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Time to mend fences

Things have gone from bad to worse in recent months for the city of St. Clairsville. It’s high time residents and city leaders started taking steps to mend the damage.

Debate over whether to privatize the municipal water and wastewater treatment and distribution systems has divided the community for quite a while. Although Mayor Terry Pugh, Service and Safety Director Jim Zucal and some council members believe selling the system to Aqua Ohio is the best move for the city, other council members and many residents are opposed to losing local control of the utilities.

The issue has become so heated that one mayoral candidate, Bill Brooks, was escorted out of a recent council meeting for continuing to object to the mayor’s positive portrayal of Aqua Ohio. Both Brooks and candidate Kathryn Thalman had been afforded opportunities to speak at the session, and both are campaigning on their opposition to the privatization plan.

A third challenger for the mayor’s seat, Tim Porter, dropped out of the race a couple of weeks ago. He said he was stepping aside in an effort to avoid splitting the vote to the point that the will of the people would not prevail.

Last week, however, a voice recording of a profanity-laced tirade by Porter – including a racial slur directed toward Brooks – was released to the media. As a result, Porter stepped down as president of the St. Clairsville Area Chamber of Commerce on Tuesday.

On Thursday, he also gave up his seat on city council, where he also served as president. He cited health concerns as his reason for making that move. Council is expected to hold a special meeting next week to appoint a new president to replace Porter.

Emotions in the community clearly are running high. People are saying things they regret. It seems it is time for residents and their leaders to take a collective deep breath and remember that they are friends and neighbors who will continue to work and live next to one another after the dust kicked up by all of these issues settles.

To facilitate that effort, council should vote to delay signing the contract with Aqua Ohio and to allow time for a comprehensive study of the systems and the best way to move forward. Such a study would go a long way toward easing residents’ fears. Everyone should remain concerned and involved, but they should do so in a civil and respectful manner.

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