General Manager (GM) Leo Havener was appointed board secretary at the Idyllwild Water District (IWD) directors’ meeting Wednesday night, Dec. 15. Charles Schelly was re-appointed president and Peter Szabadi was re-appointed vice president for 2022 in a unanimous vote.
Besides a report from the Santa Ana River Watershed Weather Modification Pilot Program on cloud seeding (see page 1), the board focused most heavily on its COVID-19 policy.
First, in his GM report, Havener said the South Ridge tank repairs are going well and should be completed in six to eight weeks.
As to the large wastewater replacement project of which IWD is seeking funding, Havener told the board that Idyllwild Arts Foundation is cooperating on selling some of its property to the district to expand the facility and that a survey of the property should be completed by the end of the month.
He reported to the board that production (water usage) is lower than the prior month, and that wastewater flow is higher than average. “I’m not sure why that is,” he said.
The board discussed the current COVID-19 policy for employees. A member of the board asked IWD attorney Ryan Guilboa of Best, Best and Krieger if IWD can require employees to get vaccinated.
Guilboa said Cal/OSHA, does not have requirements on vaccinations and that it would be a policy decision for the board.
Schelly agreed with reviewing policy because COVID is “… not going away soon.”
He also added that he wants to “… make sure our policy would be the same for any disease.”
Dave Hunt, former IWD director, expressed concern for the district’s current policy.
He said prior policy — voted in Nov. 20, 2020 — when he was still on the board was masking and physical distancing, Centers for Disease Control (CDC) protocols.
But at the May 19, 2021 board meeting, the GM recommended keeping with existing successful CDC COVID-19 protocols and rescinding all previous COVID-19 policies. Hunt resigned prior to that meeting’s start, saying last week that this COVID issue was the last straw that led to his resignation, and the vote was 4-0 in favor. Hunt pointed out that the CDC protocols should have strengthened IWD’s COVID policy but instead, it did not.
He said mask-required signs on exterior doors were removed after the vote and “seemed to just eliminate all safety procedures for IWD staff and customers.”
Havener said some employees have tested positive for COVID but did not get sick at work. Hunt said later, “I really don’t think that he can reliably know where they acquired the virus.”
A heated exchange occurred between the two. Hunt accused Havener of poor management and training people to be lazy. “Watch your words carefully,” Havener shot back.
Last week’s meeting occurred on the same day indoor masking became mandatory again in public places in the state. Unlike recent in-person meetings, directors and IWD Chief Financial Officer Hosny Shouman masked up for the meeting.
However, Hunt called out Havener for not wearing a mask. “You’re free to leave,” Havener declared.
Another member of the public said he left a district he worked for, even though he was vaccinated, when it required vaccinations.
The board voted to have Havener consult with legal counsel on the COVID policy and report back to the board.
As to what Hunt was trying to convey to the board, he said later “… I fear it fell on deaf ears.”