As Winston Churchill reportedly said: “Never let a good crisis go to waste.” We’re hoping that the abrupt resignation of five members of the Pine-Strawberry Water Improvement District falls into that category.
Make no mistake: Ray Pugel, Gary Lovetro, Ron Calderon, Richard Dickinson and Michael Claxton have all worked hard on behalf of the community they love. Public service remains a difficult and thankless task, especially considering the mudslide of issues they have confronted.
They each played a significant role in freeing the community from the death grip of Brooke Utilities. The decade-long refusal of that private water company to look for water or maintain its system condemned the community to stagnation, rationing and ruinous water hauling charges.
The struggle to buy out Brooke proved far more expensive and contentious than anyone could have anticipated. The board made sometimes-expensive mistakes. The early, rosy predictions yielded to painful water rate increases with millions of dollars in investment still needed.
But set the mistakes aside. The water supply has dramatically increased, putting an end to water rationing and water hauling. Lifting the building moratorium will bolster property values and prospects throughout the community.
Nonetheless, the increasingly bitter and personalized divisions threaten to undercut all that progress. Certainly, rate increases, water outages and problems with silt in the water fed into that division. But the urge to personalize those disputes also played its role. On both sides, people persistently questioned the motives and ethics of the people with whom they disagreed. The effort to recall four of the board members and replace them with a hand-picked slate a year before a scheduled general election brought those divisions to a head.
The five resigning board members said they wanted to avoid a costly, polarizing recall campaign. They all took bitter shots at their critics on the way out, but also said they hoped the board of supervisors would let tempers cool and perspectives mend before the election next year.
We hope that works — and support Gila County Supervisor Tommie Martin’s cautious approach.
Hopefully, people on both sides will take a deep breath and step back from the barricade. Clearly, the district still faces formidable challenges. The ability of homeowners to absorb the rate increases must weigh against the understandable desire to fix the system as soon as possible.
Pine and Strawberry can only meet those challenges with hard work, clear thinking — and a willingness to work together. Given the past history, perhaps that sounds like a tall order.
But as Winston Churchill once observed: “Americans will always do the right thing — after they’ve tried everything else.”