Chattanooga City Council members deferred a resolution Tuesday that would have entered the city into a $100,000 agreement with a Colorado-based wet infrastructure company.
The resolution, added to the council's agenda late by Mayor Ron Littlefield, would have bound the city to MWH Americas Inc., a global company with a host of federal clients. The company was one of several to submit a proposal to a recent request for expressions of interest (REI) to take on the formation of a new water and wastewater treatment authority.
Last week, the council voted to approve the formation of the entity, named the Moccasin Bend Clean Water Authority.
On Tuesday, Littlefield told the group during their afternoon agenda session that his intent was twofold—to address long-standing issues regarding the city's handling of the surrounding watershed and to lay groundwork for soon-to-be-elected city officials for what could become a yearslong undertaking.
"I'm trying to leave the next mayor and the next City Council the best tools to deal with the issue moving forward," Littlefield said.
The mayor also revealed his nominations for a five-member board, which would oversee the authority in its initial stages.
Nominees included Phil Ball of the Chattanooga Regional Manufacturers Association, Mark Blazek of the Chattanooga Association of Realtors, Maria Noel of the Chattanooga Area Chamber of Commerce, Don Moon of the Homebuilders Association of Southeast Tennessee and Bruce Case of the Association of General Contractors of East Tennessee.
"These are the kinds of individuals who can take us to the next level in dealing with these issues," he said.
In the past, Littlefield has compared the proposed entity's structure to local corporate "umbrella" entities such as the Electric Power Board and the Chattanooga Airport Authority. If approved, the mayor suggested the work tasked to the entity would total more than $300 million, including its participation in addressing a recent $250 million federal consent decree entered into by the city in order to repair its aging sewer system.
"This is not a small operation," he said.
The mayor added his opinion that the $100,000 agreement with MWH would be "infinitesimal" compared to larger projects.
Still, council members objected to approving the measure.
During their regular meeting, Councilwoman Deborah Scott read a prepared statement describing costs associated with Littlefield's plan as "doublespeak," suggesting that the mayor was taking on too many water-related projects at once.
"It's hard to trust individuals over a sewer system that has seen so many failures," Scott said. "My-way-or-the-highway diplomacy really doesn't have a track record of working well. Why should the very same administration take the wheel and lead us to the next big step? The current mayor and his administration should not have their hands in this process."
Scott, who is not seeking re-election, motioned to table the resolution four months—well past the March 5 election day and the expiration of Littlefield's second and final term as mayor.
But her proposal was never voted upon, as Councilman Andraé McGary preceded her motion with a separate motion to defer the resolution one week. The council voted 8-1 to study the proposal and bring it forward for discussion again next week.
Scott cast the lone no vote.
Before the roll call, Councilman Jack Benson praised Littlefield's plan and encouraged his fellow members to support it. Benson said he "could not disagree more" with Scott.
"What's passed is prologue, and I think it's a shame if we don't take advantage of this administration," Benson said, referencing Littlefield's years in city government. "Whether you like [Littlefield] or not, he's the best-prepared as it relates to water."