Making water services great again

Robert Steinbuch
Robert Steinbuch

Greater Little Rock has one public utility for clean water entering homes, Central Arkansas Water (CAW), and another for the dirty water leaving, Little Rock Reclamation (wastewater) Authority--even though they send one bill for both services.

Both entities have oversight boards, CEOs, and a variety of bureaucrats. The annual salary for the CEO of the wastewater utility: $265,491, with a car allowance of an additional $800/month. The CEO of CAW: $245,617, with a car allowance of $600/month. Even without their car allowances, they are the first and third highest-paid city employees.

Why do government bureaucrats need car allowances? We all drive to work. Nobody gives us cars.

Since neither CEO is an engineer--no less a civil engineer (the specialization covering water systems)--neither drives to inspect water-treatment operations. (Are they having water-treatment community-outreach meetings? Is that a thing?)

Beyond the CEOs, neither board has a civil engineer. CAW's board has one member with an electrical-engineering degree and another in industrial engineering. And the wastewater utility's board just appointed someone with an industrial-engineering degree. But none of these individuals with inapposite engineering degrees is a Professional Engineer--the legal status required for engaging in engineering services--nor employed as an engineer.

I wonder what the board members with industrial-engineering degrees--which emphasize eliminating wastefulness--would say about having two largely mimetic entities.

It's time to combine water companies, resulting in only one CEO, only one oversight board, and--critically--only one bureaucracy (the size of one of the current entities).

I'm not suggesting, however, that we put the current CEO of either entity in charge.

You likely recall my recent reporting regarding the diversity, equity, and inclusion indoctrination infrastructure at CAW, which was renamed the Justice, Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion (JEDI) Team.

CAW's infusion of partisan political doctrine was explicit: "The JEDI Team will work closely with the Special Adviser to [the] CEO on Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Engagement, and the team's facilitator to ensure that JEDI principles are embedded throughout" the utility.

Once so "embedded," this leftist cabal--under the leadership of CEO Tad Bohannon--used public resources to spread their personal progressive preferences by sending the following to all employees: "If you feel this bill [to end affirmative action] does not meet with your values and the standards we ascribe to, please join JEDI as we flood Representatives with calls and emails, telling them to VOTE NO." (Flood? Really?)

When this politicking was exposed, Bohannon told CAW's board that he and two "inclusion" managers were unaware of the email before it went out.

However, Bohannon's bromides to the board betrayed this: He omitted that one of his indoctrination--eh, inclusion--managers wrote the sender of the offending email, upon its receipt, "Excellent Email! Thanks for sending this out to everyone! Good Job!"

So in reality, the manager who didn't know about the email before it was sent--because the JEDI Team members were largely unsupervised padawans--then applauded the conduct immediately thereafter. (That's worse!)

CAW's freewheeling use of public funds doesn't end there: CAW's board approved spending up to $125,000 for Bohannon to get an MBA in Great Britain. And Bohannon similarly approved CAW spending nearly $60,000 for a media specialist to get a master's in public affairs from a school in New York. (UA-Little Rock very ably offers both degrees in, well, Little Rock--the location of Central Arkansas Water. The total cost of UA-Little Rock's MPA--$11,520.)

Here's an idea: To the extent that government decides to pay employees' tuition bills--a dubious notion to begin with--they must be from an Arkansas school. Coastal elites' insults aside, Arkansas actually has good higher education. And if employees want degrees from higher-ranked fancier out-of-state (or country) schools, they can pay for it on their own.

Sadly, in this environment of irresponsible spending, CAW's board just approved doubling our water rates over the next 10 years.

Creating one water entity headed by a civil engineer, with a single board of qualified experts, and a reduced bureaucracy (with their degrees paid for by the individuals themselves) will provide significant savings to Arkansans.

Sen. Mark Johnson had a similar cost-saving idea this legislative session. He proposed combining several administrative functions at Arkansas' two law schools. (Administrators are the largest growth area in higher education.) He brought in to testify before the Legislature an absolute authority on law-school accreditation--law professor, Rick Peltz-Steele.

In response, the university proffered two witnesses to oppose the bill. Neither ever worked at any law school or was directly involved in law-school accreditation. Their stated objection: "accreditation."

And immediately after the hearing, the current dean of the Bowen Law School emailed Peltz-Steele: "I don't understand why you are supporting SB 370. Please explain this to me." (That's the email's entire text, salutations aside.)

Change is hard.

This is your right to know.

Robert Steinbuch, professor of law at the Bowen Law School, is a Fulbright Scholar and author of the treatise "The Arkansas Freedom of Information Act." His views do not necessarily reflect those of his employer.

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