Center attorneys Mark Dorosin and Bethan Eynon with community leader Gloria Hill after the Northwest Water Supply Inc. annual members meeting.
In 2013, residents of rural Hoke County, North Carolina reached out to the Center for assistance in addressing their concerns about water quality, access to sewer service, and the administration of the local water utility, Northwest Water Supply, Inc. On Tuesday, January 21, 2014, following a series of meetings and energized grassroots organizing, the residents elected three dedicated community advocates to the nonprofit’s Board of Directors.
Northwest was established in 1968 as a nonprofit community-owned utility to provide water for the primarily African American Hoke County communities of Silver City, Queenmore, Cameron Heights, and Jones Hill. The program was part of the federal War on Poverty, and infrastructure was initially funded by federal Fair Housing Act and Office of Equal Opportunity grants. Northwest is a community-run membership organization, and its water customers elect the eight-member Board of Directors.
Dozens of customers raised questions about the Board’s administration of the organization, adherence to the organization’s bylaws, transparency of finances, customers’ access to monthly Board meetings, abnormally high billing and fees, and water quality and testing. Attempts to get the Board to address these issues or provide basic information were ignored or disregarded.
Additionally, customers expressed concerns about low attendance and voting at annual meetings. Each January, elections are held for two expired directors’ seats. An overwhelming majority of customers said that they never received notice of where the meetings would be held, how many or which directors would be up for re-election, and their right to vote for directors. The same person has served as board chair since Northwest was founded in 1968, and residents asserted that the board has been infected by favoritism, nepotism, and conflicts of interests.
In an effort to hold the board accountable to the customers, community leaders asked the Center to assist by researching Northwest’s legal obligations under the corporation’s bylaws and state statutes, as well as the process for electing the Board of Directors. This legal support and analysis aided residents’ organizing efforts and resulted in the election of three new board members, giving the proponents of accountability, transparency, and community engagement a majority.
Posted by Bethan R. Eynon on Tue. January 28, 2014 2:45 PM