Commissioner caught violating water ban during shortage tells his side of the story

Commissioner under fire for using water

HARALSON COUNTY, Ga. – A county commissioner who was photographed over the weekend washing tanks at a county park during the water ban said his actions were all part of a misunderstanding, and now he wants his side of the story told.

On Saturday, the Haralson County Water Authority issued an emergency ban on any outside use of water after ruling that levels had dropped so far that the county's main intake for fresh water was not taking in any water from the Tallapoosa River.

Haralson County Water Authority executive director Charlie Walker said the river is the main source of water for the county and drought conditions have caused it to drop to a level not seen since 1925.

Residents are taking the ban seriously, but the situation hasn’t come without a little bit of controversy.

RELATED | Dangerously low water levels force Ga. county into emergency mode

But just a say after the ban was issued, Commissioner Sammy Robinson was caught on camera violating that ban.

11Alive News’ Joe Henke reached out to Robinson, who openly owned up to using the water to wash several tanks at a public park. But he said the tanks were already on the schedule to be washed and he wasn’t aware that a restriction was in place.

Robinson said he and a crew were out pressure washing the tanks and other memorials at Helton Howland Park around 1:30 Sunday afternoon when a vehicle stopped along Highway 78 to take a photograph. Robinson noticed the vehicle, but didn’t think anything of it.

“A lot of people do that,” he said. “They take a lot of photographs from that road because there’s a great view there.”

Robinson said a woman “hollered” something at them before driving off, but they couldn’t hear her over the noise from the pressure washer. Shortly after, another vehicle pulled up, also took photos and left.

A few minutes later, Robinson said, chairman of the Haralson County Commission called him and asked, “’Sam, what are you doing,’” Robinson recalled. “I said, ‘I’m washing the M-60 tank.’”

The photos had been uploaded to a public Facebook group and comments criticizing the commissioner were piling up. 

It was at that point that the chairman explained to Robinson that there was a water ban that they’d just issued after a meeting with the county water board around lunchtime Saturday. The chairman explained to Robinson that he sent an email to the commissioners, but Robinson said he doesn’t use email on the weekend because his computer is at the office and can’t access it on a mobile device because he uses a flip phone. 11Alive spoke to the county chair, who vouched for Robinson the situation.

PHOTOS | Commissioner caught violating water ban responds

Robinson said as soon as he got off the phone with the chairman, he told the workers to stop using the water.

Someone later showed the photos and comments to Robinson as he doesn't use social media himself.

“All of a sudden, I became famous, if you want to call it that, over Facebook,” he said. “We’ve been called some pretty bad names by people.”

Robinson said he’s now trying to determine how much water was used and will work to replace it. He plans to purchase the water from Alabama and will put it right back into the water system.

“The fact is, we used the water. The fact is I did not know at that point that there was a ban,” he said. “When we found out, we quit.” 

Now, Robinson said he just wants to make the whole situation right and hopes county residents can understand the situation.

“They didn’t know my side of it,” he said. “If that lady had gotten out of her automobile and asked to talk to me and told me what the situation was, then that would have been the end of it.”

Robinson, who’s lived in the area all his life, said he’s now focused on getting the word out on the “drastic” situation and making sure residents take heed. “We’ve got water, but we don’t have water to waste.”

As for the unwanted Facebook attention: “I’m a big boy, and I can take it.”

PHOTOS | Dangerously low water levels force emergency cuts in Ga. county

(© 2017 WXIA)


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