In a stunning move, San Lorenzo Valley Water District (SLVWD) Director Tina Marie To resigned from her position on the board via email on March 18.
After serving for just three months, Director To, whose focus and specialty was “a passion for all things water and environment,” cited her personal commitments as the reason for her resignation.
In a statement, To said, “I want to do well in law school, and the first year determines much of how the rest plays out. I had to prioritize law school and my family.”
Her abrupt departure at the beginning of her four-year first term leaves the SLVWD Board of Directors with three options to replace her: an appointment, a stand-alone special election or participating in the next general election in 2022. Given that To’s seat would remain open until November of 2022, waiting for the next general election “isn’t an option,” according to SLVWD Board President Gail Mahood, who was also elected to the board last fall.
A special election to fill the vacancy would cost upwards of $70,000 which “isn’t in the district’s best interest,” said Mahood. Following the approval of a $15 million loan for “improvements to the water system,” the district is seeking to preserve every penny. Allowing for an appointment prohibits community members from voting on To’s replacement, but the alternatives—waiting nearly two years, or spending tens of thousands of dollars—might make an appointment the best of the three options.
District Manager Rick Rogers said he was equally surprised by To’s abrupt departure.
“It’s unfortunate Tina left the Board. We were looking forward to working with her as she has a strong interest in the District’s environmental commitment and protection of the watershed,” he said. ”As Chair of the Environmental Committee, she was really looking forward to construction beginning this summer with rebuilding of the Fall Creek Fish Ladder, improving fish passage in Fall Creek. We will miss her.”
The timeline for an appointment could be fairly swift: at the April 1 meeting, the board will vote as to whether to move forward with an appointment or an election.
“Given that, after much controversy, we decided to appoint Director Smolley, I’m hoping that’s the direction we go,” Mahood said.
If approved, staff would post the position for 15 days. The board could discuss possible appointees in the first May meeting, and potentially have someone fill the vacancy by the second meeting that month.
“Unless something goes astray, we should have that seat filled by the first meeting in June,” Mahood said. “The earliest we could post the position would be April 2.”
The board could reject the appointment process and determine that an election is the better way to go. Mahood said that is a long, complicated and expensive process.
“There is time before the existing deadlines to have it on the November ballot, but I think it’s highly unlikely given the price tag—$70,000 is a ridiculous amount of money to spend considering all the other things that are happening in the district,” she said.
Mahood says that for those ratepayers that are deeply involved in the district’s processes, the best way to support that is to be on the board.
“There are so many really talented people in the district, and I’m hoping we can engage those people and invite them to apply,” she said. “The wider of a net we spread, the better for the district.”
So what is SLVWD looking for in a potential board member?
“First, they need to be aware of the potential time commitment,” Mahood said.
Between attending meetings, reading agendas (many over 200 pages long) and serving on committees essential to making educated decisions regarding SLVWD business, members can expect to invest 20 hours per week or more during their term, Mahood says. But those hours can increase significantly—during the CZU fires last summer, the board was meeting once a week to stay informed.
“So people need to know what they’re getting into when they apply,” Mahood said. “In addition, they should have an area of specialty that applies to the work the district does. Whether it’s knowledge around environmental studies, or engineering or administration, or even an individual who knows about rivers, streams and groundwater, we’re looking for someone who has transferable skills to their work on the board.”
Added Mahood: “Ultimately, we’d love to get more younger people involved, but with the amount of time needed to serve as a Director, we seem to attract older folks who are retired, or are on the verge of doing so. Life is complicated right now, between Covid and parents who are homeschooling their kids.”
SLVWD’s next board meeting will be held via Zoom on April 1 at 6:30pm. Those wishing to attend may obtain the link from the district’s website at www.slvwd.com.