The board of the Georgetown Divide Public Utility District was in for a bumpy ride Tuesday night amid allegations that the appointment of Director Maria Capraun as interim general manager was unethical, a conflict of interest and possibly illegal.
Capraun was made interim general manager on April 28 after Gary Hoffmann, who had been serving in the job, resigned abruptly following an injury. Directors Capraun, Bonnie McLane and Kathy Otermat voted for the appointment while Directors Ray Griffiths and Norm Krizl voted against.
Tuesday’s meeting began with retired GDPUD Operations Manager Steve Gau saying the Government Code prohibits Capraun from serving both as interim general manager and as a board member. “If your actions aren’t illegal, they are certainly unethical,” he said.
Gau went on to claim the three female board members had trashed the district and gutted its staff because of personal vendettas.
This provoked an angry response from resident Jack Podsedly, who blamed the male members of the board for tearing up the organization and wasting money, saying the three female board members were responsible for saving the district $1 million on the Auburn Lake Trails Water Treatment Plant and for arranging financing for the plant.
However, Podsedly’s words didn’t stop other critics from getting up to speak.
Rod Williams of Greenwood said it was improper for Capraun to be both general manager and director and criticized comments by President Bonnie McLane regarding the kind of person they were seeking to be general manager. “We don’t need a bean counter,” he said. “We need someone who can run the organization and a board that will support the person running the organization … We also need someone who has a background working in small public utility districts. Without it, we will continue to see the disaster that we’re seeing right now,” Williams said.
McLane had previously commented that in the search for a new general manager, the board would consider someone without water district experience as long as the person was a “bean counter.”
Greenwood resident Paul Dahms spoke in agreement with Williams, saying they needed someone with water experience, not a bean counter. “I urge you not to go down that road with all the regulatory oversight,” he said.
Georgetown resident Jacque Bronze claimed the district had the worst reputation of anywhere in the state. He also saw a conflict of interest in Capraun serving in both capacities.
Rick Todd of Georgetown lamented the attrition of staff and loss of institutional knowledge. “I like Maria,” he said, “but there is a conflict of interest and there needs to be a separation of authority and power. The board’s job is to manage the manager and set policy, and not to be in the office managing employees.”
Gau then returned to the podium to criticize the board’s actions regarding ALT, saying he had worked on the initial plans for the plant: “Right now you have people making decisions that don’t have a clue as to what it takes to improve the system for the long-term. All they want to do is denigrate anything that came before them. That’s their only agenda.”
With those words ringing in the board’s ears, McLane gaveled the public forum to a close and moved to the items on the agenda.
Capraun reported the California Department of Public Health was offering the district a loan at zero percent interest if GDPUD can come up with a 20 percent down payment. The loan will be used to retrofit the ALT plant. The board decided it will hold a special board meeting to discuss the matter but no date was set for the meeting.
The Rural Community Assistance Corp. has offered to prepare a cost of service study for the district at no charge. The study is expected to be completed by June 30.
Capraun said that on May 9, the water level at Stumpy Meadows was at 16,381 acre-feet. A letter previously sent to residents advising them of possible penalties if they didn’t voluntarily cut back on water use due to the drought caused confusion and complaints. After discussion, the board decided there would be no penalties for noncompliance and instead residents would be asked to voluntarily conserve water.
The subject of irrigation became another bump in the road when the board heard a request to reinstate the 10 inches of water local vineyard owner John Duarte had given up. Previously the board held a drought workshop and asked irrigation users to voluntarily give up water they didn’t need with the promise that in doing so, the irrigation season would be extended. Subsequently a total of 76.5 inches were relinquished by different irrigation customers.
However, that request aggravated some in the audience, with Rod Williams jumping up and saying, “John Duarte is not the only man who wants irrigation water back. I want mine back. I’m just as important as John Duarte. I’ve been here longer than John Duarte … John Duarte does not cut a fat hog in this town anymore than I do … We all want our water back and you can’t give it to John Duarte just because he has a big name and he’s got a big vineyard.”
With Williams threatening to sue if the board didn’t follow through on its original promise, the board turned to discussing how soon they could start the irrigation season.
With it taking seven to 10 days to run the water to the end of the ditch, the board voted to start the irrigation water as soon as practically possible. The date for the end of the irrigation season remains open, depending upon the water level in the reservoir.
District Counsel Barbara Brenner also reported the petition to the state will cost more than expected. The petition would allow the district to keep between 500 and 1,000 acre-feet it is currently required to divert for fish flow. Originally the cost was projected at $20,000 with the El Dorado County Water Agency paying for it. But Brenner said it may cost another $12,000 to $15,000. After discussing the pros and cons of pursuing the additional water, the board voted to spend up to $7,500 with a request to the EDC Water Agency to provide the balance.
Capraun also discussed hiring retired engineer George Sanders as interim operations manager. That matter was taken up later in closed session.
Ray Kringle, who is a member of the district’s finance committee, gave an update on the budget for next year and discussed the difficulty in projecting revenues due to reduced water sales this year and next.
The board also approved a resolution asking individuals to refrain from fishing in Lake Walton between June 5 and June 7.
Contact Dawn Hodson at 530-344-5071 or [email protected] Follow @DHodsonMtDemo on Twitter.