Changes Coming to Georgetown Water Agency Board if Trend Continues
Board oversight: too much or too little.
The battle lines are drawn and it is just weeks away before the election in which we will know where the Board of Directors will take the Georgetown Divide water utility district, GDPUD. The last two years have been contentious as two new board members where elected on a platform of cutting water district costs to the consumers on the Divide. Incumbent Board members up for re-election feel they have done a fine job and that the District is providing water at a fair rate to consumers. Challengers feel that the Board has neglected its duty as citizen oversight that insurers the agency is meeting its charge in the most cost effective manner.
The division on almost all contentious issues can be traced to a disagreement on the level of Board involvement with directing the management of the Utility district’s operation. One side would critisize the interfering “micro-management” of GDPUD. The other side would critisize the “abdication of responsibility” to make overall policy decisions and provide oversight.
One issue this election is about who made a policy decision regarding a new treatment plant called ALT. Incumbents say that the General Manager Hank White brought the Board the only option, a new plant. Challengers say that there were a number of options and the GM took it upon himself to decide which option to pursue when it was a policy decision that should have been made by the Board. Additionally they say he mislead the Board and public about the options available.
Another issue is about a lunch billed to tax payers as a Board meeting. Incumbents say it was within the policy and appropriate. Challengers say it was not a Board meeting and the taxpayers were paying twice for a meal that was already compensated.
The challengers are aligned with the two newest Board members elected two years ago, Bonnie McLane and Kathy Otermat.
McLane and Otermat have fought hard to understand where and how money is being spent with an eye to cut waste. A slim majority of Norm Krizl, Bonnie Neely, and Ray Griffiths have held the line on continuing the historic pattern of operation, one that was set before the economy turned south.
Kathy Otermat has been a lightning rod accused of slowing down the GDPUD staff by her request for information, by her willingness to bypass staff to find information, and by her relentless drive to find and eliminate waste. She even faced a recall effort this year. To many It seemed that the recall proponents were closely aligned with staff members that faced pay and/or benefit cuts being sought by Otermat. That recall effort did not get enough signatures for the proponents to turn into the elections office for count and verify. It would seem that those supporting “cost cutting” outnumber those that are willing to fight to keep things running as they did in the past.
In the following video it can be seen where the challengers are fighting as consumer advocates insuring that management is doing all possible to save money for consumers, while the Incumbents are fighting to allow the professional management to function with minimal interference from the Board.
With votes on contentious issues on the Board usually a 3:2, and two of those three vote facing challengers, it will take just one new Board member to swing the balance of power. It could be said that this election may be a watershed event for the direction of GDPUD.
Stepping away from the individual issues and evaluating the election cycle it looks very bad for most incumbents. An economic crises in Northern California and devastating unemployment on the Divide means that incumbents that are not clearly seen to be fighting to cut consumer cost are at great risk.
We do not need to go far to see how real the voter discontent is in El Dorado County today. EID lost a well-liked Board member when neophyte challenger Alan Day trounced Harry Norris. Not only was Norris well known and liked, He was also known to have been an effective advocate for the El Dorado Hills district he represented. Many would say that he was able to get a better deal for El Dorado Hills then it may have deserved. Nevertheless, challenger Day ran on the single issue of high water bills due to wasteful spending by EID. Exit polls were revealing. Many voters said they voted without care for the incumbent or challenger, but as a protest against the high water bills.
This surprise defeat was soon followed by the another surprise upset-win by another neophyte challenger that unseated Supervisor John Knight this summer. The main complaint that the challenger attacked Knight with was that he was unresponsive to the average voters because he was advocating for the positions of a powerful minority.
The voter's feelings have not change for the better since El Dorado County voter sent Norris and Knight packing. If we take anything away from these recent elections it is the high likelihood that voter will turn against elected policy makers that they feel are not concerned about lowering costs and seem to be unresponsive to voters concerns. Popularity and political muscle has been no defense for incumbents against an unhappy electorate.
As these are the foundational issues that define the race for the Board of the water agency on the Divide, it looks as if we will see one or two new Board members come Election Day. That would lead to a change in management direction to cost cutting and consumer responsiveness as top priorities.
# This is a long video of the entire candidate forum that has been compressed in a manner optimized for viewers with dial-up Internet connections.