Arnold Line members can sign new petition to change board of directors

By HASKEL BURNS,

After officials from Arnold Line Water Association claimed a member-signed petition to elect a new board of directors for the association was invalid, association members will now have the chance to sign a new petition to effect that change. 

The petition will be available from 4-6 p.m. Dec. 4 at Jackie Dole Sherrill Community Center, 220 West Front St. in downtown Hattiesburg, with Public Service Commissioner Sam Britton on hand to make sure the process goes smoothly. For those individuals who are unable to sign the petition at the community center, a copy will also be available to sign at the Public Service Commission's Hattiesburg office of 17 J.M. Tatum Industrial Drive.

Daniel Forde, spokesman for Britton's office, said the previous petition - which was presented at a public hearing in October, was claimed by Arnold Line officials to be invalid because certain requirements of the Mississippi Non-Profit Act were not met in the petition. To prevent that from happening again, names, addresses and account numbers will be available for members at the community center to ensure each signature is valid and the petition satisfies all state law requirements.

"The commission is going to ensure that this one is valid," Forde said. "From our standpoint, we want to make sure that the members have the petition, and make sure it's in compliance with state law."

If the petition is accepted, a vote will be scheduled in the near future to elect a new board of directors, in which the majority of Arnold Line members in attendance would have to vote to remove the association's nine board members.

The new petition is the latest action in a long line of troubles for Arnold Line, which has been fraught with customer complaints and rule violations over the last year and a half.
 
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 complainst 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 signange 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 the latest 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 and remove the association's board of directors.