The Gila County Board of Supervisors called off a promised community meeting on the takeover of the Pine Strawberry Water Improvement District and politely sidestepped pleas for a quick election.
Turns out, the mass resignation of members from the Pine Strawberry Water Improvement District board did not end the controversy that has plagued the water district.
PSWID board members Ray Pugel, Gary Lovetro, Ron Calderon, Richard Dickinson and Michael Claxton earlier this month resigned in the face of a bitter recall effort. The Gila County Board of Supervisors accepted those resignations and assumed management of the district. Claxton was not a target of the recall effort chaired by Richard Hawthorne.
On Tuesday, Hawthorne urged the board to call an election as soon as possible. He spoke during the public comment portion of the meeting, which precluded the board from responding directly.
“We’re concerned that Pugel is ‘dictating terms’ in his resignation letter that John Nelson take over as caretaker (of the PSWID) and the election be held off until November. We need control of our water district.
“To appoint a caretaker and wait for a November election (of a new board) is not fair to the people,” Hawthorne said.
Richard James asked the supervisors to let the public know who can stand as a candidate at the eventual election. He said the two members of the PSWID board that did not resign — Tom Weeks and Sam Schwalm — should be allowed to be candidates. He also asked the supervisors to set an election date as soon as possible.
He asked if there would be any prosecution of former board members. He was apparently referring to a reported investigation into former board member Mike Greer’s use of a district credit card. Greer subsequently resigned and repaid the district for disputed charges.
Gila County Supervisor Tommie Martin noted that she can’t hold a planned Dec. 11 community meeting due to a scheduling conflict. She said she will host the meeting on or before the district’s regular Jan. 16 meeting.
James said, “There is lots of concern among the public. This is our district and we want to govern it.”
County Elections Director Eric Mariscal said the paperwork was filed to recall the majority of the PSWID board Oct. 29 and on Nov. 15, the county received the resignations of five board members.
“Automatically, there is no quorum,” he said.
Mariscal told the Roundup the county can call a special election on any state-designated election date, but it would cost a lot of money. Previous estimates put the cost of an election at about $28,000.
He told the recall proponents and supervisors the date to call for an election in March has already passed. The regularly scheduled election is in November.
Mike Pastor, supervisor for District Two, and chairman of the board, mistakenly said the supervisors have never before had to take over the management of a secondary district.
This is actually the second time the supervisors have had to run the PSWID, Bryan Chambers, deputy county attorney said. The first time was between 2003 and 2004, according to Pamela Mason, another proponent of the recall. She said John Nelson was made caretaker of the district at that time and more than $200,000 of its money was spent.