Local News

Durham Leaders Question Response to Water, Waste Problems

Posted January 31, 2007 6:00 p.m. EST
Updated January 31, 2007 6:48 p.m. EST

Durham Skyline
In recent months, Durham’s waste and water services have fallen out of compliance with state regulatory agencies. Now, some people are expressing concern that not enough is being done at the top to address the problems.

In September, a massive yard waste fire cost the city $300,000 to clean up. A subsequent investigation showed the dump had been operating without a license. This week, the city's water failed to meet federal health standards after city employees failed to turn in all tests the state requires.

“We've got to turn this ship around,” said Durham Councilman Eugene Brown. “We're a $300 million public corporation and our citizens deserve better than this.”

Brown said he blames the problems on various city employees. However, he said city manager Patrick Baker needs to step up to the plate.

“He's the one who need to lead us and needs a better staff behind him,” Brown said.

Baker said he was up front about both incidents.

“I knew what I was getting into when I took this job and I don't have a problem with that,” Baker said. If there's a problem on my watch, I'll fix it.”

After the yard waste fire, Baker made major personnel shifts, although no one lost their job. He said he will also review the water situation to see if changes need to be made there.

Mayor Bill Bell said he has confidence in Baker, but believes the city should have acted more quickly when it came to damage control.

“I've said to the manager, ‘If we've screwed up, say we've screwed up and then move about the business of cleaning it up,’” Bell said.

Baker said that's what he's doing, and he hopes to do an citywide audit to determine which departments are in line with state regulators.

Other Council members told WRAL they don't believe the problems involving the yard waste fire and the water are systematic. Instead, they call it an unfortunate coincidence that they happened within months of each other.