Pine Strawberry Water District Turmoil Continues

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A pair of water users unleashed verbal attacks on a longtime Pine Strawberry Improvement Water District (PSWID) critic during a Feb. 23 regular board meeting.

The meeting erupted into a barrage of personal attacks and name calling when Cindy Mack and Jane Wilcox assailed board critic Sam Schwalm, saying his criticisms were unfounded. In the accusations, which seemed to catch the audience off guard, Mack and Wilcox scolded Schwalm — spokesman for the community activist group Water for Pine Strawberry. Schwalm, who was sitting near the front, did not respond.

The two women’s attacks came on the heels of a volatile Jan. 19 board meeting during which board member Ron Calderon threatened Schwalm, saying, “I’m going to put my foot in your mouth.” Calderon also said he was disturbed by the sight of Schwalm at meetings with his “big head and big fat smile on his face.”

At that Jan. 19 meeting, board chairman Gary Lovetro also teed off on Schwalm, saying “I’m fed up ... it’s going to cost you very much personally to defend your actions.” He called his statement “not a threat, but a promise.”

On Feb. 23, Mack’s and Wilcox’s charges came early in a meeting many thought would focus on the district budget, changes in water conservation signs and Arizona Open Meeting Law. Mack and Wilcox spoke during the call to the public portion of the meeting.

PSWID board rules give non-agenda speakers three minutes each, which “may be extended at the discretion of the chair.”

In the past, Lovetro has held most speakers to three minutes. However, Mack and Wilcox spoke well over the time limit.

“We are sensitive to public concerns and we have a history of allowing community members to speak longer than three minutes,” said Lovetro.

As Mack’s and Wilcox’s attacks grew more personal, board member Don Smith asked for civility. Lovetro, however, reminded Smith that rules prevent board members from answering questions or addressing the audience during non-agenda items. Back in January, Smith had asked Lovetro to invoke “a point of order” to quell Calderon’s tirade against Schwalm.

Calderon opened the Feb. 23 meeting by apologizing for his earlier outburst, but Wilcox later said he shouldn’t express regret.

At least one audience member walked out during Mack’s address to the board. Later, he said Mack and Wilcox had long been critical of him.

Following Mack’s and Wilcox’s speeches, local businessman Ray Pugel addressed the board. In his presentation, Pugel focused on the accomplishments of the board since it purchased the Pine and Strawberry Water companies from Brooke Utilities in 2009.

While most water users in the two tiny mountain hamlets praise the board for its efforts to eliminate water shortages, the district has also stirred controversy.

The turmoil dates back to a May 2010 board meeting when Greer asked fellow members to terminate the contracts of then general manager Harry Jones, hydrologist Mike Ploughe, Tetra Tech engineering and asked for the resignation of board president Bill Haney.

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