Wednesday, October 4, 2023

Redwood Valley’s Water Board District Attempts to Fill Vacancy But Winds Up Deadlocked

A waterway in Redwood Valley[Photo by afletch4141 via their Flickr account]

The RVCWD Board of Directors held a special meeting on January 18, 2023 at 2:00 pm at the District Office, 151 Laws Avenue, Ukiah, with a Zoom option available. The following Directors were present: Tom Schoeneman, Ken Todd, Adam Gaska, and Cassie Taaning, along with General Manager Jared Walker and Admin Assistant Ashtyn Davis.

Interviews with Candidates for Board Seats

There is one vacancy on the Board. There are two candidates who have applied for the spot. The purpose of this meeting was for the Board to interview the two candidates, Bree Klotter and Keith Tiemann. 

Interview with Bree Klotter

Candidate Klotter is a former Board member, who ran for re-election on the November 2022 ballot. She did not win. Due to a clerical error regarding District boundary maps, a previously appointed Board member was not eligible to serve. So, despite the recent election, there is now an opening for a Board seat. 

Klotter said that she enjoyed being on the Board, has gotten over the learning curve for new members, and can be useful because of her experience. Her top three issues are finding a reliable and sustainable source of water for the Redwood Valley community; working with the Russian River Flood Control District; and continuing to work on the consolidation with the City of Ukiah. 

When questioned about annexation with Flood Control and consolidation with Ukiah, Klotter said, “I think they’re of equal importance. I think that the annexation into the Flood Control District will provide a much more secure water source for the Ag community. The water from the consolidation is going to be much more useful to the municipal users than it is for the Ag users because that water can’t be used for Ag. On the other hand, the consolidation will eventually lead to infrastructure going into place to provide municipal users with sufficient water.” Joining the Flood Control District could lead to obtaining water from Lake Mendocino in the short term. Consolidation with Ukiah, which will improve infrastructure is a project that will take years. The consolidation with Ukiah is going to benefit domestic water users but does not provide Ag water for farmers. Flood Control could possibly provide a secure source of Ag water.

Director Ken Todd pointed out that water from Flood Control would be used for both domestic and Ag. Todd said “So far, Russian River has never offered a contract with water, we just get their excess. That’s all they can promise us now. Can you think of any way they could break that?” Klotter said, “I think they’ve been looking at options that go beyond the Stipulated Judgment because I think for a long time they thought that was written in stone and there was no other way.” Director Todd disagreed saying, “I don’t think that’s true. They won’t give us a contract, period. The other growers will always be ahead of us. Those original customers are always ahead of us.” Klotter replied, “I can’t argue with that because I don’t have all the facts, but my response is that being a customer and getting excess water versus not being a customer and only getting surplus water, there is a better likelihood to get some water as a customer than being dependent on surplus.”

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Among her contributions when previously serving on the Board was seeking a $1.8 million grant to find additional water sources for Redwood Valley, working with LACO consultants. 

Klotter has also served on the board of Mendocino WineGrowers, Inc. She also attends Flood Control board meetings and some Inland Water and Power Commission meetings.

Member Schoeneman asked if the Board should keep discussions among themselves, rather than having rogue members talking to outsiders. Klotter agreed that she, too, was concerned with rogue members. No specific examples of rogue statements by directors were provided by either party. While the discussion remained civil, it was apparent that the board is divided.

After the interview with Klotter, it was time to bring in Keith Tiemann. Klotter wanted to stay and listen. Todd and Schoeneman had asked Tiemann to wait outside during Klotter’s interview, thinking they should interview the candidates separately. Director Gaska pointed out that it was a public meeting and you can’t keep someone out of a public meeting. With Tiemann’s consent, Klotter stayed to hear his interview.

