State Official Uses “Terrorism” to Intimidate and Silence Residents: Residents use official water quality complaint forms and are accused of terrorism

Mt. Pleasant, Tenn. – A high-level official from the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation (TDEC) recently accused citizens from Mt. Pleasant of a potential “act of terrorism” after more than one hundred local residents utilized the state’s official complaint process to seek assistance with ongoing water quality issues in their community.

Led by members of the Maury County Chapter of Statewide Organizing for Community eMpowerment (SOCM), Mt. Pleasant residents submitted a record number of TDEC’s official water quality complaint forms to the agency’s field office in Columbia in February. During a May 29th meeting with SOCM members and Mt. Pleasant residents at TDEC’s Columbia office, Sherwin Smith, Deputy Director of TDEC’s Division of Water Resources, suggested the complaints had no basis and went on to say, “…federally, if there’s no water quality issues, that can be considered, under Homeland Security, an act of terrorism.”

Mt. Pleasant residents view Smith’s statements as clear intimidation and an extension of the resistance and lack of concern that they have received from their local government.

“We have been meeting with officials about the outrageously expensive and dirty water in Mt. Pleasant since last year,” explained an exasperated Dwight Green, a Mt. Pleasant resident and SOCM member who attended the meeting. ”They basically told us that the proper way to approach this issue was to fill out their water quality complaint forms. So we did that and now they’re telling us that it’s an act of terrorism? That doesn’t make any sense. We filled out their form. I don’t like being intimidated or accused of being a terrorist because I demand clean drinking water.”

This episode is the latest and most dramatic example of government not working for the people. State Representative Sheila Butt, five TDEC officials including Smith, Mt. Pleasant City Commissioner Bob Shackleford, seven members of the Maury County Chapter of SOCM, and one other Mt. Pleasant resident were present at the meeting.

Where do we turn now,” asked SOCM member and Mt. Pleasant resident Joycelene Johns. “We’ve met with our state representative who is supposed to be looking out for us, attended public meetings like they asked, and they intimidate us by accusing us of committing acts of terrorism. We just want clean and affordable water. How is that terrorism?”

The majority of Mt. Pleasant residents refuse to drink the city’s water, and boil water notices were issued there in January of 2013 and in April of 2012. The water quality complaint form completed by local residents was the official one from TDEC’s website.

“My water bill is over $100 every month and I live by myself,” said Johns. “We’ve done some research and that’s two to three times higher than other people in Tennessee. I can’t afford to keep paying that, especially since I don’t even drink it. The city sends out regular boil notices, it’s dirty, tastes bad, and I’ve known people who have said they’ve gotten sick from drinking it.”

SOCM members and allies in Mt. Pleasant sent a letter informing Governor Bill Haslam of the seriousness of the situation and that state officials are responding to citizens with intimidation instead of cooperation.  This matter received national media attention, resulting in the demotion of the TDEC official.

Listen to an excerpt of the meeting:

Read a transcript of the meeting: Transcript of SOCM and TDEC Meeting_5.29.13

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