Turning a page at SPSA

Published 9:17 pm Saturday, April 18, 2009

This Wednesday’s meeting of the Southeastern Public Service Authority’s Board of Directors, set to focus on a plan to bail out the financially troubled regional waste organization, will be remarkable in one big fashion: It will be the first of the board’s regular meetings since the governor signed legislation that eventually will dissolve it and replace it with another.

By signing the bill into law at the end of March, Kaine ensured that SPSA’s leadership — and many of its operating policies — will change by the end of the year. With more than $250 million in debt already on the books and little confidence among area taxpayers that the organization can manage that debt, the change can’t come too soon.

Various state and media reports through the year have condemned SPSA for mismanaging money, for an investment strategy focused on the short-term savings at the expense of future taxpayers and for poor decision-making. But with bylaws that required the authority’s board to be composed of one representative from each of the eight member localities’ city councils or boards of supervisors, much of the problem was self-inflicted. Such a scheme was guaranteed to put people with little or no experience in waste management — or even, in some cases, business leadership — into policy-making positions at SPSA.

Email newsletter signup

The new plan calls on member localities to identify three potential candidates each for membership on the authority’s governing board. The governor will then choose one member from each community. Theoretically, at least, SPSA’s member communities will find people to recommend who have pertinent experience in business and finance, and the governor will mold a board of directors with the variety of experience necessary to guide such a huge and diverse organization.

Clearly, the process is at risk of political influence when it reaches the governor’s office. But careful consideration by each participating community of the candidates to be set before the governor will help reduce the risk of any potential political shenanigans.

The reorganizing legislation had been a compromise for state legislators who actually had hoped to deal SPSA a death blow on the floor of the General Assembly this year. Instead, what came out of Richmond could well turn out to provide the rejuvenation and inspiration needed to give the authority a new and productive life.