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OpTech makes privatization pitch to Moss Point, MS Board of Aldermen

07/30/03

By NATALIE CHAMBERS
Mississippi Press Staff

MOSS POINT -- The president of Operations Technologies Inc. (OpTech) of Atlanta, Ga., expressed interest in managing Moss Point's public works and utilities department Tuesday, but said it would take three to six months to reach that point.

During a general presentation to the mayor and board, Bob Monette also tried to ease concerns that Moss Point's strapped financial position would keep the city from being a viable candidate for OpTech's services.

Monette said when OpTech contracted with Long Beach, Miss., that Coastal city also had serious financial problems. With the company's assistance, Long Beach has been able to somewhat overcome those problems, he said.

OpTech was founded in 1984 and moved its corporate headquarters to Atlanta in 1994. Local clients include Pascagoula, Long Beach, Gulfport
and Harrison County Wastewater Authority.

"Contract operations is a partnership between a city and a management company where wecome in and hire the employees that are currently
working for the city. Contrary to popular belief or concern, we don't come in and lay off a bunch of employees. We don't bus a bunch of people in
here to be the new employees for the city," Monette said.

The only prerequisite the company has for employment is that the employee passes a drug test.

Moss Point's public works department has approximately 29 employees, including the superintendent.

Under the proposal, the city will still provide needed equipment and materials.

Alderman Thomas Hightower, who suggested that the board meet with OpTech, asked Monette if the number of citizens' complaints had dropped
in Pascagoula. Monette said it had.

Hightower said his interest is saving the city money while providing needed services to residents.

Union leaders, however, took a different view. Public works employees are under a labor agreement contract between the city and International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 733.3.

"We have to sit down and go over what they get. We're still under contract up here," said IBEW president Jimmy Richardson.

City workers pondered aloud outside how Moss Point could afford to pay for OpTech services aswell as provide needed equipment.

"How can you buy their materials and you can't buy us materials. If you buy us materials, we'll get the job done. I don't like it," said one disgruntled
worker.

City aldermen plan to continue talks with OpTech. Because the city had not provided the company with specific budget numbers, Monette was not in a position to answer a question by Alderman Nancy Mims Norvel, who wanted to know what the company's service would cost the city.

However, some city leaders were impressed.

"It sounds good," said Alderman John Welch. "It all boils down to what I've been preaching all these years, management."

Resident Sergio Coletta also gave the presentation high marks.

Coletta said the company represents accountability in public works and utilities.

"You don't necessarily need to privatize to do it. The city could do it on its own," Coletta said. "What they are going to give Moss Point is a budget that has accountability, which we don't have now. I don't think anyone knows where the money is going, exactly."