By: Robin Ford Wallace, Reporter
Townsend were the type of guy who wore sweatshirts, his would probably have a
big D across the front for Dade County. His late father, J.M.C. “Red” Townsend,
was as close to being Dade’s patron saint as is feasible in these secular
times, and after a lifetime in Atlanta the younger Townsend moved here himself
in 2000 with a sense of coming home, telling the Sentinel in a 2010 interview,
“It’s great to be in the place where you belong to be.”
Which is why
the air seemed to crackle with irony on Friday as Townsend faced down the Dade
County Water Authority, threatening to sue.
“I’m not asking
for help. I’m asking for justice,” Townsend told the January meeting of the
Authority’s board of directors.
At issue is a
$1,434.10 water bill from April of 2011 that resulted from a leak. Both sides
agree that the leak was in a fitting on Town-send’s side of the meter, which
means it was his responsibility to maintain and his liability when it broke.
contends the leak had to have been present when a water company employee read
the meter shortly before he noticed it himself and had the faulty fitting
replaced, and he also questions the amount of water the meter registered during
the scant 11 days between the meter reading and the repair.
company has proposed splitting the bill with Townsend but he rejected the
offer. “I don’t feel like I’m half wrong,” he said.
counteroffer was $250, which he says is what it would cost him to file a civil
suit. “I just feel like it would be unfair for me to pay that, and I’d be
willing to go to court,” he told the water board, which is chaired by Dade
County Executive Ted Rumley.
But at the
Friday meeting, Rumley and the other board members seemed disinclined to back
down. “If you want to challenge us, we’ll go for it,” said Rumley.
By way of
background, Allen Townsend’s father, “Red” Townsend, was the influential judge
and Georgia politician who put “the Independent State of Dade” on the map in
1945 by engineering its official reentry into the United States – legend had it
Dade had never joined back up after the Civil War.
But in a burst
of patriotism at the end of World War II, return Dade did, amid as much fanfare
as the well-connected elder Townsend could muster. Bands played, the judge
spoke stirringly, and citizens gave a resounding aye vote to repatriation in
front of the courthouse. The whole show was broadcast nationally via radio, and
President Harry S. Truman even sent a telegram welcoming Dade home.
substantively, Red Townsend had just five years before that pulled strings to
get the Ed Rivers Memorial Highway – later called Highway 136 – built over
Lookout Mountain, thus connecting Dade with the rest of Georgia in a less
splashy but more solid and geographical sense.
one of the judge’s two sons, grew up mostly in Atlanta, where his father served
on the Georgia Court of Appeals.
But it had
always been impressed upon the younger Townsend that Dade was his own and
native land. He registered for the draft
here, returned here to vote, and in 2000 finally gave in to the call of home
and moved to Wildwood for good.
became an attorney like his father, did not give up his legal career when he
moved to Dade but can still be seen from time to time plying his trade in the
local courts – and his appearance before the water board Friday morning was
distinctly lawyerly as he passed around photographs and presented the cracked
pipe fitting as evidence.
the water board that when his meter was read on March 21, 2011, the reading
already showed twice the amount of water usage as was normal for his
Then, on April
1, he happened to glance at the meter while on an unrelated home maintenance
chore nearby, said Townsend. “I noticed that water was seeping out from under
the lid of the bucket that holds the meter,” he said. “I knew immediately that
there was a leak somewhere down there.”
When he lifted
the lid, water was swirling around, obscuring the meter, he said. He called the
water company, the water was cut off, and Townsend found a plumber to locate
the leak and fix it that same evening.
the board that, given the already double meter reading on March 21, plus the
dramatic appearance of the meter when he looked at it himself, it should have
been apparent to the water company employee that something was wrong. “The
fellow that read it should have reported it was leaking,” he said.
questioned how between then and April 1, when the water was cut off, the tiny
crack in his fitting could have leaked enough water to fill three swimming
pools. “I don’t believe there was 380,000 gallons that leaked in 11 days,” he
said. “That’s just an awful lot of water.”
wondered about the significance of the brand-new meter installed at his house
on April 9, shortly after he met with water company manager Doug Anderton. “It
seemed an unusual coincidence to me,” he said.
But water board
members told Townsend they did not see how they could vary their rules in his
case. “I want to treat everybody in the county fairly, be it you or somebody in
a trailer on the side of Sand Mountain that can’t pay the bill,” said member
the water board’s offer to pay half was more than fair. “I think the just
result is you pay it all,” he said. “I’m not an attorney, but I think it’s more
a policy of kindness.”
consulting engineer, Bobby Nolen, said he would do a calculation when he got
back to his office, but that the leak amounted to a not-untoward 20 gallons a
doubted whether the old meter had much to do with the swollen bill. “Typically,
when a meter goes bad, it under-registers,” he said.
The water board
was not without legal representation of its own, if only unofficially: Member
Dennis Watson is also an attorney. He told Townsend there was no implication
that he had done anything wrong, but: “The issue is, who’s got to pay for it,”
he said. “The valve busted on your side of the water meter.”
manager Anderton was not present Friday but his office manager, Sherri Walker,
said that historically other water customers have been in the same boat as
Townsend, some to the tune of several thousand dollars, and have taken
advantage of the utility’s policy of splitting the bill.
Ted Rumley said
he would arrange an interview with the meter reader, and that the matter would
be further discussed this week.