New board members talk of the future

Chris Caskey, The Union Democrat

With the election only a week in the rearview mirror, some soon-to-be directors with the Tuolumne Utilities District offered insight Tuesday into what the district's future could hold.

During the meeting, board members-elect Kent Johnson, Jim Grinnell and John Maciel peppered the district board and staff with questions mainly on accounting and financial topics. Though most were small clarifications on the district's annual audit, Johnson opened up a discussion on what he says should be a full review and possible changes in the district's financial department.

Johnson said he would "like to look at the best use of the staff" in the department, and suggested the next board should consider reorganizing finance. The comments came before the district board voted to fill an accounting assistant position.

"I suggest the accounting position not be filled prior to the new board," Johnson said.

The "new board" will consist of Johnson, Maciel, Grinnell and Michael Sarno who all won seats last Tuesday. They will replace board members Bob Behee, Dennis Dahlin and Ron Ringen, who did not win re-election, as well as Barbara Balen, who did not seek another term.

During the discussion about the accounting position, district financial director Stephen Sheffield noted the timing of the discussion between an outgoing and incoming board, and he said Johnson's concerns are "valid." But he also said the position needs to be filled, and he said his department is severely understaffed.

"I got nothing left, I really don't," Sheffield said to Johnson, before being directed by the board to address his comments to the sitting directors.

"I just need a body," he said.

The board will likely meet only once more before Maciel, Grinnell, Johnson and Sarno join Delbert Rotelli, who will be the lone holdover. They waged largely critical campaigns against the incumbents, calling for increased cost cutting measures to keep rates down. Incumbents ran campaigns that largely stressed the importance of keeping up district infrastructure and planning long-term to deal with water rights, storage and legislative issues.

While they will be off the board table soon, outgoing directors offered some advice during Tuesday's meeting.

"I can only hope the new board takes it upon themselves to learn the realities of what's needed here in a timely manner and keep things moving along," said Dahlin.

Ringen took time during the open public forum to speak "as a ratepayer," reading a prepared speech that commended the district board and staff for accomplishments. He said district ratepayers have come to expect a certain level of service, and implicitly warned against cutting back on that level.

"Anything less than the baseline is unacceptable and won't be tolerated," he said. "This is what us ratepayers expect from this board and any future boards."

The Union Democrat
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