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.
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