Interview with Keith Tiemann

Tiemann said he applied because “I felt like I had a lot to offer to the Board. I’ve been in Redwood Valley for 49 years. I’ve been in the same house, and I’d been a District employee for 25 years. And I was on the Board for one term after that. I have a lot of perspectivs and a lot of experience.” Tiemann previously served a four-year term on the Board, 2004-2008. Tiemann said, “I’ve attended every Board meeting of the Water District from 1977 to 2008.” He was involved with the construction of the treatment plant and “I’ve seen every pipe go in the ground. I was there at the very beginning.” He is a former President of Wine Country Water Works Association, but has not served on county boards.

His biggest concern is “Seeing the water treatment plant, which was a state-of-the-art water treatment plant when it was built 50 years ago, seeing it go into disuse.” He added, “I’ve heard that there are plans for a consolidated district. I’m all in favor of that. It’s been a long time coming. It’s really the only answer to Redwood Valley’s problems.” 

Tiemann is a former General Manager of the RV District. He is concerned that the treatment plant will need a lot of work to get it up and running again. Director Todd mentioned that it is cheaper to get water from Millview. Schoeneman said that the District has spent money on the plant by purchasing pumps at Lake Mendocino. “We can flip the switch if we can, so far we haven’t been able to.” (No lake water is available for domestic use currently.) Tiemann said, “The system was designed for a 50-year life and we are at year 46 right now. That doesn’t mean it’s going to fall apart in 50 years, but things are going to start to happen. There will be more money needed for the maintenance of the system. That’s a concern I have.”’ There are over 4 miles of pipe running from Lake Mendocino to the treatment plant and “that goes through some of the steepest country I’ve ever seen.”  

When asked whether it was more urgent to join Flood Control or consolidate with Ukiah, Tiemann said, “I’m not up to speed on everything the Board is considering right now. And it’s going to be a learning process, and I need to, and am willing to, listen and learn for as long as it takes before I start thinking about priorities.” Consolidation caught his attention initially and it was moving in a direction where there might be some resolution.

Director Gaska asked Tiemann why he was seeking this appointment and why he hadn’t run for a board seat in the election. Tiemann said, “I think that election was a couple of years ago?” Gaska said, “It was in November.” 

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Tiemann heard about the consolidation effort and thought the Bureau of Reclamation’s $7 million loan might be a sticking point. “That loan repayment schedule was included in the instruction manual for the District. It was right there staring us in the face when the project was completed and turned over to the District for operation. We knew exactly what we had to come up with.” Tiemann added, “There was a point in the Reagan administration in the late 1980s when they tried to call in all the loans that were out to agencies around the country. I think to try to take down the national debt. They were willing to take ten cents on the dollar on loans that were outstanding in order to get some money in.” The District hired a legislative consultant and Tiemann appeared before a Senate subcommittee to argue for a reduced amount. (The amount was not reduced.)

Director Taaning asked how he could help with consolidation. Tiemann said, “I think that first of all I’d like to make sure it’s being spearheaded by an engineering firm. I think this is more than just a consortium of agencies that can handle. And I’d like to see, I don’t know if I have any input on that or not as a Board Member, only a member of the Committee, a representative who would be representing the District would be participating in these consolidation meetings, as far as I understand, so I don’t know that I’d have any direct involvement. . . .I think something like that needs to be left up to the professionals. Just like I think water rights issues and questions need to be handled by water rights attorneys. It’s a little bit more than a layperson is capable of undertaking.”

Tiemann feels that he could contribute and work well with the other Boards during the consolidation process. He could commit to attending the scheduled meetings. He said he has no agenda and would come onto the Board with an open mind.

The Four Board Members were deadlocked on a decision.

After interviewing the candidates, the four board members voted and were deadlocked. Directors Schoeneman and Todd voted for candidate Tiemann, and Directors Gaska and Taaning voted for candidate Klotter. (Boards of Directors are traditionally supposed to have an odd number of members, to prevent tie votes.)

