June 2023 News since the May 2, 2023 Election
Welcome to our new Board! At the May regular meeting Mike Smith was seated for a second board term, and re-elected to the offices of Board Secretary and Treasurer. David Karas was welcomed as a new Board member. Other officers elected at the meeting were John Loll as Vice President and Vivia Lawson as President.
Thank you to everyone who returned their ballots on time for the Board of Directors election! Of about 1,500 eligible to vote in the election, about 248 valid ballots were returned on time. Unfortunately, a handful of ballots were mailed too late (e.g., they were not delivered in person to the District office), and were received after the election deadline L. Fortunately the results were not close.
A first order of business for the new board was a special meeting with the Town of Crestone to discuss wastewater services provided by the District to the Town. This meeting was only confirmed three days before it happened. Such are the uncertainties of organizing large groups of decisionmakers and their lawyers. Apologies for the late notice to anyone who was inconvenienced. It was a hybrid meeting with representatives from Town and the District participating both on Zoom and from the District board room. We discussed plans and funding logistics for the new wastewater treatment plant, and also engaged in thorough, candid, and civil conversation about the need for Town and the District to work together, and the barriers in the way of cooperation. The District felt it was important that this be a public meeting, and several community members joined to listen. Thank you for your interest!
Another wonderful piece of news is that during the spring, US Fish & Wildlife (USFWS) agreed to a short term rate reduction for water purchased by the District. Beginning in July, we will be paying $75 per acre/foot for raw water. This is a substantial reduction from the contested rate we have been paying for several years of $244.27 per acre/foot. The new rate is much closer to what our Water Services Agreement with USFWS specifies we should be paying, and will result in savings to the District of approximately $58,000 per year. This temporary rate reduction paves the way for the parties to agree to long term changes to our Water Services Agreement. Our relationship to the Federal Government is unique in the entire country. As a result our friends at USFWS move slowly. This new agreement has been in negotiation for a long time, and the rate we have been charged has been contested for a number of years. Thank you Fish for offering this interim concession!
June 2022 New Board Members First Meeting
by V. Lawson
#Politics— (July 2022)
June was the first full public meeting with the new board of the Water & Sanitation District. I had hoped to conduct orderly meetings of reasonable length, but alas, for the second straight month we met for a full 4 hours! Truly, our board members and staff are providing service!
We had a full agenda including two customer special requests, updates on several ongoing projects, and a matter related to the conduct of one of our board members.
I have not intended to be an activist board president, but I do hold convictions around board process and governance of our public entities. This stance seems to be bringing some long-festering differences around governance to a head.
Governing boards by nature are slow to act. We have our processes that create a pipeline for our work: Agenda requests need to be submitted to the district at least 10 working days prior to a board meeting to be included in that meeting, and that timeline is too short in many instances for the board to be able to make an informed decision. We only meet as a board once a month, and open meeting restrictions limit our communications as a board outside of public meetings.
Both the public and Board members can chafe against these limitations. Board members tend to want to be liked and appreciated for their service, and often a board will try to be lenient or to expedient and ignore the purpose behind our structures.
Covid challenged many of these long-present practices. Covid added responsibilities of setting policies related to public health and personal freedom to the already heavy load of our Water District. And staff and board members experienced personal attacks and outbursts at and around our board meetings in relation to conflicts around these issues. Board majority decisions around these matters were challenged by minority members, and the Board was called to strengthen our governance policies in response. The district has had to defend its decisions related to meetings, masking, and public access to the office. I see that the district, to the credit of our District Manager JoAnn Slivka has handled these challenges with patience and grace. And the water still flows….
With this backdrop, I stepped into the board president role with a clear sense that governance is my strength, and that it is also an area of need within our organization. We need to heal the wounds of Covid, remove the personal, the woundedness, and the short-sighted from our decision processes. We need to restore and strengthen trust between individuals, and as an organization facing the public. Board members need to take the lead on this, and our example will inform District operations and our public interface.
Community members who have not served on a public board fail to understand how paradoxically fragile and resilient our community is. Every organization, whether it is our District, the town, the property owner’s association, or the county, is dealing with enormously diverse needs in the face of financial challenge. We face issues of high staff and volunteer turnover, often through no fault of the organization. We are all updating our organizational cultures in a rapidly changing community. We can no longer operate just by personal relationship and loose structures. We need a more sophisticated skill set among staff and volunteers. At the same time, we don’t want to lose the small-town personal attention and individuality that separates our community from others.
Please join us for our meetings and learn about your water district. We need responsible community members to care and become involved. And the work is more interesting that you would think!