GA votes 3-2 to remove Rajtora as chair

By BRIAN COSNER

News Review correspondent

After tabling the decision for a month, the Indian Wells Valley Groundwater Authority (GA) voted Wednesday, Dec. 8, to pass over the IWV Water District representative’s turn as GA leader and rotate back to Kern County as chair.

Supporters of the decision cited conflict of interests between the GA and water district, particularly the district’s call for a court adjudication of the IWV groundwater basin – a move that has resulted in the water district recusing itself from some discussions.

Typically – as established in the GA bylaws – the chair position rotates among the “big three” member agencies: Ridgecrest, Kern County, and the water district. With Ridgecrest Vice Mayor Pro Tem Scott Hayman serving as chair for 2021, the position would have gone to Water District Director Stan Rajtora for the coming year.

But the Authority’s decision to remove Rajtora means Kern County 1st District Supervisor Philip Peters will again serve as chair for 2022.

Rajtora has recused himself from multiple big-ticket discussion items this past year, those involving the groundwater replenishment fee and imported water feasibility. Water District Legal Counsel Jim Worth had already declined legal counsel duties for the coming year. The Authority’s legal counsel Keith Lemieux suggested removing Rajtora as chair in light of these issues.

Lemieux alleged that “reading between the lines” suggested Rajtora might try to accomplish the basin adjudication as quickly as possible – interfering with GA water allocations and plans.

“I think the fact that the Water District attorney is voluntarily recusing himself from assuming the rotation says a lot,” said John Vallejo, GA representative from Inyo County. “And I think it will have downstream effects.”

Rajtora pointed out that the board had a vice chair whose entire purpose is to fill in for the chair duties “in the absence or disability of the chairperson.”

“All GA members understood there would be conflicts and disagreements. Disagreements exist in all organizations … and business goes on.”

San Bernardino representative Tim Itnyre also questioned the long-term effects of removing Rajtora as chair for the sake of an “easier” solution to the conflicts.

Some commented on the discussion’s adversarial tone, carried over from last month’s meeting. In a previous discussion regarding administrative services offered by Regional Government Services, Rajtora questioned some of the open-ended wording and how much it could cost the GA.

“What I don’t want to see is a blank check … I think it’s fiscally irresponsible,” said Rajtora.

“Oh, f––k you!” responded an unidentified voice from one of the meeting’s call-in lines.

Peters said he was “discouraged” by the argumentative nature of the topic, but ultimately voted, with Hayman and Vallejo, for Rajtora’s removal as chair.

Member of the public and Mojave Pistachio representative Joshua Nugent – among other members of the public – opposed Rajtora’s removal, citing the Department of Water Resources urge for collaboration regarding sustainable groundwater management.

He also commented on the meetings decorum. “That ‘f you’ you heard … that was done by a staff member or legal counsel ... For those watching this dysfunction and who want to know where that came from.”

Rajtora said he was disappointed with the board’s “shortsighted” decision in shutting the water district out. I really don’t understand what the board expects to gain from its actions.”

The GA board will next meet January 12 with Peters serving as chair. For more information visit iwvga.org.

Story First Published: 2021-12-17