Another special meeting was held by the directors of the Idyllwild Water District (IWD) Feb. 26 to approve the hiring of Leo Havener for general manager, but some issues arose regarding the board’s negotiation of the contract and another special meeting is scheduled for Wednesday, March 4.
Board President Dr. Charles Schelly seemed quite frustrated with Board Vice President Peter Szabadi. According to Schelly, he had been negotiating the contract with Havener, who was not present at the meeting, and kept coming back to find changes made to the contract by Szabadi without Schelly’s knowledge that were not previously negotiated.
“Some changes, by me, but they were not incorporated,” Szabadi said.
Havener will be the second general manager to be hired by IWD since it terminated Michael Creighton Sept. 25, 2019 and as of the Feb. 26 meeting will be paid $117,000 annually because, according to the board, he has declined medical coverage with the district.
Havener has been a consultant since the summer of 2016, according to his LinkedIn account, when he was released from his contract at Lake Arrowhead Community Services District (LACSD) where he served as its general manager. Finance manager Catherine Cerri stepped into the position on Aug. 23, 2016 and still serves as the district’s general manager.
Havener and Cerri were both named in a wrongful termination lawsuit brought forward by former LACSD employee Darlene Butler who alleged that both “subjected Butler to unjustified criticism, discipline and ongoing negative, derogatory and demeaning comments,” according to the July 29, 2016 story in The Alpenhorn News.
The Town Crier contacted Cerri for comment about the lawsuit and to ask why Havener was released from his contract but was transferred to her assistant to leave a voicemail. The newspaper did not hear back by deadline. According to court documents, the lawsuit was eventually dismissed.
The newspaper also contacted the Mountain News, which reported that Cerri was taking over the general manager position to ask if they knew why Havener had been released from LACSD. Staff at that newspaper was unable to find the answer.
IWD’s Acting General Manager Mitch Freeman pushed for the district to find a general manager after expressing that he did not have an interest in taking the general manager position permanently.
“I feel more comfortable in my old job [field supervisor],” Freeman said. “I don’t have that level of administrative experience. There is a special skill set that general managers require. I do not want to bring any liability to the district.”
Freeman became acting general manager after Darren Milner abruptly resigned Nov. 17, a Sunday evening, citing “experiencing an unhealthy culture and difficult work environment at the district due to poor communication,” as one of his reasons. Milner served as general manager for one month. He was hired after the district’s board voted to terminate Creighton, Milner’s predecessor.
Staff at IWD is slimmer these days. Amy Miller-Hawley, office assistant, is no longer with the district as of Feb. 19 and Jeannine Copelin, administrative assistant, is temporarily out of the office. When asked about the staffing immediately following the Feb. 26 meeting as a follow up to an email sent by the newspaper earlier that day, Freeman responded that he was waiting for legal to get back to him before he could respond.
When Freeman responded by email a couple of days later, he wrote: “Current office staff is as follows: Acting General Manager is Mitch Freeman. Hosny Shouman is presently Chief Financial Officer. An administrative assistant is presently temporarily out of the office and temporary part-time help is assisting in her absence.” The district will not comment on Miller-Hawley. The newspaper requested her resignation letter, but the district stated in a response to a public records request that it is not in possession of one.