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Fayette disciplines 5 water employees

Five employees of the Fayette County Water System have been disciplined following two independent reports of basic operational problems at the county’s two water treatment plants.

County Manager Steve Rapson, who handed down the discipline Friday, said each of the employees were receiving suspensions without pay, pay classification and title changes, varying performance improvement plans, and each would be subject to a probationary period. Names were not released pending a period of five days in which the employees could file appeals.

“We need to work to earn the public confidence lost over these past few months,” Rapson said.

Rapson noted that none of the water problems experienced earlier this year made the water unsafe to drink. But starting in May, problems literally left a bad taste in people’s mouths as taste and odor problems dragged on for several weeks.

A consultant who helped ameliorate the taste and odor issue determined that significant problems with operations at the Crosstown Water Treatment Plant in Peachtree City were to blame. In a separate report documenting a review of the water treatment plants following the taste and odor problems, the Georgia Environmental Protection Division cited the water system for violating 10 Georgia safe drinking water rules and listed 147 deficiencies in the system that needed to be addressed.

The EPD report also recommended that five water system employees, including water system director Tony Parrott, be investigated to determine if they “practiced fraud or deception,” or instead were “incompetent or unable to perform their duties properly.”

Faulty plant operations were also at the heart of an episode with high manganese levels in raw water that forced the shutdown of the Crosstown and South Fayette water plants, according to the consultant’s report July 25. That report cited improper lab testing, use of the wrong intake gate to draw water from Lake Horton and a failure of an automatic switchover machine that caused chlorine levels to drop at the Crosstown plant, which should have been detected by the overnight plant operator.

Rapson’s discipline includes requirements for “senior management” to prepare a corrective plan to address the findings of the EPD sanitary survey. Also, senior water system management must also prepare:

• A comprehensive capital improvement plan for the system;

• An update to standard operating procedures;

• A comprehensive communication improvement plan; and

• A customer service improvement plan.

“I think the steps I took today will get us heading in the right direction and install a sense of accountability,” Rapson said. “So these folks will either follow the directions I have provided, or we’ll go to step number two.”

Any further action if necessary could include additional discipline “up to termination,” Rapson said.

Rapson would not release the names nor details of the discipline, saying he wanted to allow the disciplined employee five days to file an appeal as allowed by county policy. Rapson committed that he would release a host of related documents relating to the dismissals which have been requested by The Citizen under the Georgia Open Records Act.

Under that law, the county is allowed to wait up to 10 days after the conclusion or termination of the investigation to release the records.

“I think when you actually get that document that the employees signed today, it will be very clear in that document what the consequences are not to comply,” Rapson said. “... This is all stuff we’re talking about how we can do better, and not only do better but we want to be recognized as one of the superior water systems in the state. I’m saying we can do better, our residents expect better, and I think I have charged this department to move in a direction that will put us in that superior mode.”

The county is also proceeding with sorting through bids to select an “engineer of record” for the water system with the chance of a staff recommendation for action by the county commission sometime in September, Rapson said in the news release.

If any of the employees choose to appeal the discipline handed down by Rapson, three county department heads will be appointed to a panel to hear the appeal, Rapson said. The employee will get to choose one of the panel members, Rapson will get to choose one, and then those two appointed panelists will get to choose the third appeals panel member, Rapson explained.

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