The Pine Strawberry Water Improvement District has lost yet another contract professional who was instrumental in leading the district following the takeover of the two towns’ water companies from previous owner Brooke Utilities.
General Manager Harry Jones resigned June 19, saying he was canceling his consulting agreement with the district.
Jones would not discuss the reasons for his resignation, saying only it had been done “under the terms of the cancellation provisions contained within the terms of agreement section of the contract.”
He did confirm, however, that he would “provide transition assistance to a new interim general manager or permanent general manager selected by the district.”
Jones’ resignation comes on the heels of district hydrologist Michael Ploughe, district engineer Tanner Henry of the Payson firm Tetra Tech and Customer Services Supervisor Steve Stevens submitting their resignations. All resigned during a contentious three-hour May 26 board meeting.
While Jones would not give the reasons for stepping away, Ploughe and Tetra Tech engineers said they resigned because some members of the board had been uncooperative and were not willing to accept professional recommendations.
Tetra Tech wrote in a letter to the board that several members accused accused the firm of participating in a conspiracy with professional consultants to hamper the progress of PSWID.
Ploughe wrote in a letter to the board that a majority of members were basing some of their actions on half truths.
Stevens said he resigned after board member Michael Greer accused him, at the May 26 meeting, of professional misconduct and questioned his competence.
“It was clear to me they no longer needed my services.”
Also at the May meeting, Greer called for the resignations of board president Bill Haney and Jones. Haney, clearly the board’s leader since a recall election in the spring of 2008, has refused to resign and remains president.
The loss of Ploughe, Tetra Tech, Jones and Stevens is a blow to the struggling district facing challenges of finding new water sources for the two tiny mountain hamlets.
Also baffling to water users is the atmosphere of a board that only months ago seemed united voting unanimously on most issues.
Jones’ resignation came after a May 20 board meeting in which board members retreated into a three-hour-plus executive session.
The meeting was held before a standing room only crowd at the Pine Fire Station.
In open session, the board agreed that member Gary Lovetro should begin a search for a contract management staff to replace Jones.
Lovetro is the newest member of the board having been appointed in March to replace Terry Schleizer, who resigned.
The board also will attempt to find a new district engineer from a list of those who applied for the position last fall when Tetra Tech was hired.
“We will re-rank the short list (of candidates),” Haney said.
As for finding a hydrologist to replace Ploughe, the district goes back to square one and will accept applications.
“We’ll use the same process as before, but it won’t be as complex,” Haney said.
Also the board has instructed its attorney David Davis to begin negotiating purchase agreements for both the Milk Ranch and Strawberry Hollow Wells.
The board has struck a deal with Milk Ranch owners Ray Pugel and Robert Randall to buy the well for $400,000.
Among those critical of the purchase agreement for the Milk Ranch Well is Sam Schwalm of the watchdog group Water for Pine Strawberry.
Schwalm says he is not necessarily against the purchase, but it should be “done the right way and with good value” which means with an appraisal.
Schwalm also is at odds with the $114,000 the district has spent to upgrade the well.
“We’ve spent our money to make his well more valuable,” said Schwalm.
Also at the last board meeting, Haney said the district was not awarded a grant it had applied for from the Water Infrastructure Finance Authority (WIFA) of Arizona.
The grant was to be used for a master plan and water system improvements.
Ironically, the firm — Brooke Utilities — that the district long battled with to purchase the Pine and Strawberry Water Companies received a WIFA grant for its Tonto Basin Water Company.
In the attempts to take over Pine and Strawberry Water, the district accused Brooke of mismanagement, allowing the system to fall in disrepair, billing errors, excessive water hauling charges and poor customer service.