By Maralisa Marra
Following a meeting with city officials, Ferguson Waterworks, the company contracted to install automatic water meter readers for Shinnston residents, said that some yards remain torn up because one crew is responsible for installation and one crew is responsible for yard repair.
City officials added that residents should call the City Building if their yards remain in disrepair, and city officials will put them in touch with Ferguson Waterworks, which is based out of Columbus, Ohio.
During the City Council meeting June 13, city officials said city workers have had to remedy installation problems that should be Ferguson’s responsibility, and that Ferguson workers are tearing up yards. Councilman Pat Kovalck had said city workers had to repair a leak at his residence.
In emails the following week, Ferguson Waterworks Public Relations Manager Peg Hall Williams said the company first learned of problems on June 15.
While she said the company looked forward to “open and transparent discussions,” she then added, in another email, that the company would be “happy to respond to your questions after that meeting when we have additional details.”
Meetings of governmental bodies, when a quorum is present and when they are deliberating toward official action on behalf of the public, are generally to be held openly in West Virginia, with certain exceptions.
On Thursday, June 30, city officials met with Ferguson Waterworks to discuss their complaints.
The Shinnston News attempted to cover the meeting. A Ferguson Waterworks representative immediately left after City Manager Chad Edwards introduced a reporter to those gathered around a table. “There’s a bunch of people involved now, and since we’re a big company, now we got to tell them what’s going on,” the representative, who did not identify himself, said.
Edwards noted, “It’s a little bit tense…”
Later, Edwards said the meeting went well, and that the Ferguson employee had not been authorized to speak to the media.
He said during the meeting, he served as a mediator while Ferguson employees spoke to city officials and workers.
“It was actually an OK meeting,” Edwards added. “We just hammered out some details, and I think we’re back on track.”
While city officials were concerned that city workers were being charged with the installation of meters, that is not occurring, according to Edwards. Instead, “our guys have actually been working on the leaks, not actually putting the meters in,” he said. He said if a line or valve breaks, city workers are to fix it.
He also said that there “wasn’t a whole lot of communication,” and the city and Ferguson are going to do a better job at that throughout the rest of the meter installation process.
“I have a much better feeling about things,” he said.
Edwards also said that if property is damaged, citizens can call the office at the City Building, and Ferguson’s number will be given to residents so they may speak directly with someone from the company.
Ferguson “has agreed to take all responsibility for anything that goes wrong while this is going on, and he’ll talk to them, and then that way people can tell Ferguson what happened, and they can deal with it directly,” Edwards said.
Ferguson has also offered to give the city weekly updates at the end of each week, so if there are any problems, they can be addressed within the week, according to Edwards.
In an email July 6, Ferguson Waterworks’ Public Relations Manager Peg Hall Williams said yards may remain torn up after installation because “Ferguson Waterworks mobilizes two crews for all meter replacement projects in process; one team goes to the meter and changes it out while the other team plants the grass and repairs the area around the meter. Several factors, such as weather and other working conditions, can impact the time between the first crew changing the meter and the second team getting behind it to repair yards. The City of Shinnston water meter replacement project is still in process. To date, we have installed 1,960 water meters out of 2,300.”
She added that, “During the meeting, the City Manager notified Ferguson Waterworks that one yard needed repair. We worked with the subcontractor and the yard is repaired. If any other matters arise, the subcontractor on the ground has agreed to notify all parties promptly. To ensure this happens, we are meeting regularly. Collectively, we feel we are on the right path to completion.”
Shinnston had previously agreed to media coverage of the meeting. City officials in West Virginia are also required to abide by state open meetings law.
Williams, in response to a question about why the meeting was closed, said, “This would be a question for someone at the City of Shinnston. Unfortunately, Ferguson Waterworks is unaware of what constitutes an open meeting for the City of Shinnston.”