Conflict on water board comes to a head

By DR. JEANETTE FRANCIS

News Review Correspondent

Ongoing dissension within the Indian Wells Valley Water District Board of Directors culminated in open conflict at a recent workshop and continued at the most recent board meeting. At the heart of the dispute is the role of consensus regarding unresolved issues and the extent to which nonmajority opinions should be tolerated.

Board President Peter Brown addressed the first item on the agenda for the workshop, which called for a discussion of the basic tenets for the board. He called for unanimity of the board, saying he wanted to “record what we do agree on” — likening such consensus to a statement of faith in a church.

First on the list of items for which Brown called for consensus was the board’s position on the issue of whether the basin is in overdraft. This began a discussion of Brown’s perception of Director Chuck Griffin’s views on several issues — although Griffin corrected Brown on each one.

For example, Brown said Griffin was unwilling to agree with the other boardmembers that the basin is in overdraft. Griffin responded that he agrees that the basin is in overdraft, but he does not believe the basin is in critical overdraft.

Brown also contended that Griffin voted against forming the GSA. Griffin responded that he did not vote against the formation — and was in fact in agreement with it — however, he disagrees with the establishment of a joint-powers agreement.

Brown next voiced his dissatisfaction with Griffin for disagreeing that the groundwater basin is closed. Griffin maintained that there is strong evidence to support the theory that we have an open basin, and he believes the matter is still up for debate.

Agenda Item 2 called for 2017 committee assignments. When News Review staffers attempted to review this portion of the tape from the January workshop, they discovered that the water district had taped another meeting over that section of the recording — nonetheless, several attendants were able to comment on the events that took place during that period.

Brown requested that the board replace Griffin, who has served six months of his two-year assignment as alternate GSA member, and instead appoint newly elected boardmember Ron Kicinski. Brown stated that his request was based on the fact that Griffin had voted 20 times in opposition to the rest of the board in 1-4 or 2-3 votes, saying, “With Griffin being the alternate I’m worried about what would happen when I’m not there.”

Brown then requested that Griffin be restrained from speaking from the floor at GSA meetings when his views don’t reflect the board’s views. Griffin replied that he recalled having spoken only twice at GSA meetings and always clearly stated that he was speaking as an individual and not on behalf of the board.

Legal counsel Jim Worth commented that in his opinion what Griffin was doing was not a problem and telling someone they shouldn’t speak is a touchy subject.

“I feel like I’m being squeezed for lack of a better word,” said Griffin.

Vice-president Chuck Cordell commented, “This is not looking good to take Chuck off and putting Ron on, publicly axing him today.” He also pointed out that Griffin had served only six months of his two-year term.

Director Don Cortichiato concurred, saying that he was not in agreement to replace Griffin before his two-year term was up.

Brown stated that there is a point at which disagreement is counter-productive.

At the Feb. 13 board meeting, the issue was not addressed during the portion open to the public — however, Griffin circulated a handwritten letter to the members of the board describing in detail his experience at the workshop.

In the written account Griffin contended that Brown wanted him off the GSA committee because “It seemed illogical to have me on it [sic] we needed to reach consensus.” Griffin further commented, “My opinion was different, I stated I was fully supportive of the GSA, just because I disagree I should not be ousted.”

While Brown’s concerns center around Griffin’s dissent on issues relating to groundwater availability and management, Griffin has expressed at numerous meetings that he is being excluded from the information loop, including the e-mails and reports that go out to members of the IWV Groundwater Authority.

Although Brown is the board’s representative on the IWVGA, Griffin has maintained that, as the alternate, he needs access to the same information that the primary member receives.

Griffin attended a two-day conference sponsored by the district to learn about State Groundwater Management Authority laws and regulations. When he returned, he was prohibited from reporting what he learned.

This will be Griffin’s third year on the board. As a contractor who has 20 years of experience in drilling and developing land in the Indian Wells Valley he believes he brings a hands-on knowledge to his position on the board.

He also believes he represents ratepayers whose perspectives are not always given a voice in local water discussions.

“It’s my job to vote the way the people voted for me feel,” he said.  He added in his letter to the board, “I don’t think it’s working together when you are ousting somebody for not being a yes man.”

Story First Published: 2017-02-17