Vote scheduled to elect new Arnold Line board

By HASKEL BURNS,

The troubles are continuing for Arnold Line Water Association in Hattiesburg, as members of the association recently signed a petition to hold an upcoming vote to remove and elect a new board of directors for the utility after a steady stream of customer complaints and rule violations over the last year and a half.

The petition was signed at a public hearing last week held by Sam Britton, Southern District Commissioner for the Mississippi Public Service Commission, during which association members discussed concerns about Arnold Line. Daniel Forde, director of public affairs for Britton’s office, said an upcoming meeting will be held in which the majority of Arnold Line members in attendance would have to vote to remove the association’s nine board members.

A date for the vote has not been set.

“That meeting will be for Arnold Line and its members – it won’t be a Public Service Commission proceeding,” Forde said. “It’ll strictly be the organization itself and its members.”

In October 2016, the commission opened a case regarding Arnold Line, citing compliance issues with the association’s rules and regulations. In particular, it was discovered that Arnold Line officials were requiring bills or account numbers in order to make payment, a policy that is prohibited by state law.

The association eventually agreed to comply with an order by Britton to change its rules and regulations to better serve customers, but the case was reopened after the commission received 38 informal complaints since June 2017 stating Arnold Line was still requiring the bills or account numbers. In a Final Order issued by the commission, Arnold Line was told to delete from its service rules the requirement that a customer must provide a bill or account number in order to make payment.

Further, Arnold Line was ordered to remove any signage from any location that stated that a customer must have a bill or account number in order to make payment. In July, the Mississippi Rural Water Association asked to be allowed to intervene and participate in the latest re-opening of the case against Arnold Line, requesting “all rights of an interested party to fully set forth its position and rights, and to have the opportunity to fully participate in discovery and all hearings.”

A recent string of customer complaints warranted further investigation by the commission, which led to last week’s hearing.

Because Arnold Line is a member-owned utility, its more than 2,200 customers have the right under the Mississippi Non-Profit Act to vote to remove the association’s board of directors.

“There are over 150 water associations in the Southern District,” Britton said in a statement. “When Arnold Line, one water association out of 150, receives nearly one-third of all complaints, then there is a problem.

“The members are the owners of Arnold Line Water Association. If the members are not satisfied with the operation of Arnold Line, they can change it.”

Arnold Line president C.R. Dixon did not return calls for comment.