The Virgin Valley Water District held its first meeting of 2016 before a room packed with students from Virgin Valley High School. The students attended the meeting to see how local governments works in Mesquite, and got to hear issues ranging from the election of new officers for the district to the resolution of an ethics complaint filed by a director against a fellow board member.

The Jan. 5 meeting of the board began with the board unanimously re-electing Nephi Julien as board president for 2016, but not without some controversy. A motion by director Sandra Ramaker to elect Julien as president and Bubba Smith as vice president failed on a 3 to 2 vote with directors Rich Bowler, Barbara Ellestad and Julien voting no, and Ramaker and Smith voting yes.

The board then voted on the positions individually with Julien elected president and staff member Mary Johnson elected secretary-treasurer. The vote was unanimous. Bowler then moved to elect Ellestad as vice president and the motion passed three to two with Smith and Ramaker voting no.

The vote reflected the on-going controversy between Ramaker and Ellestad. Last year, Ramaker filed an ethics complaint with the state alleging that Ellestad could not serve as an elected member of the water district board and also be the editor of the Mesquite Local News. The complaint was administratively dismissed but Ramaker filed an appeal to the full Commission on Ethics, which again found no violation of state laws at a hearing on Dec. 15.

Ellestad’s only comment during the agenda item of the ethics complaint was, “Get over it.”

The board moved on to a discussion of whether or not to send notice to the Nevada Public Agency Insurance Pool, commonly known as “Pool Pact,” that the district was not renewing insurance coverage with the agency. Both the district and the City of Mesquite have complained about agency practices in settling claims.

Pool Pact requires 120 day notice before a local government can stop coverage, prompting the board to discuss whether or not to send a letter canceling coverage effective June 30.

All of the board members expressed dissatisfaction with Pool Pact. Smith told the board that “A policy is only as good as the people who deal with the claims,” and urged the board to look elsewhere for coverage. Bowler added, “I’m done with them.”

The board discussed alternate coverage availability with district insurance agent Bill Mitchell, who encouraged the board to give itself time to “review options” before canceling the policy. After discussion, Ellestad moved to direct staff to develop a letter providing the required notice to Pool Pact so that the board can look at other options for insurance. Attorney for the district Bo Bingham suggested the letter include statements that canceling the insurance does not affect pending claims and that the district reserves the right not to cancel if the review of other options is not successful. The motion passed unanimously. The staff will bring a proposed letter of cancellation to the next board meeting for approval.

District lobbyist Warren Hardy provided the board with background on the “Faraday Futures session” held by the Nevada Legislature last month. Hardy told the board a last minute amendment to the bill was required to protect the water basins that supply water to the district from being used by the proposed Faraday Futures plant in Apex.

“The intent of the legislation was always to draw water from the (Coyote Springs) basin, however, the way the legislation was drafted it could have potentially impacted our basins.”

Hardy said he went to Sen. Pete Goicoechea of Eureka and Mesquite legislators Senator Joe Hardy and Assemblyman Chris Edwards, and “asked for their assistance in changing the bill language to insure VVWD was not affected.” The bill was changed and Hardy thanked the VVWD staff for their assistance in providing information to the legislature.

The board also discussed but took no action on whether or not to provide discounted or free water connections to a proposed new gym for Virgin Valley High School. All directors expressed support for the new gymnasium proposal that is currently before a bond review committee of the school district. However, the board decided to take no action until a specific request is made.