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Regional council stumbles in bid for more water, transit oversight

By Jeffrey A. Johnson

Publication: The Day

Published March 22. 2012 4:00AM

Norwich - Some members of the region's council of governments said Wednesday that the council had made mistakes in the way it approached two legislative proposals to get more control over regional transit and water supply issues.

The proposals, met with criticism when unveiled in January, were designed to give the council a greater role in the Southeastern Connecticut Water Authority and Southeast Area Transit.

The water authority proposal has been pulled - at the council's request - from consideration during the current session of the General Assembly. The SEAT legislation has yet to make it out of the Joint Committee on Transportation.

"It left a very distinct bad taste, which didn't work well for us," council Chairman Daniel Steward said at Wednesday's council meeting. "This is the first time we've tried this. Obviously, there were some foibles in this process. We need to figure out a way to do this better."

Critics of the legislation were irritated that the council gave both agencies only a day's notice before voting to accept the proposals.

The water authority's chairman and members of SEAT's board of directors also have voiced concern about the proposed council involvement. The council is made up of chief elected and appointed officials from 20 towns who collaborate on regional projects.

The council had argued that its involvement would strengthen and improve both agencies.

"We've been talking about the (water authority) issue in particular for a number of years," Sprague First Selectman Cathy Osten said. "It can't come as a surprise to any member of (the authority) that we have an issue here."

The water authority serves about 10,000 people in parts of Ledyard, Montville, North Stonington and Stonington. SEAT provides bus service to nine towns in the region.

Under the SEAT proposal, the council would add three members to the transit district's board.

The council also would get authority to approve the appointment of the SEAT general manger, ratify any contract in excess of $100,000 and select a certified public accountant to conduct an annual audit.

The water authority proposal called for the council to assume the responsibilities of the authority's Representative Advisory Board. The council also had been seeking power to approve the appointment of the chief executive officer and any contract for professional services in excess of $100,000. It also had sought to review the authority's financial condition on a quarterly basis.

East Lyme First Selectman Paul Formica stressed that he'll continue to push for the council to take a leadership role to improve the water authority's effectiveness.

Formica criticized the authority for failing to implement a regional planning network for water issues.

"The fact of the matter is that discussion needs to lead to change," Formica said. "We are interested in the exponential growth of (both organizations). They both are critical."

jeff.johnson@theday.com

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