Gaffney retained: City parts waters for RWSA helmsman
Despite the controversy and cost overruns that erupted on his watch, incumbent Michael Gaffney appears to have won a clear path to a fourth term as chair of the Rivanna Water & Sewer Authority thanks to a vote by City Council Monday, December 15. However, in making the appointment, the City announced its intention to add two new members to Gaffney's embattled board.
"I really don't see how that's going to solve the problem," said a disappointed Kevin Lynch, a former City Councilor unswayed by the effort to pad the board with an additional representative from the City and from the County.
"It's clear to the public that the board needs new leadership, but it's not clear to the elected officials," said Lynch.
Gaffney's administration has come under fire this year for tossing out an earlier water plan in favor of one designed by a Pennsyvania-based firm called Gannett Fleming which won infamy for portraying dredging the community's key existing reservoir as onerous–- and then winning a $3.1 million contract to design a dam that can't fill without an uphill pipeline. In September, Gaffney revealed that the dam cost had doubled, but a Hook analysis revealed that it might actually have tripled.
Perhaps worried about adding another rebuke and aware that the County holds veto power over its decision, the Council was unanimous Monday in its endorsement of Gaffney, an award-winning home builder.
"I think he's an honest individual, and I think he will act in the best interests of the city and the county," said City Councilor Julian Taliaferro.
"We were mightily impressed with Mr. Gaffney's work to bring us all together on the solid waste agreement," said Mayor and City Councilor Dave Norris.
"I predicted that," said North Downtown neighborhood association president Colette Hall, who, attending the week-earlier interviews, expressed concern that Gaffney was portraying himself as overly heroic for getting the Ivy Landfill converted into a mere trash transfer center.
In addition to winning a fourth two-year term of the Water Authority, Gaffney also gains a fourth term heading the Rivanna Solid Waste Authority.
Other applicants included Gaffney's predecessor, Rich Collins, a UVA environmental negotiator who said last week that he was stunned to learn that Gaffney took office talking about fighting a "hidden agenda," a dig Collins believes was directed at him, and an allegation which Collins denies.
Another candidate was a 32-year old civil engineer named Alex Foraste. A former Peace Corps volunteer specializing in water and sanitation practices in the African nation of Cameroon, Foraste now works for the firm of McKee Carson.
Another candidacy belonged to Michel "Mike" Van Yahres, son of the late City Councilor and state Delegate Mitchell Van Yahres. Stressing his "strong technical background" in ecology and natural resources, Van Yahres, a tree surgeon, told City Council during his interview that he might press for new conservation measures–- including regulations.
With a County government and Chamber of Commerce aligned behind building additional water bodies, particularly after the drought of 2002, a candidate like retired construction executive Donald E. Sours Sr., who complained during his interview that the water supply decision has "dragged on and on," might have made a lot of sense.
Another candidate was tax accountant Mary Huey, who remarked that leaders, particularly in times of economic crisis, should "not be afraid to re«valuate." A final candidate interviewed December 9, Bruce Sherman, focused on the merits of composting toilets and suggested that he wouldn't be the right person "unless you want actual demolition of the Authority."
Mayor Norris said the Council hoped to pass a resolution in January authorizing the additional members of the Authority board.
In a related action, the Council flexed a little muscle toward its County counterparts Monday by passing an amended memorandum of understanding reflecting a question City Councilor Satyendra Huja posed after the City Attorney elucidated an array of facts in the City's legal favor, including ownership of all the reservoirs and the land around them.
"So what you're saying," asked Huja, "is that no one can build a dam without our permission?"
–last updated 9:20am, December 16