The Reading City Council came to a decision Tuesday night on the controversial issue of the dissolution of the Reading Area Water Authority (RAWA).
With a vote of 5 to 2, the council approved a bill to terminate the water lease with RAWA, dissolving RAWA and requiring the resignation of its board members.
The bill was originally introduced at the council meeting on April 28, and was amended to include the resignation requirement Tuesday evening before being submitted to a vote.
While the Reading Area Water Authority and its board will be dissolved, all other existing water authority contracts will remain in place.
The announcement of this consideration was met with heated debate among city council members and Mayor Vaughan Spencer, as well as an overwhelmingly negative response from city residents.
The city council and RAWA met on several occasions to discuss the future of the board.
On Monday, the day before the vote, RAWA made one final offer of an amendment to its existing lease and operating agreement for a short term lease extension of two years, committing to funding of $10 million a year for that time period and acknowledging that the city would retain its “take back rights.”
Ernest Schlegel, attending the meeting on behalf of RAWA's board of directors, indicated that RAWA and the city council had been able to work together in the past, but that he was unhappy with the negotiations on this issue.
"We have fought many battles much harder than this together, yet we want to take our toys and go home. I'm disappointed. I'm disappointed in all of you," Schlegel said.
Despite negotiations, the majority of the council members felt that the city had lost control and oversight of its most valuable asset.
"[The city council] are the financial watchdogs for the city," said Councilman Jeffrey S. Waldman Sr. "If we feel that we need some better control and oversight, it is certainly our prerogative to do that. Our goal in the long term is to get stronger control over this very valuable asset."
Councilwoman Marcia Goodman-Hinnershitz agreed.
"We need to reform the system," she said. "I think to reform the system we need to reform the water authority."
She went on to explain that the change was not about money.
"I feel that I have to protect this public asset. It has nothing to do with request for proposal," Goodman-Hinnershitz said.
Not all council members agreed with the vote.
Councilman Christopher Daubert indicated that he would not be voting for the bill.
"There’s just too many questions that … I just don’t have satisfactory answers on yet," he said.
Spencer has also publicly voiced his opinions against the dissolution. He spoke Wednesday night to the concerns that the water authority board was seizing control of the water system.
"The comments of better control of the asset, I don’t know what you mean by that when the governing board are the ones that make the decisions. Those people that serve on the board were appointed and approved by council," the mayor said.
The final motion was made by Goodman-Hinnerschitz and seconded by Councilwoman Donna Reed.
The board faces a number of decisions in the coming weeks. It must discuss a request for proposal process to find a new lease holder for the water authority, as well as the appointment of a new board, among many other changes.