Water chief Parrott takes demotion
Rapson: County making progress fixing failures cited by EPD
Long-time Fayette County Water System Director Tony Parrott has been demoted to the position of water treatment plant operator, county officials said in a news release Monday afternoon.
County Administrator Steve Rapson cited “inadequate performance of responsibilities as the water system director” in Parrott’s demotion letter, dated Sept. 9.
Rapson told The Citizen that Parrott was not moving quickly enough on items outlined in a performance improvement plan that was issued last month.
That improvement plan, along with a two-week suspension without pay, was part of discipline meted to Parrott in the wake of the taste and odor problems that lasted for several weeks in May and early June, and also a series of problems in July that led to the temporary closing of the county’s two water treatment plants in the same week.
The demotion is a significant hit to Parrott’s salary, which will drop from $118,444 a year to $56,467 a year.
Parrott also has been placed on a 90-day probationary period and the demotion is contingent upon him becoming certified as a Class I water treatment plant operator.
Rapson said he is aware that the public is interested in the viability of the water system.
“We are taking very aggressive steps in responding to this as quickly as we can,” Rapson said. “This is all about instilling a sense of confidence in our water system as well as Fayette County government, and we are trying to be as transparent as we can and as open as we can.”
The water system and Parrott have come under fire following a sanitary survey conducted by the Georgia Environmental Protection Division in June which listed 10 violations of Georgia’s safe drinking water rules and another 141 deficiencies in the system including equipment that needed to be repaired or replaced at both of the county’s water treatment plants.
EPD’s probe came following the weeks-long taste and odor problems experienced by water customers, which inconvenienced residents and forced restaurants to hand out bottled water in lieu of tap water.
Parrott ultimately admitted that he guessed at the cause of the foul water, which EPD later blamed on operations at the Crosstown Water Treatment Plant.
EPD has also recommended that Parrott and four other water system employees be investigated as to whether they “may have practiced fraud or deception,” or instead are “incompetent or unable to perform their duties properly.”
Rapson said he met last week with EPD officials about the violations and deficiencies on the sanitary survey, and that EPD agreed to push back the deadline for the county’s formal response to the sanitary survey findings from Sept. 9 to Sept. 12.
Following the EPD meeting, Rapson said he had a “detailed conversation” with Parrott Friday that led to the demotion decision Monday.
EPD since has been notified of Parrott’s demotion, Rapson said.
Rapson said the county has already addressed 25 percent of the deficiencies listed in the sanitary survey.
The county is on track to have 72 percent of the deficiencies corrected in three months and 81 percent will be corrected in six months, Rapson noted.
In Parrott’s absence, Rapson said the water system is technically under his direct supervision, though plant managers Bill Stevens and Tom Henninger are overseeing day-to-day operations and will consult him for anything they need.
The county is also working to pick a new third-party “engineer of record” for the water system and will be interviewing finalists Thursday and Friday. Rapson said. The plan is to have a recommendation for the county commission to consider at its Sept. 26 meeting.
“That engineer of record will oversee water system operations until we get a director,” Rapson said, adding that he hoped to post the vacant director’s position by the end of this week.
Rapson noted that the county would be filling one of two vacant water treatment plant operator positions with Parrott. The county employs 16 water plant operators with two on duty per 12-hour shift who report to the Operator Responsible in Charge (ORC) at each water treatment plant.
As a water treatment plant operator, Parrott will have no supervisory oversight or responsibility, Rapson said.
Parrott is 60 and while he is already eligible for benefits from the county’s retirement plan, he wishes to work another 10 years, Rapson said.
“With a 52.3 percent reduction in his salary, nobody can say I am giving him a pass,” Rapson added.