Director Todd said Tiemann has a “wealth of knowledge and experience.” Todd and Schoeneman seemed to favor Tiemann because of his past experience. He had been the operations manager and was on the Board through 2008.

Gaska and Taaning seemed to favor Klotter because, among other things, she helped improve the District’s relationship with Flood Control. 

Taaning said, “I’m impressed with the work that Bree has done. Helping write the grant, and responding to the Grand Jury report. She really seems to do her homework, and attend the other agency meetings.”

Schoeneman said, “We’re split two-two. We could argue this out. I don’t want to get personal. As I’ve stated before, my job as President of the Board is to try to keep us pulled together here so that we can discuss projects, ideas, and all that here first, and then it goes outside.” (The Board meetings are open to the public and broadcast via Zoom).

Taaning said, “Do you see any value in what Bree has contributed?”

Todd said, “Bree’s done a lot of good work, I told her that. But a lot of her stuff is repetitive. We tried wells. I’ve been in this valley for 40 years and I know where all the wells are and what they produce. To go get another grant to drill a well, I think is redundant and a waste of time, and all this grant money that they got, we’re not going to be able to use.”

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The Board seems to be divided on whether to join Flood Control. Director Todd wants to have a guarantee of water prior to joining. Director Gaska says the District cannot get a contract for water without first joining. Gaska pointed out that given the uncertain state of the Potter Valley project, nobody has a guarantee. “I think our relationship with Flood Control is better than it has been and Bree is a reason for that,” said Gaska.

Then it got personal. Director Todd said, “I like what Keith said, about not bringing an agenda to this board. Adam, you’ve said you were using this space as a stepping stone to run for supervisor, that bothers me. I hope you’re not on this board just for that reason.”

Gaska replied, “No because water is one of the biggest concerns that I have. Whether I run or not, it’s still going to be a concern.”

Todd said, “That was my goal when I got on this board, to try to secure water. I’ve been on the Board for 12 or 13 years. I’ve seen board members that you don’t even know come and go.”

Director Schoeneman did not like the fact that Taaning and Klotter forwarded to their Facebook followers a post by Katrina Frey endorsing them on the November ballot. It was a “vote for two out of three” situation on the ballot and Frey chose not to endorse Ken Todd. This is basic electioneering: a voter endorses candidates to her friends and the candidates forward it to their friends. Neither Frey, nor the candidates, had an obligation to send him a copy or notify him in any way. Schoeneman said, “I don’t know how we’re supposed to just forget that, and that’s what bothers me. This is the furthest I’ve gone with this because it’s been on the table for the last few months. This Board’s fractured enough.”

Director Gaska pointed out that only a small percentage of eligible voters cast ballots for the water board election. “When I asked Keith, he didn’t even realize, he may not have voted in the election, if he didn’t even realize that there was an election in November.”

Todd scolded Gaska for saying that Tiemann might not have voted and said, “Bree lost, that should say something to us.”

Taaning said, “At least she ran. He didn’t run. . . . To say that Bree lost, it wasn’t like Ken and I won by a landslide. It was close, she did get a lot of votes.”

Schoeneman said of Tiemann, “I was very impressed. I had no idea there was a guy like that out there. And I don’t remember seeing you (Taaning) at any meetings, nor you (Adam) prior to your coming on the board. And he said he’s been attending all of our meetings anyway. I mean by Zoom, I guess, or whatever. He said he still follows. It’s a part of his DNA.”

Schoeneman continued, “But it’s obvious we’re going to go two-two on this.”

The tie-breaking decision on which candidate to choose will be made by District 1 Supervisor Glenn McGourty, who will then submit his decision to the County Board of Supervisors for approval. 

The Regular Board Meeting Set for January 19, 2023 was canceled due to the lack of a quorum of members present. The next meeting is scheduled for February 16, 2023 at 5:00 pm.

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Monica Huettl
Monica Huettl
Mendocino County Resident, Annoying Horse Girl.

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