It’s been a tumultuous year for the San Lorenzo Valley Water District as — in addition to a severe drought — a scathing report in June from the Santa Cruz County Grand Jury criticized the district for what it described as a lack of transparency and financial oversight was followed by the dismissal of District Manager Jim Mueller two days later.
Now, as the election season gets underway, San Lorenzo Valley voters have six candidates to choose from to fill a trio of seats on the District’s board of directors.
Of those six candidates, only Larry Prather is a current board member.
A 35-year resident of Boulder Creek, Karen Brown said that she is running on a platform of increasing the district’s transparency — particularly where finances are concerned.
“I’d like to see much clearer facts on the money that is spent and received — down to the postage stamps,” she said, citing instances of out-of-order or outright missing check numbers on the district’s financial records. “That’s a good check and balance to ensure that no one is fraudulently writing checks.”
Brown, a self-described “jane-of-all-trades” who for 20 years helped operate the Ramona Woods Water Association, said that if she is elected, she will approach the job with a mindset focused on construction to address the district’s infrastructure.
“Infrastructure is my main concern,” she said, adding that she would prioritize repairing and upgrading leaking tanks.
For more information about Karen Brown, visit http://votekarenbrownslvwater.com
A retired electronics engineer, Boulder Creek resident Chuck Baughman said that his campaign will be based around the need to maintain the district’s environmental protection projects, while simultaneously addressing infrastructure and what he described as shortcomings in communication.
“The most pressing thing is neglected infrastructure,” he said.
Baughman said that he first became interested in joining the district in 2011, when he helped the district map out sensitive sand hills habitats after trespassers had damaged it — something he described as a positive experience. Since then, he said, he has done his best to be a regular at board meetings.
If elected, Baughman said, he would work with the community to improve communication about the district's needs and plans — something he said had likely helped derail last year's proposed rate increase, as well as contributed to the negative grand jury report.
“I want to be sure that the water district is never again in a place to need to respond to a report like that,” Baughman said.
For more information about Chuck Baughman, visit http://chuck4slvwd.com
A Boulder Creek resident since 1988, Bob Fultz's name has appeared on community ballots since 1998, when he first ran for a seat on the San Lorenzo Valley Unified School District's Board of Trustees.
He said that, while he served on the SLVUSD board in 2002, he played a key role in helping the district, then in a time of declining budget and enrollment, make tough decisions to close campuses in order to get back on track.
Tough decisions, Fultz said, is something that a water board member will need to be able to face as well.
“In some ways, the water district is at a turning point as well,” he said. “We haven’t done a lot of modernization … there's a sense that new faces are needed.”
If elected to the board, Fultz said that his goal is to bring “an analytical influence” to the board in order to address what he described as “aging infrastructure,” as well as to strive toward creating a more open and transparent system of keeping the public informed as to the district's projects, financials, and goals.
“People really want to know more than what is currently published (on the SLVWD website),” he said, referring specifically to the mostly scanned documents that made independent record-keeping more difficult. “It’s a debate over the future of our district … I think you should be going above and beyond what the minimum required by law.”
For more information about Bob Fultz, visit http://bobfultz.com
Larry Prather, Eric Hammer, and Gene Ratcliffe
The remaining three candidates have taken an unusual approach toward campaigning — running as a slate.
That means that Larry Prather, Eric Hammer, and Gene Ratcliffe will run a joint campaign, selling themselves to voters as a package deal that they claim combines the experience of the incumbent Prather with Hammer's knowledge of the community and Ratcliffe's years of experience working in water policy.
As the only incumbent in the race, Larry Prather — a member of the district's board since 1998 — said that he is running for another term in the hopes of completing the enactment of the district's watershed management plan, which is a long-term plan intended to give the district guidance as to how to manage water to suit the diverse land areas of the San Lorenzo Valley.
“I launched into this with the intent of finishing it and it's my intent to do so,” Prather said. “Six years so far — two more years till it's finished.”
For his part, Hammer said that environmental protection was his primary reason for entering the race.
“I'm running because our water and our environment are extremely important to the community we live in,” he said. “Ive got a really good understanding of what a unique situation we have, having our own watershed and the San Lorenzo River ... I want to keep it that way.”
As a board member, Hammer said that he would work toward the completion of the long-delayed acquisition of the Lompico Water District, as well as work with to community to address the needs and concerns of the district – particularly in regard to the district's infrastucture.
“I think its important to have someone who has credibility in the community,” he said. “Including the community in the decision-making process … I feel like I have a strong record of that.”
A relative newcomer to the San Lorenzo Valley, Gene Ratcliffe – a former planning commissioner in Southern California before moving to the area – said she has served in various roles with water districts for many years.
“I work in the field of water conservation and environmental horticulture,” the Felton resident said.
Ratcliffe said she was inspired to enter the race after working with the district's advisory committee for the past several months.
“It seemed like a great opportunity,” she said.
If elected, Ratcliffe said, she would work to find “long-term solutions to the periodic water shortages” and to improve relations between the district and its customers.
“I really want to make it public participation,” she said, “to get the community in general more involved and more comfortable with the operations of the water district.”
Of her decision to partner with Prather and Hammer, Ratcliffe said that their familiarity with the community and the historic issues would be augmented by her knowledge of water systems.
“We’re all after the same goal,” she said. “I’m a relative newcomer and I don’t know a lot of people, but I do have a lot of personal experience with water.”
For more information about Larry Prather, Eric Hammer, and Gene Ratcliffe, visit www.hammerpratherratcliffe4water.com.