The Little Rock Sanitary Sewer Committee tonight came out of an executive session with three requests of Wastewater Utility CEO Reggie Corbitt: Do a better job communicating utility business to the committee, provide the committee with a job description and give the committee a firm timeline for when he plans to retire.
The meeting came after a subcommittee reported to the committee the results of its investigation into the awarding of $1,200 one-time "loyalty/longevity awards" to utility staff in December. The City Board of Directors passed a resolution in January expressing its disapproval of the "bonuses," coming as they did on the heels of the city's approval of a rate increase. The sewer committee was also unaware of the awards.
The committee voted to send a response to the resolution to the board that states that "it has never been LRW's practice or policy to request LRSSC's approval for compensation adjustments either during or after the budget approval process," that retaining an adequate and qualified staff was required to meet the utility's settlement with the Sierra Club, and that Corbitt did mention at a committee meeting in June 2012 that the utility was " 'looking at some type of a one-time compensation for our employees for the years '11 and '12, but we haven't finalized recommendations for that.' "
The executive staff of the utility had determined that it would not give the awards until the utility had a minimum fund balance of $3 million for operations. Corbitt said he didn't want to talk publicly about the possibility in case the fund balance wasn't reached.
No one took issue with the awards themselves. The utility has undergone austerity measures including eliminating or not funding 59 positions, giving no pay increases in 2011 and 2012 (and none will be given in 2013). And, after the awards were made, the budget was stilll $440,335 less than budgeted for payroll.
Former utility lawyer Don Hamilton spoke to the board before it discussed the awards, saying the LRW "was in shambles" when Corbitt arrived in 1984 and that under his leadership the utility has done an "excellent job." He said no disciplinary action regarding the awards was necessary; rather, he said, the committee should vote to "give a special thanks to Reggie."
Ken Griffey, the chair of the committee, said, "We all agree Reggie Corbitt has run a tight ship and has done a fine job." But, he added, "The issue at hand is transparency. This is more of an opportunity for us to hold ourselves to a higher standard. We are a public utility."
He said the board requested a firm date on Corbitt's retirement so that it could be ready to replace him when the time comes.