On Thursday evening, Sept. 22, the first meeting of the remaining three directors of the Idyllwild Water District ended in chaos. The frustration of encountering an obstacle to quickly replacing the vacant board seats through appointment rather than waiting until a March election and repeating that again next August, drove directors Steve Kunkle and June Rockwell to adjourn the meeting and leave the building.
Acting President John Cook maintained that the legal opinion, which he sought from the water district’s attorney, required unanimity for any board action. During a brief discussion on whether to follow this opinion or to adopt a policy of a majority of the three directors (two) could approve actions, Cook threatened to immediately resign and force the district into the hands of the county board of supervisors.
When Kunkle recommended that the staff at least collect names of interested potential directors, Cook refused to permit that. Interestingly, he had requested, on his own, that staff collect names for possible interim and permanent general manager candidates.
Cook argued that the District was dangerously close to exhausting its water supply. He referred to it as “overdrafting.” Other than reporting that Foster Lake was empty, former General Manager Tom Lynch never asserted that the district was on the edge of over using its water supply.
In fact, Lynch never provided a comprehensive report on the district’s water conditions despite requests from several present and former directors. Contributing to the lack of water in Foster Lake was the district’s decision to stop diverting Strawberry Creek water to that reservoir.
Further as reported regularly, the district water production has fluctuated monthly during the past several years, but the trend has been downward. Since 2013, IWD’s annual water production has fallen more than 6 million gallons, representing a 8 percent decrease.
Besides the falling demand, Lynch and Cook proudly announced in August that the recent rehabilitation of two wells has increased the district’s water supply from 6 percent to 33 percent. Lynch previously reported that last year’s rehabilitation of the horizontal wells at Foster Lake allegedly added 10 percent to the District’s resources.
“He has amply demonstrated his success,” Cook said of Lynch. “He cared about well production — significantly increasing our well production.”
Cook would not explain how the decreasing demand and increasing supply were creating a dangerous “tipping point” due to over drafting of water.
The district’s conference room was packed with public attendees. Extra chairs were needed to seat all who were there. The public comments consumed the first 45 minutes of the meeting.
Cook said the district would waive the Brown Act limitation on comments that a special meeting must address only items on the agenda. “We want you to speak on any concern or issue or problem. We need to know. Citizens are unclear on the objection and what’s it about.”
Eight people took advantage of the opportunity to address the board and the large segment of the public in the room. The comments address multiple issues — questions about the “overdrafting” statement, a recommendation to delay hiring a general manager, to use time to consider consolidation of Hill water districts, questions about water rates, support for electing the replacement directors and for the opposite, urging the board not to delay action and make appointments soon.
After acknowledging the three resignations, the current directors were able to agree to approve a proclamation — a plaque thanking the two former directors for their time and contribution to the District.
The next item, of the seven on the agenda, was a discussion of the procedure to fill the board’s vacant seats.
Cook stated that he would not support an appointment process and wanted the District to hold an election, which David Wysocki, the District’s legal counsel, said would likely be in March 2017.
The replacement for Billman would have the seat, whether by appointment or election, until the District’s regular August 2017 election. The Freitas four-year term expires in December 2017, so his replacement would have to stand for election in August, too. Cook must also, because next year is the end of his latest term, having won election in 2013.
While Kunkle urged the necessity to fill at least one vacancy, so the district could conduct business, Cook was adamant that an election was the only option he would support because it would be beneficial for the district’s voters.
“You were appointed to fill a vacancy, [and] we are in dire straits to fill the Board,” Kunkle pleaded. “If we don’t have unanimous votes, one member can hold the Board captive.”
Rockwell supported Kunkle’s proposal saying, “I want to fill the vacancies as soon as possible in order to move forward.”
At this point, Cook professed that he could not understand the current opposition to the board and implied that it was malicious. “Everybody that I talked to are confused. Why is there such controversy … I still can’t get my arms around this issue, which is so significant that the district was brought to its knees.”
Cook believes only an election will provide an ample opportunity for the district’s voters to learn about the issues, such as the condition of IWD’s water, and the candidates’ positions.
“My position is to call for an election,” he stated adamantly.
In opposition, Rockwell repeated her position, “This is an emergency, and we should not wait.”
When Cook refused to budge, the frustration of the other two board members manifested itself with a motion to adjourn. Cook opposed this action, but Kunkle and Rockwell voted “yea,” collected their papers, stood up and left the building.
Left to himself, Cook then adjourned the meeting.