FRIARS POINT — Mayor James Washington believes the town of Friars Point should run its own gas system and brought the matter before the city council during the October meeting.
The town ran its own gas system during Washington’s previous tenure as mayor. He lost his bid for reelection to Catherine Miller in 2013.
The council voted to have Atmos Energy run the gas system during Miller’s term in office. Atmos Energy currently runs the gas system.
Washington defeated Miller in the 2017 election to become mayor once again. Now, he is looking to change things back to the way they once were.
“They got rid of the gas system and we didn’t know anything as to why,” Washington said.
“The town, prior to them getting rid of it, owned that gas system. They didn’t owe anybody anything. It was a source of revenue for the town. If I was in there, there was no way in the world I would have gotten rid of it.”
Washington said Texas Gas Service transported the gas to the town during his previous tenure as mayor. He is looking to go back to the way things were for financial reasons.
“It took better than almost half of the budget, revenue that was coming in for the town,” Washington said. “Anytime the budget is not coming in, you’re not going to get the resources.
“We didn’t have that revenue because of that. There are several things that I would have liked to have done.”
Washington said with more funds, he would have upgraded equipment for adequate services and in past he could go into the reserves for money set aside for that purpose. Instead, he said the town must apply for grants for better equipment.
Miller said Atmos Energy running the gas service helped lower customer bills from $200 to $300 a month to around $50 a month.
“If that would happen, that would be a devastating situation for the system,” said Miller on the possibility of having Friars Point run its own gas system.
Miller said, when Friars Point ran its own gas system, it has no insurance. If anything happened, she said she and the council members would have been liable.
“You shouldn’t be able to operate without any insurance,” Miller said.
Miller said, after the change, Friars Point residents were telling her having Atmos Energy run the gas system was the best thing that could happen. She added, prior to the change, the town had more than $400,000 of uncollectable gas bills.
“We were going nowhere,” Miller said. “No major repairs had been made during that time. We constantly had leaks.”
Miller said there was not qualified staff in Friars Point to maintain the gas system.
“ATMOS came out and spent, I’m sure millions of dollars,” said Miller, adding there were leaks throughout town and repairs needed prior to Atmos Energy taking over.
Washington said changing the gas system for Friars Point to run things would be on the agenda for the November city council meeting. In the event of a tie, the mayor is able to vote. He said, if he gets a vote, he would support making the change.
Miller said she would be present at the November city council meeting.
Both Washington and Miller took issue with the way the other one operated as mayor.
“I’m not pointing the finger at anybody, but at the same time, if you don’t know, you need to ask somebody,” Washington said. “I don’t think that board that served under the past mayor really helped in that sense.”
Washington said many public officials run for office for the stipend they receive and vote based on friendship and kinship and are not qualified to make rational decisions. He said he tries all citizens whether they are white or black.
He said not serving everyone has crippled many small communities, not just Friars Point.
“I have known her (Miller) a long time,” Washington said. “She is a real sweet person and she is going to do her best to try to do what is right, but sometimes, if you go into a new situation, you’ve got to have somebody around you who knows where you’re going. When you have a board that doesn’t know anything one way or another, you’ve got a problem. I’ve learned to stay on my knees all this time is pray and prayer changes things.”
Miller saw things differently.
“The mayor is looking at dollars,” Miller said. “He is not looking at the safety of this community. We could have been blown up.”
Miller said the attorney at the time and Public Service Commission reviewed the options before the switch was made to Atmos.
“The system should have been shut down,” said Miller reflecting on the town running its own gas system. “It was deplorable.”
Miller went on to praise the previous city council during her tenure.
“The board that I had, that was the best working board that I had,” Miller said.
Miller said Washington dictates everything to the current city council even though it is a weak mayor system and the board is supposed to run the town.
Miller said while she was city clerk while Washington was mayor, she took care of day-to-day operations.
“I actually ran the town when he was away because he was never there,” Miller said. “He was running the school system.”
Washington declared earlier in the year he will run for reelection in 2021. Now, Miller declared she is likely to run for mayor next year.
“I have said that I might not run, but with this I probably will,” Miller said. “Our town is going through hell. It’s deplorable. It’s dirty.”