Top 10 stories of 2013: 2. GDPUD: Dysfunctional board catches a break

By From page A9 | January 06, 2014

Conditions at GDPUD were rocky from the start in 2013 as the new majority on the board — Directors Bonnie McLane, Kathy Otermat and Maria Capraun — continued their staff bashing that ended in the retirement or resignation of many of the district’s professional staff in 2012.

In 2013, their campaign reached a big target with the departure of General Manager Hank White.

Fed up with the ongoing criticism and micromanaging by the “gang of three” and their cohorts, White went out on leave in February. In March, with White still out on leave, Kelly Shively, assistant operations manager, was named interim general manager.

Shively’s appointment didn’t prevent McLane, Otermat and Capraun from continuing to act as de facto general manager, which resulted in countless extra board meetings, some lasting as long as nine hours; delays in decision-making; more staff exits and behavior that prompted accusations of illegality from past and present board members as well as residents.

In June, the Foresthill Public Utility District announced that White was hired as its general manager. In a phone interview, White said he was leaving because he was tired of the personal attacks and how certain board members had made GDPUD an “intolerable place to work.”

As the bad publicity mounted, at one point McLane, Otermat and Capraun discussed spending $10,000 to improve their public image even as they continued to complain how the district frivolously spent money under White. However, with little enthusiasm for the idea, even from their supporters, that notion died.

With the district in danger of imploding, in July the board hired retired state engineer, Gary Hoffmann, as interim general manager. With no sword of Damocles over his head, Hoffmann was able to bring order and professionalism back to GDPUD.

Later, the board also hired Barbara Brenner, from the firm of Churchwell White, as the district’s new counsel, as well as a new office manager and additional office staff.

Aside from the ongoing uproar over staffing, the subject that popped up throughout the year was what to do about the retrofit of the Auburn Lake Trails Water Treatment Plant (ALT).

Concerned with the cost of the project and how to finance it, the board delayed making a decision in February when White requested the board approve releasing the ALT plans for bid. Directors delayed that decision three more times in March because of White’s absence. In April they delayed making a decision again as they searched for financing. In May, the board finally voted to put the project out to bid.

Meanwhile, searching for a cheaper solution to the plant, the board brought in Psomas, the engineering firm that designed the plans for the plant, and asked for a presentation on value engineering. But not entirely sold on that approach, in June the board took a different tack and hired consulting engineer Webb Owen to evaluate the design plans for the plant.

In August, the bids for the plant were reported with the low bid coming in at $10.8 million. That bid left the district several million short of its previously arranged financing. Owen also presented his report, which included changes to the plant that he said could potentially shave about 10 percent off its cost. In November, after consulting with staff internally and with Psomas, Hoffmann proposed further design changes to the plant that he estimated would save the district $1.05 million. The previous bids were allowed to expire and instead Psomas was hired to redesign the plant with the new plans expected to be completed by February 2014.

Hoffman also submitted an application to the state for a loan to cover the entire cost of construction along with design and project management costs. That application is still pending with the state.

Along with ALT, one of the prevailing themes of the past year was the quest by McLane, Otermat and Capraun for more policies to govern the agency, staff and the board, this despite repeated assurances that GDPUD already had plenty of policies in the form of the public utility code, resolutions, memorandums of understanding, ordinances and internal policies and procedures.

Unconvinced, in January the board decided to hold weekly workshops to discuss a series of agenda items, including new policies, job descriptions, organization charts and agenda items it didn’t have time to take up during regular board meetings.

In April, the board voted to send 21 policies to counsel for review despite criticism from Directors Norm Krizl and Ray Griffiths and members of the public, who complained of their redundancy and the legal costs associated with reviewing them.

In November, policy making reached into hitherto new areas as Otermat circulated draft policies aimed at behavior control which were needed, according to Otermat, because at one meeting, another board member “sta-a-a-a-red” at her.

2013 was full of memorable quotes from GDPUD board members that hint at some of the issues that arose during the year.

“We were voted on by the people, so we hire who works for the people,” said President McLane when Director Griffiths questioned the need to hire a full-time board clerk reporting directly to the board.

“So I can’t review the contract before it’s signed? You’re denying a board member the right to review a contract for the general manager who is going to work for all five of us before it’s signed?” Director Krizl asked of President McLane.

“The public needs to know we have a director who wants to still stand on history and tradition with no rules and no policies. I’m glad you clarified that. You’re right. You will not win this one. Your vote is insignificant now,” Director Otermat to Director Krizl when he questioned the need for and the cost of the new policies she was proposing.

“The district needs to replace the dirt road it had been on with a paved road,” said Capraun in explaining why additional policies were needed.

“You need a timeout,” President McLane said to Director Krizl during a heated discussion. “Thanks mom,” he replied.

Contact Dawn Hodson at 530-344-5071 or [email protected] Follow @DHodsonMtDemo on Twitter.

Dawn Hodson

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