Virgin Valley Water District board chair Nephi Julien declared the board position held by Bubba Smith as vacant at the district’s July 19 meeting. The action was required as Smith did not submit a formal letter of resignation even though he no longer lives within the district and has moved to Texas.
Under state law, the board must appoint a replacement within 30 days of a vacancy. After discussion, the board unanimously decided to publicize the vacancy and request that persons interested in being appointed to fill Smith’s term bring resumes in person to the district office by July 29 by noon.
The board will hold a special meeting on August 10 at 5p.m. to consider the applications and appoint a new member.
District accountant Wesley Smith presented the board with a proposal to refinance an existing bond that is currently charging 3.4 percent interest. Smith told the board, “We expect to save $249,000 in interest charges by refinancing.” The new bond rate will be 1.68 percent through JP Morgan. The board unanimously approved the refinancing.
In other business the board approved spending $60,000 to update the district’s master plan. District manager Kevin Brown told the board that when the plan was adopted in 2012, “The board at that time discussed having it updated every five years.” Brown recommended that Bowen, Collins & Associates (BCA) be awarded the contract as they currently keep district water model information “up to date.”
Chair Julien said “I would like to see a mechanism in place to start updating the plan after three years as things change so rapidly.” Director Barbara Ellestad requested that BCA keep the board informed as the work progresses because “I just don’t want all of this thrown at me at the last minute.” The work is expected to take about four months.
The board also approved delaying pipeline replacement on Marilyn Parkway until the 2017-2018 fiscal year to allow the allocated funds to be spent on pipeline work on Riverside Road. The action was required as the Nevada Department of Transportation (NDOT) accelerated plans to turn Riverside Road over to the City of Mesquite in the current fiscal year rather than in 2018 as was previously expected.
As part of the agreement to turn the road over to the city, NDOT will pay for paving the street. Once paved, the water district would be unable to work on the existing water line replacement for five years and the cost of the line work would dramatically increase. The board also approved $50,000 for Bulloch Brothers Engineering to proceed with the design and bidding of the project.
Chair Julien requested that the board policy on public comments by board members be discussed. At issue was a recent article in the Desert Valley Times (DVT) by director Sandra Ramaker that identified her comments as a board member rather than as a private opinion.
“I have some concerns, and yes we are entitled to our opinions. However, there are statutes and bylaws that concern how we act as board members,” said Julien. “My concerns are mostly that in two locations on the top and bottom of the article stated that she was with the water district which could give someone the impression she was speaking on behalf of the water district.” Julien also suggested that staff respond to the “inaccuracies in the article.”
Director Ellestad told Ramaker “If I was teaching one of my college classes I would have flunked you for plagiarism. The article that was published in Let’s Talk Mesquite by Mike McGreer on June 24 amazingly contained similar material that was published in your article on June 29.” Ellestad continued “I don’t believe you wrote the article and I just want that on the record.”
Ramaker replied “The big concern is that the newspaper put on the article that I was a member of the Virgin Valley Water District. It was not on anything that I turned in.” Ramaker said she had a statement from the paper saying that they were the ones who identified her as a board member.
Director Rich Bowler said he “appreciated the information.” Bowler added “Shame on them” referring to the DVT, and added “Shame on them also for not noting that you are up for re-election. I hope at least they will do some in-kind donation for your opponent.” Bowler added that statements made in the article attributed to him “were not even close to what my opinion is.”
Ramaker told the board that in hindsight “I should have made the statement that it was my opinion.”
Board members also criticized Ramaker for again delaying providing proof of her assertions after the district budget was adopted that “this budget intentionally hides from the public the intent by some of this board and staff to make money from share leasing while ignoring the importance of keeping our water here to best service the public.” Ramaker also repeated the charge in her newspaper opinion article. At Ramaker’s request, the board tabled the issue in June until the July 19 meeting to give her time to provide evidence to support her comments.
Ramaker said she had asked the staff to remove the agenda item again because the board had asked for detailed evidence supporting her comments and she hadn’t time to prepare. Director Bowler criticized the decision to remove the item as the “full board had requested the item be placed on the agenda.” Bowler said that one board member should not have the ability to remove an item from the agenda when it had been voted on by the full board. The issue will again be on the agenda at the next regular meeting on Aug. 9.
[Editor’s Note: Ellestad is editor at Mesquite Local News]