GA approves part-time manager position

Public asks ‘who’s in charge’ of the multi-agency IWVGA board

GA approves part-time manager positionBy BRIAN COSNER, News Review Staff Writer

While proposed valleywide groundwater pumping fees dominated the discussion during last month’s Indian Wells Valley Groundwater Authority meeting, the board also approved $161,500 in the budget for a part-time general manager.

Kern County Chief Deputy County Administrative Officer Alan Christensen, who previously acted as the IWVGA general manager, said that a standing, permanent general manager will be important for the future of the groundwater authority.

In the past the identity of the acting general manager of the groundwater authority has depended on the chairperson — a rotating position among Kern County, Ridgecrest and the Indian Wells Valley Water District. Joining the aforementioned “big three” as member agencies of the IWVGA are San Bernardino and Inyo counties as voting members, and the Bureau of Land Management and the Navy as nonvoting members.

The IWVGA is the basin’s Groundwater Sustainability Agency in accordance with the state’s Sustainable Groundwater Management Act. This new, complex government entity is responsible for reducing groundwater pumping to a level considered sustainable by the state. Simply put, the state has said our groundwater level must increase or remain static.

Kern County 1st District Supervisor Mick Gleason spearheaded local SGMA efforts and acted as chair of the GSA for the first year; the position has since rotated to Ridgecrest Mayor Peggy Breeden. With the rotation, staff authority also passed from Christensen to Ridgecrest City Manager Ron Strand.

But this fluctuation in leadership has left some members of the public asking, “Who is in charge?”

“Every organization has someone in charge, but I don’t know who is in charge here,” said Judie Decker during the May 17 meeting. “Is it the chair? Is it the board? Is it Stetson Engineering? The attorneys?”

Stetson Engineering is the firm serving as the GSA’s water resources manager. Stetson President Steve Johnson regularly attends meetings of the IWVGA board and its committees.

Decker made similar statements during the water district meeting prior to May 17 as well.

“I see little leadership in the GSA board. I’m sorry to say that, but this is what I observe. They need to get their act together and form a finance committee. The public said this months ago. I see no one in charge, unless it’s Phil Hall, and he’s an attorney.

“It must succeed but it’s off to a poor start. Somebody has Stetson doing work and much of what they’ve presented so far is work that [the water district] and the city have done years ago.”

Kern County Deputy General Counsel Phil Hall, who was present during the GSA meeting, spent a large portion of the discussion responding to public comment from the public podium.

Many in attendance questioned why their concerns were being addressed by the county’s legal counsel rather than GSA staff or the legal counsel sitting on the board.

Concerns about the effectiveness of GSA committees also resurfaced after the Technical Advisory Committee was told that members weren’t able to vote — not even to approve their own meeting minutes.

“Members of the TAC were not allowed to vote on anything anymore, and I want to know when that changed and why,” said Renee Westa-Lusk, a member of the Policy Advisory Committee.

“Does that apply to the PAC?”

“I find that the way you are doing things is completely opposite of what you said you were going to do when you started,” said Decker.

“You said you wanted the community involved, but it seems like everything has been done to negate the community — including both the PAC and the TAC.”

Breeden replied that it is the board that is in charge.

“We work as a group,” she said. “Items come through staff — legal, technical and managerial — and they bring them to the agenda.”

“Who is in charge is the board as a whole,” confirmed Legal Counsel Keith Lemieux.

“We’ve got a very unusual voting structure that was the subject of a lot of negotiation. All of us staff members get our direction from the board.”

The PAC and TAC committees met Thursday to continue discussing the fee ordinance, the GSA’s plan of action, recycled water options and other water alternatives.

More details will appear in future editions.

Pictured: Member of the public Judie Decker during a previous IWV Groundwater Authority meeting. — News Review file photo

Story First Published: 2018-06-01