More mayors in the pipeline? Water district board make-up

ST. GEORGE – More mayors within Washington County may find themselves pulling double duty as they not only serve their prospective municipalities, but also occupy seats on the Board of Trustees for the Washington County Water Conservancy District. While officials with the Washington County Commission and water district see the move as something of a natural progression of the board’s future makeup, others aren’t so sure it’s a good idea.

“We’ve got two mayors now,” said Washington County Commissioner Alan Gardner, referring to St. George Mayor Dan McArthur and Hurricane Mayor Thomas Hirschi, who currently sit on the board. “We’ll potentially add more,” he said

Ron Thompson, WCWCD general manager, said more mayors/elected officials could likely be put on the board within the next six to 10 years. “(It’s) probably a natural progression,” he said.

In a nutshell, appointees to the WCWCD’s board of trustees help determine water district polices and water management planning and projects.

Appointments to the board are selected by the county commission. Gardner said a reason mayors are being considered “a little stronger” than other potential applicants is because it is believed they are more in tune with public needs. There is also an added level of accountability that comes with being an elected public servant, he said.

Appointees to the board tend to be long-lived in their positions, as water management is a long-term and complex business, Thompson said.

“It takes longer than two terms to understand the water system,” he said.  A single term covers four years.

According to the WCWCD website, the longest-serving board member is Dennis Iverson. He was appointed to the position in 1992.

As authorized by state law, board members have never been elected. The reasoning behind this is that directly elected officials are potentially subject to political pressures and special interests. Water itself is not supposed to be used as a political tool according to the state.

Appointees can serve as long as necessarily, while elected officials can have a relatively short life span in comparison. As water management is seen as a long-term process, potentially short-term politicians may not be able to serve with the level of consistency needed to adequately address the county’s needs.

Still, the fact the board members are not directly elected is a point of concern for some members of the community.

“People cry for elections so they can be heard,” Chris White said, White is a former county commissioner candidate and water board applicant.  “They’re trying to justify why they don’t have an open process.”

When the terms of three trustees were set to expire at the end of last year, White, along with seven others, put in applications for the county commission to consider after public notice was given. While the applications were reviewed, none of the applicants were called for interviews. Instead, the three sitting board members were reappointed.

“Why didn’t the commission allow more public input on the board appointments?” White said.

As for appointing more mayors in the future, White said just because he voted for a mayor of his city, it doesn’t mean he votes for them to be on the water board too.

White said the first priority of any mayor will likely be their city – so what happens to the unincorporated areas of the county that do not have mayoral representation?

Though the county commission isn’t required to do so, it selects members of the board from different parts of the county to try and ensure a balanced level of geographic representation. Both Gardner and Thompson said area mayors can have an influence on which applicants are selected for their particular region of the county as well.

“The mayors in this county have always had a strong say in who goes on the board,” Thompson said.

Gardner said the idea of putting one of the county commissioners on the board has also been discussed.

Yet, what happens when a sitting board member, who also happens to be a mayor, isn’t reelected? Gardner said, “We’ll evaluate it as the terms rotate.”

White said he wondered when “new blood” would ever get onto the board of trustees.

“There is a no better example of the ‘good ole boys club’ than the water conservancy,” he said.

Email: mkessler@stgnews.com

Twitter: @MoriKessler

Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2013, all rights reserved.

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19 Comments

  • Socialist Governments June 5, 2013 at 8:30 am

    Could it be now that the FEMA well has gone dry, and no more millions of Federal dollars are available for airports or roadway projects, your cities are seeking (or creating?) ways to wrestle more money from the Federal Government? Odd that out on side of his mouth, your mayor would talk about wanting to maintain a small town environment while out the other side of his mouth, the mayor talks about growth. However, why is your city so heavily dependent on Federal monies to create jobs? What happened to capitalist ventures instead of the socialist path?

  • Zeke June 5, 2013 at 8:52 am

    This is something to think about before every single election. Not only do elected officials sit on the water board, they are also involved with Vision Dixie, the Dixie MPO, and many other organizations that decide how to spend your money. So running for an elected office doesn’t mean they will serve in just that compacity, it’s possible that an elected official may serve in “other” boards that can affect your life. So think about that before voting next time.

  • Bender June 5, 2013 at 9:11 am

    Until the electorate sees fit to elect county commissioners who are not involved in, or beholden to, the local development machine, WCWCD will continue to try to shove the Lake Powell Pipeline down our throat.

  • BJ June 5, 2013 at 9:43 am

    And just what is the purpose of the Washington County Water Conservancy District? To conserve water? When I walk around St George or Hurricane, for example, I see thousands of gallons of water running down the gutters. Or what about the vast acres of flora e.g. grass lawns, not native to this environment that undoubtedly use more water in one season we need for drinking and cooking in several years. Evidently like the rest of our government they too are broken.

    As to the ridiculous statement regarding the lifespan of elected officials I have two words, Orrin Hatch.

    • L Scott Larsen June 5, 2013 at 8:53 pm

      A certain amount of water has to go down stream, what deference does it make if it flows over our tongue first? I believe we should hold up more water on this end of the State and they can let more go down from Powell, to make up for what we need here. Natural pipe line, it’s called the Virgin River. Use the $5,000.00 you stole from me towards a new reservoir, then you can tax the heck out of us when we use it for recreational purposes; an added bonus.

