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Official hit with ethics violations

GREENSBORO – A member of the Hale County Water Authority board of directors has been ordered to repay funds he received as compensation as acting director of the water system.

The move came after the Alabama Ethics Commission decided Rev. Robert Shepherd was guilty of “10 minor violations of the ethics law,” said Hugh Evans, the commission’s general counsel.

Evans was unsure of the exact amount Sheppard agreed to repay, but said it was between $9,000 and $10,000.

“The allegations were that, as a member of the board, he was also receiving pay as an employee of the water authority,” Evans said. “As a member of the board, he cannot be an employee.”

Evans said Sheppard had performed the work as outlined by the board.

“He did the work, but he wasn’t legally able to be employed and serve on the board at the same time,” he said.

Board members are paid $200 for attending one meeting per month. The board’s chairman receives a $300 per month stipend.

In addition to repayment of the compensation, Evans said Sheppard could also face administrative fines from the commission of up to $1,000 per violation. That decision will come at the commission’s next meeting on Aug. 4.

Shepherd said the funds will be repaid by June 30. Each of the 10 violations, he said, was each time he received a paycheck.

“If it were something I was doing (intentionally), (the commission) would not have agreed to it handle it administratively. That’s why they agreed to minor violations – anything major that creates probable cause is criminal,” he said.

Shepherd stepped into the director’s role after Charles Jay, the system’s former director, resigned. Shepherd served in that capacity “for a couple of months,” Shepherd said.

Board chairman William Marks would comment on the case, referring calls to the board’s attorney Patrick Arrington.

Marks said as the new chairman, he knew of the issue but did not know the details surrounding the case.

Arrington said the board’s approval of the Shepherd as acting director was basically an honest mistake.

“It’s a procedural matter that has to be corrected so that mistake won’t happen again,” he said. “There was no intention of wrong doing by Mr Shepherd or any board member.”

“When the money was paid to Mr Shepherd everything was done thinking it was legitimate; it’s not like he stole any money – he was compensated for doing a job and he couldn’t be an employee and member of the board,” Arrington said.

The water system has about 3,100 customers and 1,100 miles of pipe throughout Hale County, sells water to Linden and operates a couple of water wells near Gallion. In 2002, the authority awarded USFilter Operating Services, Inc., a $27 million contract to operate and manage its water treatment, distribution, meter reading, customer service and billing and collection systems. The 20-year public-private partnership is expected to generate more than $2.5 million in savings and solve the district’s high water loss rates.