Supervisor Wants Transparency — Not Takeover

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Shirley Dawson

I make it a point not to respond to press coverage unless invited to do so, but your article “Water district takeover urged” deserves some comment.

The board of supervisors’ work session held in Star Valley was the result of Ray Pugel’s persistent requests to have a private audience with each member of the board of supervisors to explain his view of Pine Strawberry water issues.

Due to the fact that each member of our board has campaigned on a platform of transparency and openness, I felt that his message should be delivered in public. The meeting was not designed to be Brooke Utilities versus the Pine Strawberry Water District Board. That was precisely what we did not want. There is a democratically elected water board, and although the board of supervisors is definitely concerned about water in Gila County, it is not our practice to impose our will on every water district, fire district, lighting district, etc.

I did consent to talking to Mr. Pugel on the condition that a public meeting would follow. We had a Tuesday, July 21 board meeting scheduled, so I utilized that open date to plan a work session to discuss water issues.  

Since Mr. Pugel had been the contact person wanting to explain water issues from Pine Strawberry, I told him he would be given one hour to share his side of the story and he could have others to help with his presentation. Likewise, I informed Toni Sorel who had e-mailed me several times about her concerns that she and those she wanted would also be given one hour to discuss their side of the Pine Strawberry water story.   We did not invite Brooke, Pine Strawberry Water District or their hired guns, lobbyists, lawyers or spokespersons. Ironically Mr. Pugel at first stated he would not attend such a meeting and when he did, he stated he did not know why he was there. The whole thing was done at his instigation.

Although taking over a district may be within the theoretical authority of the board of supervisors, it is not something for which I, as one member of this board, would advocate. The people of the Pine Strawberry Water Improvement District should address their concerns to that board, and if dissatisfied, express their sentiments at the polls.

The one issue which I feel directly impacts the board of supervisors is that of paying a very expensive adviser to advocate for one side in a local dispute. The county, has paid many thousands of taxpayer dollars for Harry Jones to champion any position he chooses to take, not only in the Pine Strawberry area but also in Payson and Star Valley. We have dozens of districts and boards that operate under our jurisdiction, and we have not followed such a practice in any of them. Hopefully, this practice will not be followed any longer in Pine Strawberry.

Many residents have expressed reservations about the direction the water improvement board is going and they fear that, in a time of economic stress on all sides, the board of directors is going to run out of money and have nothing to show for it. This is all the more reason for the board of supervisors to allow the democratic system to operate and not to underwrite one side of the dispute.

I can promise the people of  Gila County that I will continue to make the actions of the board of supervisors, one of transparency. There will not be executive sessions held to give priority to one side in any of the hundreds of issues which come before the board of supervisors.

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