Editorial: GSA progress still uncertain

The April 26 workshop hosted by the Indian Wells Valley Groundwater Authority was a breath of fresh air for the participants in the public arena. It stood in sharp contrast to the board’s previous practices of conducting business behind closed doors and attempting to silence voices that are not in agreement with the board agenda.

Article 5 of the Joint Powers Agreement bylaws was the focus of the workshop. The volunteer committee that had invested endless hours revising Article 5 had drafted revisions with the belief that the changes that they had made in the redline document were very straightforward, simple and easy to be implemented.

Ridgecrest City Councilwoman Lindsay Stephens expressed concern that Article 5 would be adopted that evening before public comment was heard, because surprisingly the item did appear on the workshop agenda.

IWVGA Chair First District Supervisor Mick Gleason stated, “I think tonight would have been a lost endeavor if we don’t take the input and incorporate it to the maximum extent we can.” He ultimately directed staff to work on integrating the latest input for approval at the next meeting.

This set a new tone, a departure from past behavior where the GSA had simply ignored the issues that were being brought up by the public. It will be important to follow the process. Will staff be documenting the issues being brought up by the public? So the board could determine what items needed to be incorporated so that the important issues would not be swept under the rug?

As the facilitator gave the audience an opportunity to vote on the issues, it was obvious that the public was highly in support of the changes proposed to the revised draft.

It was disappointing that at the Indian Wells Valley Water District board meeting following the workshop, Peter Brown, board president, and Don Zdeba, general manager, said that they had not seen a copy of the revised version, so the board was unable to give their elected official on the GSA direction regarding the revision.

In spite of the continual stress from Gleason, Brown, and Mayor Peggy Breeden to hasten the process so the bylaws could be approved, it appears that it’s the staff that’s not moving forward expeditiously in the area of communication. If the staff had made the revised version of Article 5 available to the board, that would not have been a roadblock in the process. With such a highly paid staff and with all of the lawyers on the board, it would seem in the best interest of all involved for the staff to move the process along expeditiously rather than putting the blame on the public for wanting to do it right and being the culprits for slowing down the process.

The board implies that the bylaws will be easy to change down the road, although the term “bylaw” implies that it is legally binding. Changing them may not be so easily done. We had best get it right the first time. The revision of the draft not being available in a timely manner just drags out the process. In the final recap at the close of the discussion on Article 5, it appeared that some of the GSA members had simply ignored the issues that had been brought up and enthusiastically supported by some members of the audience. Consequently, there are concerns that issues critical to a democratically run organization might bypass meaningful participation, transparency and fair representation. Bear in mind that the GSA is the most powerful body we have ever allowed ourselves to be ruled by, and it has the power to impose fees and taxes on the public. With the voting power structure of the GSA board, we could come under the heavy hand of three board members.

With the present structure of consultants, mostly made up of lawyers rather than water experts, solutions to our water problems are not the focus. The lawyers are there to protect the elected officials. Perhaps that money could be better spent on water experts who could focus on solutions. To our dismay, the current process seems to be politically driven. This strategy does not work at resolving issues at hand because science and facts matter. When are we going to start talking about solutions?

The committee recommending the changes in the bylaws has taken into careful consideration a pathway to a future that protects the taxpayers from being ruled by bureaucracies and government overreach. Case in point – if the water resources manager has the authority to overrule the policy advisory committee or the technical advisory committee, both committees will be rendered powerless. Another case in point is the board having the power to oust committee members at will without cause. The ability of a board to intimidate a committee member by threat of being ousted if that member doesn’t agree with the agenda is unacceptable. This is another way of silencing the voices that are not in consensus.

In addition, the board wants to retain the power to influence the appointing of the chairpersons of all the committees. We believe that all would be better served if the committees appoint their chairs, and the board get out of the way and let the committees do their job.

An abrupt turn of events at the end of the workshop occurred when Derek Hoffman, legal representative for Meadowbrook Farms, requested that the board approve Article 5 that evening as it was presented — which would have defeated the purpose of the public input. This came as a strange and questionable move on the part of Meadowbrook Farms as their previous position voiced at almost every meeting had been in opposition to the GSA’s hasty implementation and lack of public inclusion. At a previous GSA meeting he had pressed the point to the extent of serving board members with a letter suggesting the possibility of litigation if the GSA did not honor their concerns.

Being advised that recently Meadowbrook Farms has been included in behind-doors meetings with the GSA and staff and board members raises some concerns as to what might be at play here.

It behooves all stockholders, whether China Lake command, local businesspeople, farmers or ratepayers to get involved and stay informed. Only in this manner can a government be of the people, by the people and for the people.

Story First Published: 2017-05-12