Water District board nominates GA reps

Directors discuss future role as lead agency for the Authority

Water District board nominates GA repsDirectors of the Indian Wells Valley Water District discuss their representation on the IWV Groundwater Authority during a workshop meeting on Tuesday morning. — Photo by Laura Austin

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By BRIAN COSNER

News Review Staff Writer

Indian Wells Valley Water District Director Peter Brown will continue to serve as representative to the IWV Groundwater Authority, a decision made during Tuesday’s special workshop meeting of the water district. Brown received unanimous support, but there was disagreement regarding who should serve as alternate. The appointment ultimately fell to the board’s Vice President Chuck Griffin in a 4-1 vote.

Since Griffin won a seat on the IWVWD board two years ago, meetings have been marked by frequent disagreements between him and Brown regarding both Water District matters and the direction of the IWV Groundwater Authority.

Brown nominated IWVWD President Ron Kicinski as his alternate. “He’s been going to every single meeting since this began … I find that very valuable.”

In light of the nomination, Griffin – who was already the alternate and regularly attends Groundwater Authority meetings – asked for clarification since he has been cautioned regarding his attendance, specifically his comments, at meetings.

Griffin was reprimanded in the past for not thoroughly disclosing that his public comments were his personal concerns, not those of his board. Recently Brown addressed the public at a Ridgecrest City Council meeting, defending Authority Chair Mayor Peggy Breeden’s support of moving forward with a groundwater pumping fee.

“I spoke on the behalf of the [authority],” said Brown. “All I went there for was to support Peggy because she was having a tough time. The city council was divided, and I wanted to offer whatever information I could.”

“I kind of have an issue with that with you as our representative,” said Griffin. “I’ve been told a number of times that I have to say that I’m speaking on behalf of myself.

Director Chuck Cordell weighed in, saying that Brown and Griffin “need to ride it out two more years and see what they can come up with. I like listening to both of you and what your comments are.”

“I feel very strongly about this, and I will get myself involved wherever I can,” said Kicinski, who seconded Brown’s motion to appoint himself as alternate. “And I will continue to do so.”

“From my position, it’s not broken. Do we really need to fix it?” asked Director Don Cortichiato, who agreed with Cordell that Brown’s and Griffin’s differing opinions were a good thing for the board. “We do get a second opinion or position on some items – excellent. I’d go along with the status quo right now.”

“I’ve put a lot of time in, and I still put a lot of time in,” said Griffin. “I know [the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act] inside and out. The future of this community is very important to me. I want this to succeed.”

“Having a different opinion is valuable,” said Judie Decker during public comment. “This is a serious, serious thing for us to undertake. I propose that you use Chuck Griffin as your alternate. I have nothing against you, Ron. You attend the meetings, and you can in fact offer a third opinion.”

Brown’s motion for Kicinski as alternate failed 2-3. Griffin was approved, with Brown as the sole dissenting vote.

Discussion of the district’s representation on the IWV Groundwater Authority was punctuated by the fact that the city will pass the responsibility of board chair to the water district at the end of the year.

“Hopefully we’ll have an opportunity to all move forward,” said Kicinski. “What I want to do is avoid talking about what happened in the past. We need to learn from the past, but there’s no point in dwelling on it. We need to move forward in a way that’s beneficial to our ratepayers. And I’m a proponent of modest growth in our community, so that’s what I want to see.”

One point water district members have stressed is the necessity for a finance committee. Brown said he personally looked at the authority’s $5-million budget and identified up to $80,000 worth of expenditures that he thinks can be removed. But the public continues to stress the need for a publicly noticed finance committee.

“As one of the big three agencies, we need to have more input,” said Griffin. “We’ve asked for a finance committee.”

In addition to San Bernardino and Inyo Counties, the “big three” agencies of the Groundwater Authority are Ridgecrest, Kern County and the IWV Water District. Any item requires approval of two of the big three agencies in order to pass.

“I was at the city council meeting when [Breeden] said she’s been pushing for a finance committee,” said Stan Rajtora during public comment. “If this group wants a finance committee, and Peggy has been pushing for a finance committee, then something’s wrong. If Peter would move for it, Peggy would second it. It just needs to happen.”

Old concerns about the authority’s formation and structure also resurfaced during public comment, with Mike Neel calling it “illegal and unconstitutional.”

“We need to abolish this and create an elected body to govern the most important issue in this valley,” he said. “Not a single member of that board was elected to that board. Mr. Brown was elected to this board, Ms. Breeden was elected to the city council, Mr. Gleason was elected to the county. The two other members of the board barely have any constituents in this basin. This unelected [Groundwater Authority] should never have been in place.”

“I don’t want to have a debate, but I understand where you’re coming from,” said Brown. But he said the authority is a new type of agency that was formed within the requirements of SGMA. He added that he hopes it will transform into an independent agency with its own elected board.

The district also discussed its latest cost-of-service study, which will apply to 2019 water rates. See next week’s edition for more information. IWVWD’s next meeting is Monday, Aug. 13, 6 p.m. at the Water District Office, 500 W. Ridgecrest Blvd.

Story First Published: 2018-08-03