Idyllwild Water District’s Board of Directors held a workshop with Interim General Manager Jack Hoagland and CFO Hosny Shouman. In this photo, Director Peter Szabadi (left), President Dr. Chip Schelly (standing) and Shouman discuss long-term planning for the district.
Photo by Marshall Smith

Institutional memory and long-term planning are director goals

The Idyllwild Water District Board of Directors held a workshop with Interim General Manager Jack Hoagland and Chief Financial Officer Hosny Shouman to help relatively new board members better familiarize themselves with district policies, infrastructure, issues and projects.

The workshop was properly noticed and was attended, in addition to press, by residents Sue Nash and Tom Paulek.

In an hour-and-a-half meeting, the board, at the request of Director Geoffrey Caine, sought to gain clarity on what is available and accessible about the district’s past policies, existing infrastructure conditions, plans for current and future projects, possible revision of existing table of organization, and specific goals over a 12-year period that could be prudently and effectively planned for, including completing more projects in house as opposed to contracting them out.

“My goal in requesting this meeting was to give us [the directors] the opportunity to talk with each other without a restrictive agenda that can prevent freer exchanges,” said Caine. “There are so many important and complex issues we are considering and we need to be better informed.”

The district itself is in the process of reinventing itself — few employees have been there longer than two years, the district is operating with an interim general manager on an 18-month contract of which he has already served five, and although institutional memory, in the form of records, exists, it is not easily accessible.

Caine sought clarity on how current stand-alone projects fit into a longer developmental scheme, what the roles are of management and the board, the strategy for finding a permanent GM, and the ongoing problem of having a new board that lacks sufficient information to competently vote on pressing matters at regular board meetings. “I don’t have time to think it through and I don’t have time to talk to my colleagues,” said Caine.

Director Peter Szabadi agreed. “We [the board] are still in an inherited stage,” he observed. “What I want to see is a more directed and particularized approach to the matters before us.” Director Steve Kunkle noted the critical need for education. “The board we have now needs to be educated regarding maintenance, projects and personnel,” he emphasized. “The more informed we are the better prepared we are to make decisions.”

Board President Chip Schelly, who moderated the meeting, noted that the board’s education is hampered by the district’s having so little available institutional memory. “Most staff has been here for less than two years,” he said.

Schelly then proposed a forward-looking schedule — one, two, four, six and 12 year markers within which to place stated goals. First on Schelly’s white sheet was a 12-year goal to be at capacity service, with 2,000 meters and 750 sewer connections, then working backward, schedule steps to effectively achieve those goals within specific periods.

Other goals included having all or a specific percentage of existing pipe inventoried and replaced if necessary and within what period in time; and what would the manpower requirement be within the next 12 years and what would be the most cost-efficient use of that manpower. Much more was discussed. The

above is offered as examples of what the board is working through.

In short, the board was seeking two things: better information on where the district is currently positioned with regard to resources, infrastructure, needed repairs and/or replacement, and personnel; and a well-thought-out set of goals and an achievable plan for attaining them in the near and longer-term future.

Szabadi noted the need for standard operating procedure manuals for all aspects of the district’s business. Hoagland observed, “We have the information but it is not organized. Knowing it’s in the files and knowing where it is in the files is the challenge.”

One of the suggestions put forward by Hoagland was to contract with a records manager to come in to organize the district’s records and available operations information.

The meeting was recorded and many of the questions from the board elicited informed and valuable information from Hoagland and Shouman. But more was discussed than can be reported in this article. All who attended, including residents Nash and Paulek, believe it was a very good start.

Even having studies conducted for eventual consolidation of the three boards was discussed. But as Hoagland pointed out, “You can have all the studies in the world but if you don’t have the parties who want to do it [consolidation], studies don’t matter. When we have our own house in order, the other districts may be more disposed to consider consolidation. If the parties want to deal, then all the other issues could be worked out.”

Directors requested a special meeting, which was tentatively scheduled for Wednesday, June 7, time to be determined, to talk further about issues they will be required to vote on at the next regular meeting on Wednesday, June 21.