  • JJ Slice June 5, 2013 at 9:47 am

    Elected officials also serve on sewer and waste districts. Nobody has ever thanked them for dealing with everybody’s garbage,

    • Socialism June 5, 2013 at 2:29 pm

      Nor do they thank us for dealing with their garbage.

    • Good ole boys June 5, 2013 at 4:44 pm

      Some of those elected officials shovel out a lot of garbage of their own onto everyone.

  • Ken June 5, 2013 at 9:50 am

    The WCWCD once again shows their true colors. Seems the ego and greed driven entity is keeping everything right where they want it. Those making money are truly scared to let anyone that doesn’t adhere to their vision. Free thinking WILL NOT be allowed in Washington County as per your mayor!

  • Socialist Governments June 5, 2013 at 10:03 am

    Some of these officials have governed your lives from the time your children entered kindergarten through high school graduation.

  • Freethebird June 5, 2013 at 10:06 am

    This hubbub about mayors appears to be more about Utah’s Truth in Taxation rules than anything mentioned in the article. The author really should write about the fact that taxing districts can’t raise taxes/rates without the district board comprising lawfully elected officials…even if the board is appointed it must be of appointed elected officials. The water district is basically the only taxing district with a board comprised of non-elected persons. Because of recent legislation (can’t remember which year) taxes/rates in Utah cannot be raised without elected officials sitting on the Board and making the decision to raise taxes (or water rates). The logic is that if citizens are going to be subjected to increases the should at least have some form of representation connection to the board increasing the rates. The water district’s attempt to start grooming mayor’s to sit on the board is more about the water district preparing to begin raising water rates than anything else.

    Funny thing is that Chris White and the opposition in the article also can’t see what the real issue is either.

    • Socialism June 5, 2013 at 2:33 pm

      How would that be viewed by the Utah’s Attorney General, if he wasn’t under investigation? Anyone else have the feeling corruption exists in Utah’s state and city governments?

  • My Evil Twin June 5, 2013 at 11:07 am

    I fully believe that the pipeline is going to happen, no matter what anybody says. I honestly don’t know how to feel about the pipeline itself. I could put up very good arguments either way.
    But from what I have seen over the last many years, is that these folks will have their way, no matter what.

  • pete June 5, 2013 at 2:15 pm

    Thanks for the great article Mori!

  • L Scott Larsen June 5, 2013 at 8:40 pm

    “Why didn’t the commission allow more public input on the board appointments?” White said. Because these idiots already are getting what they want, don’t need peasants like us mucking that up.

  • UtahPro June 6, 2013 at 12:30 am

    As a relative new comer, the one-sidedness of water district communications (i.e., flyers, inserts, brochures, etc.) convinced me to check into the “other side” of the story. I wonder if their blatantly biased approach will be effective, or if the electorate (oops, wrong word) is smarter than that.

    Also, when I see that the WCWCD has one of the the fanciest public buildings around, I suspect spending in other areas is likely to be extravagant. For example, in their latest insert they report that a hot springs was purchased, but no price is mentioned.

    I may be a bit mistrusting, but the bias and lack of transparency of this closed-system smells more like a not-so-mini China Syndrome than public service.

    • My Evil Twin June 6, 2013 at 9:10 am

      Welcome to Utah, specifically to Dixie! You have the right idea about how things are run here!

  • adamtgardener June 6, 2013 at 9:34 am

    It is nothing but a maddening grab for water…use it or loose it says the WCWCD and so the pristine and wild environment of Ash Creek goes dry destroying habitat for a myriad of wildlife including beaver, muskrat, endangered minnow, etc. I see useless field soaking this year in places where water has been used sparingly in the past. These are fields that serve no purpose…let alone a beneficial use. When it comes to water it is one insane manipulation of the facts of life after another. Local greed and corruption are rampant and the environment is wasted…once again…by the descendants of pioneers that originally came here overgrazing the mountains, valleys and high plateaus until collapse of those systems was imminent. Water for greedy developers and land owners is what controls this horrible tragedy…and now we have the WCWCD about to destroy ancient ancestral hot springs along the Virgin…because, they say…it is poisonous!!! No one is safe soaking in the water…politely put…what a load of misinformation… The springs work wonders on people that are seeking alternatives to the Big Med Industries useless attempts to stop sickness and disease. What a mockery…watching Saint George City spend millions for an endangered minnow, water feature on the Red Cliffs…to raise environmental awareness…while Hurrican, La Verkin and the WCWCD run the wild environment of Ash Creek bone dry, day in and day out. No regulation of water flow…water all you want when you want until your field is holding puddles of water. High noon heat of the day…no matter…water before the WCWCD takes away your right to use water at the expense of wild life.One other thing…why not tap into the enormous subterranean water along the Utah Nevada border…its close and “easy digging” going across vast, Great Basin valleys. Let the surface water we have at least provide some source for wildlife.

  • Joe June 6, 2013 at 10:22 pm

    Ron Thompson hand picks his board to ensure that those selected support his position. With the impact fees on water we experience taxation without representation. Citizens are not able to vote on the amount of the impact fee nor on the fact that it escalates at 5% a year. I don’t believe that we will have the opportunity to vote on the pipeline either, even though we will bear the brunt of the costs. Let’s be frank here–the pipeline is more about saving the state’s water rights with the Colorado River than ensuring the future of Washington County. But who is going to go toe to toe with Ron Thompson and stop him?

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