ST. GEORGE – Three of the seven seats that make up the board of trustees for the Washington County Water Conservancy District expired at the end of the year. Per state law, public notice of the upcoming seat vacancies was provided and anyone interested in applying for one of the seats was free to apply as long as they met basic requirements.
Though seven people submitted applications, the Washington County Commission reappointed those board-members whose terms were set to expire. Some in the community have asked why, some argue the process should be elective not appointive.
As long as the WCWCD is doing its job and water is available, some people see little need to pay attention to the goings-on at the water district. Others have raised concerns over a plethora of issues, from the Lake Powell Pipeline, allegedly not promoting water conservation, and how the district’s board of trustees is chosen.
In its Dec. 18 meeting, the county commission, the body that chooses appointees to the board, announced its decision to reappoint Tom Hirschi, Jim Ence and Howard Bracken, each to an additional 4-year term.
Hirschi has served on the board since 2008, Ence since 2005, and Bracken since 2002. Their new terms will carry through to Dec. 31, 2016.
“They’ve done a good job,” Commissioner Alan Gardner said of the reappointees.
“The report from staff is they are working hard,” Commissioner James Eardley said.
Reasons for retention and appointment
Of course, not everyone is happy about the reappointments. Chris White, one of the applicants, said none of he and the other applicants were even interviewed. “Not a single person called,” he said.
Gardner and Eardley confirmed the applications were reviewed, but no interviews were arranged.
“I didn’t talk to anyone,” Gardner said.
He said a reason for the retention of current board members was to maintain the long-term stability. “If you change them every term,” Gardner said, “you’ll always be in flux.”
This reasoning mirrors a statement from the WCWCD concerning board appointments, which also cites why board members are not elected by the public:
The (Utah Legislature) has adopted a policy of appointing trustees of water conservancy districts rather than having them elected, recognizing that short term political pressures should not govern the decisions governing the provision of a fundamental human resource need like water. The water projects that are constructed and managed by the water conservancy districts generally involve long lead-times for planning and construction. Without the systematic approach facilitated by an appointed board, water projects could fall to the whims of those who have the best public relations presentations but not the best substance or understanding. In today’s world, special interest groups may be very effective at influencing opinion, but unlike the trustees of the District, they do not have to face the consequences if their influence leads to bad decisions. Appointed board members are less likely to be swayed by political pressure and are more able to maintain the long term commitment necessary to oversee the activities of District staff. (Emphasis added.)
Eardley also said it was better to retain the board members because they are already familiar with the goals and processes of the water district.
Another reason for the reappointments, according to the statement mentioned above and Gardner, concerns the county commission’s objective to arrange the board with representatives from all areas of the county.
“We’ve tried to get (representation) from across the county,” Gardner said.
The seven trustees are from different portions of the county, and represent the interests of each area. Of the seven applicants, four were from Washington while the rest hailed from Ivins, Santa Clara and St. George.
“Most of (the applicants) weren’t in the geographical area we needed,” Gardner said.
Though retention was a likely possibility before the official announcement was made, public notice of the expiration of term for the three seats was published in accordance with state laws. The same law applies to any type of special district when a pending vacancy arises, Gardner said. “They all have to advertise (the coming vacancies),” he said.
Seven individuals applied and their applications were reviewed, Gardner said. He added he was familiar with many of the applicants too, only one of them lived in an available geographic area. Still, some of the applicants said they wished they had been able to have time in front of the commission.
“With an interview, I could have at least shared some ideas,” applicant Gregory Allred said. He also said he felt the applicants were not given a chance for proper representation before the commission.
Allred said he also had no idea about the geographic representation attached to the seats when he initially applied. If he had known, he wouldn’t have applied in the first place.
Ron Truman, another applicant and a member of the Washington City Council, said one of the reasons he applied for the office was to help create a “diversity of opinions” among the board, as its members have served in the same capacity for many years now.
“I think that would be a positive change,” Allred said.
Bringing new ideas to the board of trustees is a theme Allred, Truman and White shared as a reason to for applying.
“We have to have water to sustain the future,” Truman said, and a fresh voice injected into the prevailing opinions of the board may do it some good.
White said one thing that needed to change, regardless of the reappointments, is public awareness as far as the WCWCD is concerned.
Not many people bother to go to the public water district meetings, White said. “That’s one of the reasons they get away with things – because there’s no public awareness,” he said.
Besides Allred, Truman, and White, board applicants included Kendrick “Rick” Hafen, Dennis Murphy, Aaron D. Olsen and Travis Perry.
The seven-member WCWCD Board of Trustees consists of the aforementioned Bracken, Ence and Hirschi, as well as Ed Bowler since 1998, Dennis Iverson since 1992, Jim Lemmon since 2002 and Dan McArthur since 1994.
To qualify for appointment to the board, an individual must be a United States citizen and registered voter residing within the boundaries of the county water district.
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