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Top executive leaving Macon Water Authority as chairman's race goes to runoff

Gary Bechtel took 47% of the vote, putting him in a runoff with Desmond Brown, who received 30%

MACON, Ga. — Macon-Bibb County voters return to the polls June 21 to choose a chairman for the Macon Water Authority, which is also about to lose a top executive.

In the at-large chairman’s race, Gary Bechtel took 47 percent of the vote to Desmond Brown’s 30 percent and Tom Ellington’s 23 percent.

Since Bechtel failed to receive 50 percent plus one vote of the total 27,209 votes cast, he will face Desmond Brown in the runoff.

Although the primary campaign was cordial, Bechtel told The Macon Newsroom Thursday that he is actively fundraising and putting together a media blitz in the next few weeks to rally voters to choose him over Brown.

“I don’t dislike him. He’s a likable guy, you know, but he’s got a history of being… a financial predator,” Bechtel said. “The authority’s got a multimillion dollar budget, got a half a billon dollars worth of infrastructure in the ground and I don’t think the community wants to have the chairmanship of a body this important to the health, safety and economic development of our community to be turned over to somebody with this kind of history of bad judgment.”

Brown, who was elected in 2020 to represent District 2 on the authority, filed for bankruptcy 10 days after qualifying to run for chairman on March 7. By entering the chairman’s race, he vacated his seat after months of controversy that led to his censure in a probe concerning allegations of fraudulent billing of clients of his disaster mitigation company, Blue Armour Network of America.

The authority hired former district attorney David Cooke to look into Brown’s conduct. From several interviews with Brown’s former clients and their family members, Cooke concluded Brown targeted the elderly in the internal investigation that led to his censure for “blatant conflict of interest.” 

Brown billed the authority on behalf of a client after the MWA had determined months earlier that the utility was not responsible for Brown’s client’s flooding issues.

In February, Brown was jailed for contempt in failing to comply with a judge’s order to turn over financial documents to an attorney representing a former investment client of Brown’s now-defunct company D-Money Enterprises.

In 2019, Judge Verda Colvin ordered Brown to repay the client the $40,000 investment made in 2011 plus 25 percent interest compounded yearly, which after 11 years of nonpayment totals $150,000.

This year’s court proceedings stemming from the 2019 case were put on hold when Brown filed for bankruptcy.

Brown, who is a senior claims analyst according to his candidacy affidavit, has not responded to numerous requests for comment during the campaign for chairman, but has posted comments and videos on Facebook.

“I am truly humbled,” read one comment about the election results that was pinned to the top of his Facebook page Friday.

Brown has been campaigning as a “whistle blower,” sounding the alarm on stormwater issues and debating the $4.99 fee charged to homeowners. He dismissed Cooke’s investigation as a “witch hunt.”

In a live Facebook video Tuesday, Brown said: “You don’t need politicians, you need a chairman that understands construction, site work, topography, pipe installation, who has done it, who can understand what’s an act of god and what’s not. Many of you are paying $4.99 and you don’t have infrastructure. But for those who have infrastructure, we need to do more than sweeping streets.”

In the campaign leading up to the runoff, Bechtel said he will “educate” the public about Brown’s questionable ethics. Bechtel, a current member on the Macon-Bibb County Planning & Zoning Commission, said Brown’s pending legal troubles and pattern of behavior could ultimately result in him not being able to serve out the term.

“If he were to win, how soon do we have to come back and have another election?” Bechtel asked. “Because I fear that if he used his position as a board member, it’s only going to offer him greater opportunity to do the same thing if he’s chairman.” 

Bechtel has also previously served on the Macon Water Authority.

Bechtel, a commercial real estate agent and former banker who also was president of the Bibb County School Board, held a seat on the Macon Water Authority while serving District 1 of the Macon-Bibb County Commission after consolidation.

Bechtel said he was the true whistle blower in the race having raised ethical issues about former school superintendents Sharon Patterson and Romain Dallemand, and Macon-Bibb County manager Dale Walker that resulted in their departures.

In September 2009, Bechtel and school board member Lynn Farmer filed an ethics complaint with the Georgia Professional Standards Commission against Patterson for failing to report educator misconduct in 2005.

Dallemand was accused of defrauding the district in more than $7 million in technology deals and later served time for tax evasion.

Walker resigned in 2017 amid a pension scandal.

Brown has no history of rooting out corruption, Bechtel said.

The whistle has been blown on his problems, whereas I’ve got a history of actually rooting out corruption and not engaging in it myself,” Bechtel said.

Friday, third-place finisher Tom Ellington spoke to The Macon Newsroom about the race.

“I’m disappointed, but in a democracy, we have to respect the will of the voters and I do. So, I offer congratulations to my opponents and I hope that voters will turn back out for the runoff.

Ellington, a political science professor at Wesleyan College, declined to make an endorsement Friday.

“I’ll let you know when there’s something to know on that,” Ellington said.

'Sound, financially solid organization'

Whoever wins the race will lead the governing body of the authority without its current Executive Vice President of Business Operations Guy Boyle.

Boyle, who also serves as the authority’s Chief Financial Officer, becomes the CEO of Spartanburg Water in South Carolina on July 5.

“I’m getting to go from one world class operation to another world class operation,” Boyle told The Macon Newsroom Thursday. “(MWA) has treated me exceptionally well, and that’s from the governance board all the way down through the ranks. I mean, I just have nothing but positives to say about this organization.”

After a “comprehensive nationwide search,” the Commission of Public Works of the City of Spartanburg and the Spartanburg Sanitary Sewer District voted to hire Boyle at their regular meeting Tuesday.

Boyle, who recently completed his doctorate in public administration from West Chester University, also holds an MBA from the University of North Texas and a Master of Public Administration from Georgia College & State University.

“His experience, background and leadership character will be an immense benefit to not only our Spartanburg Water team, but the entire Spartanburg community,” said John Montgomery, Chairman of the Commission of Public Works, in a news release.

Boyle also was a candidate for the Macon CEO post after the retirement of Tony Rojas, but was not a finalist for that position that went to Joey Leverette, the former director of Water Distribution & Wastewater Collections for Florida’s Gainesville Regional Utilities.

“The board here hired a really good person with Joey,” Boyle told The Macon Newsroom Thursday. “I think he’s got the personality and the demeanor and the background to be exceptionally successful.”

After being recruited from New Orleans by Cox Communications for a position in Macon, Boyle joined the MWA in 2011. He says this new job brings him closer to his family.

Boyle, who was instrumental in planning the budget structure for the new stormwater arm of the utility, said he believes the authority is well-positioned to be financially viable going forward with a new board chairman.

“Whoever comes in, I think they’re going to find a very sound, financially solid organization.”

Civic Journalism Senior Fellow Liz Fabian covers Macon-Bibb County government entities and can be reached at fabian_lj@mercer.edu or 478-301-2976.

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