New directors set course

Chris Caskey, The Union Democrat

An almost entirely new Tuolumne Utilities District board on Tuesday set a special meeting for Thursday to open up discussions on possible changes to board policies and procedures, including a proposed hiring freeze and bringing on new legal counsel.

The 1:30 p.m. meeting at the district office could extend into multiple days, and comes in the wake of November's election that saw four new board members elected and three incumbents ousted.

Newly elected directors Mike Sarno, John Maciel, Kent Johnson and Jim Grinnell replaced Bob Behee, Dennis Dahlin and Ron Ringen, who did not win re-election, as well as Barbara Balen, who didn't seek another term.

Delbert Rotelli is the sole holdover from the previous board.

Items the new directors want discussed include: hiring a local attorney to represent the district and attend meetings, instituting a hiring freeze and reviewing the board's by-laws and policies for possible changes.

The new members waged campaigns critical of district leadership, calling for cost-cutting to keep rates down. Incumbents ran campaigns stressing the importance of keeping up district infrastructure and planning long-term to deal with water rights, storage and legislative issues.

Sarno on Tuesday was elected president of the board. Grinnell was elected vice president.

While the board set a new meeting for the discussions, multiple members of the public suggested the new members take their time before making big changes to TUD policies. Jim Costello, a former TUD board member, told the directors that they "have a real important job" and likely had ideas heading into their terms about what they want to accomplish.

"You need to really get fully oriented to the system … before you make any real long-term policy changes," Costello said, adding that ignoring that could lead to "unintended consequences."

Joe Day, a former board member, echoed those sentiments. Running TUD is not just about the economic health of the community, he said, but also the physical health that can be affected by a public water and sewer system.

Day also told the new board members to rely on their current staff.

"Don't just knock them around," he said. "It kind of sounded like that was a possibility."

The Union Democrat
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