LAUREL, Md. — The WSSC Water Commissioners voted 3-1 on July 20 with one abstention to reduce the powers of outgoing General Manager / CEO Carla Reid. According to the resolution language written by the Commission and read aloud by Reid in the meeting, she is “stripped of personnel decision power” over the 1,700 employee utility. That means she cannot hire or fire any management level positions, according to Commissioners.
In the July 20 meeting, Reid said this makes her a “figurehead” for the rest of her contract term ending at the end of 2022.
Reid is allowed by the Commission to approve contracts up to $1.2 million. The Commission unanimously voted June 15 in closed session to reduce Reid's contractual signing powers by 50% to 66% dependent on the contract type, according to Commissioners during the July 20 meeting. After hearing from WSSC Water Staff how keeping that reduction could create logistical problems for ongoing contracts, Commissioners amended their resolution, allowing Reid's contractual powers to remain.
Commissioners declined to say in the July 20 open session meeting why they decided to not renew Reid’s contract or why they reduced her powers, referring to it as a “transition.” WSSC Commission and management sources tell WUSA9 the Commission’s actions happened in large part to accusations made by WSSC Water management insiders in an exclusive WUSA9 story. Those accusations included mismanagement that focused on contract decisions made by Reid and claims by WUSA9 sources of “systemic failing” conditions with the customer billing system chosen by WSSC Water, internally known as “Project Cornerstone.”
Reid told Commissioners during the July 20 meeting that the Commission had received “baseless emails as part of a coordinated campaign to defame and demoralize WSSC staff.” Reid denied all accusations of mismanagement as “completely false.”
Commissioner Keith Bell raised questions during the July 20 meeting about how Project Cornerstone was chosen and the ongoing costs of upgrading the system. “Perhaps if we had chosen a customer system that was for a water utility company,” Bell told WSSC Water staff during the meeting. Reid has repeatedly defended Project Cornerstone’s efficacy and customer service performance and the system’s selection process in Commission meetings throughout 2022.
Prince George’s County Executive’s Office is now seeking to remove WSSC Commissioner Keith Bell, who is one of the county’s representatives on the Commission. In a letter obtained by WUSA9 dated August 5 from the Prince George’s County Executive’s office, Appointments Liaison Miriam Brewer wrote in part, “A central concern was your routine encroachment from your role of governance to attempting to dictate the organization’s daily operations. For example, you ceased communications with WSSC General Manager/CEO Carla Reid and often bombarded her subordinates with burdensome requests, thereby circumventing her authority and undermining her leadership. For several months, these actions diverted resources from the critical work and day-to-day management of the organization. Many instances occurred during the pandemic, staffing shortages, and revenue challenges. Furthermore, when you did interact with Ms. Reid, you did so during public meetings, raising important matters while refusing to provide adequate notice so Ms. Reid could prepare. These incidents disrupted the agency’s capacity to adequately function and detrimentally affected employee morale.”
Commissioner Bell has the right to a hearing on Sept. 6. Bell, who is also a federal judge, told WUSA9, “I think based on the timing of the Aug. 3 and Aug. 5 letters, I think it was a knee-jerk reaction. I look forward to addressing these actions at a later time.”
The August 3 letter Bell is referring to was written by Reid to Prince George's and Montgomery County leaders. In it, she wrote, “In fact, my office specifically asked the Commission Office in June if there were any changes to my delegated authority. We were told no. My only reason for seeking clarification of my authority at the time was because a WUSA 9 news reporter contacted our communications office on June 15, 2022, during a closed session of the Commission meeting, and again on June 17, 2022, stating he had credible sources and documentation that my authority had been limited. It is important to point out that this reporter initially made the inquiry while Commissioners were in closed session without management present - meaning one or more Commissioners leaked my sensitive personnel information to the media. This was clearly done to embarrass me. Based on this and other events, I have no confidence that current Commissioners can keep sensitive personnel information confidential.”
Reid’s August 3 letter also called for the resignation or removal of WSSC Water Commissioners Keith Bell and Eloise Foster. Her letter reads, “For the reasons described below, and others, Commissioners Keith Bell and Eloise Foster should be asked to resign or alternatively, immediately removed from their current position of governance of this utility. Their conduct has created serious ethical and governance issues for the Commission. I also recommend that the governance structure be studied to ensure that WSSC Water is operating under the most effective model. The events over the past year make it clear that there needs to be some internal controls to ensure integrity in the WSSC Water governance system.”
Reid’s letter added she is willing to appear before any Prince George’s or Montgomery County government body to discuss accusations made against her, or about the accusations she made against WSSC Water Commission members.
This is not the first recent leadership shake-up for the water utility. WSSC Water Commissioner Chris Lawson resigned in June. He claims fellow Commissioners and utility employees accused him of a conflict of interest in choosing the Cornerstone billing system. He denied all wrongdoing in his resignation letter and declined to speak to WUSA9 at the time; but in a statement to WUSA9 on June 8, he said:
"It is true that I have a client who participates in the Cornerstone contract. When the original contract was approved, there were no vendors named at that time under the Basic Ordering Agreement. It was understood that the vendors would be selected from an approved list of approximately 27 companies, chosen by the IT department evaluation of offerors. At the point in which management requested more revenue to continue with the development of Cornerstone, it was an honest mistake not to recognize that at that point, the client was listed. I certainly didn't do so because I was going to get something in return. Last, I was informed today that a Commissioner has lodged a complaint with the State Ethics Board specifically against me. It made mention of other vendors past and present that are clients of concern. That is clearly a lie. I'm sure that if the Commissioner honestly thought that he/she would have quickly made mention of client names. Another unnecessary evil. But at least with the Ethics Board I will have an honest chance to set the record straight. Thank you again for the opportunity to serve. I wish you and the staff all the best."
Reid told Commissioners during the July 20 meeting she found out about the “stripping of her powers” from exclusive WUSA9 reporting of a closed session decision on June 15, adding it was “disturbing the media knew about this last month.” Commissioners voted in that closed session on June 15's closed-door meeting 5-0 to reduce the General Manager/CEO’s powers according to Commissioner Eloise Foster. However, Commission legal staff informed the Commission that the vote would need to take place in an open session for it to be enacted. That vote was taken in the July 20 Commission meeting.
Reid claimed during the July 20 meeting the Commissioners’ decision happened “for no other reason than I’m a woman,” adding the Commission wanted Reid to show a “mother may I” attitude for the rest of her term.
WSSC Water Commissioner Regina Speed-Bost, a female Commissioner who voted to reduce Reid’s powers, replied, “To assert a discrimination claim, it’s untenable, I can’t take that assault.”
Attorney James O’Day, on behalf of Reid, filed a “litigation hold notice” on July 1 with WSSC Water, demanding the water utility hold documents and communication regarding the “abusive discharge and nonrenewal of General Manager Reid’s employment with WSSC Water.”