pension, disability, hospitalization and death benefits for officers and employees — white collar welfare for civil engineering types with master’s degrees and doctorates. Such streams of revenue are called a sinecure, a legacy benefit such as those that saddled U.S. automakers that collapsed.
➤ The agency has no power to levy a tax, but it has control over fees, rates and other charges “not inconsistent with the rights of the holders of its bonds.” It has power to charge money to cover expenses and obligations to bondholders. Theoretically, in a bankruptcy, the board could propose confiscatory levies to repay corporate lenders and members of the public who bought its IOUs on the municipal bond market.
➤ Officials decide their own pay. According to industry standards, let’s hope.
➤ The agency will be a free spirit. It has liberty “to enter any lands, waters or premises that, in the judgment of the authority, may be necessary for the purpose of making surveys, sounds, borings and examinations to accomplish any purpose *** , the authority to be liable for actual damage done.”
➤ Here’s the biggest suction cup of all. The agency will “adopt regulations by majority vote of the board.” Yes, we have one more power created to establish the finest and best material the democratic West provides — legalese, subparagraph (b)(12)s and garden-variety regulation. Pages and pages of it, to cover the authority’s dominions, from edge to glimmering edge, across one or more state lines.
What might we do?
Two naysayers on the Chattanooga city council voted to oppose — Pam Ladd and Deborah Scott. Mrs. Scott says the regional authority is being erected apart from involvement with “other stakeholders.”
Mrs. Scott nails the problem. How can the city council of Chattanooga, a municipal corporation that is creature of the Tennessee General Assembly, establish an authority to tell people in Alabama and Georgia what do to?
Tennessee’s laws do not have projectory power. I’m trying to say that Tennessee does not have the power to project its authority across the state line through one of its agencies. Tennessee per se and its agents may enter contracts with foreign entities. But where does the legislature obtain authority to operate in an alien place such as Bridgeport, Ala.?
I am not sure what we commoners can do. If you have any ideas, please advise. I suspect Andy Berke, the leading mayoral candidate, is not averse to the ambitious proposal.
The authority looks like a trial balloon or case study for regional government such as that envisioned by the 16-county Thrive 1055 scheme that impresses so many of us.
Regionalism works if legislators muzzy up the map. Regionalism works if state lines and state “sovereignty” are ignored as antiquated concepts. Regionalism works if its genetically altered offspring are gawky, bizarre creatures with weird powers whose glories as corporate creatures are promised to be of perpetual succession.
Regionalism works we care nothing for our identity as Chattanoogans and local economy.
— David Tulis runs Nooganomics.com, a talk show 1-3 p.m. weekdays at 1240 AM Copperhead radio. He covers local economy and free markets in Chattanooga and beyond.
Chattanoogan.com, “City Council Votes 7-2 To Approve Consultant Help For Launching Moccasin Bend Clean Water Authority,” Feb. 6, 2013
Cliff Hightower, “Consultant OK’d for cleanwater plan,” Chattanooga Times Free Press, B1, Feb. 6, 2013
TCA 68-221-1307. Power of authority — prohibited actions — county growth plans
Todd Gardenhire, Tennessee Senate bill 480