Pine-Strawberry’S Crucial Crossroad

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Bubble, bubble, toil and trouble: Seems like the motto at the Pine-Strawberry Water Improvement District these days.

Five members of the board — four of them facing possible recall — resigned abruptly in November, saying they were sick of the controversy and hoped the Gila County Board of Supervisors would run the place until the next general election in November.

The resigning board members said they hoped their resignations and a nice long wait before the election would give folks time to settle down and focus on the issues — rather than on the past or on personalities.

The abrupt move effectively ended the terms of the two remaining board members as well, since the board lacked the quorum necessary to even approve the appointment of new board members by the board of supervisors.

Even after a month of pondering, key questions about the timing of a new election remain unanswered.

The people who backed the recall have urged the board of supervisors to call a special election in May.

Such an election would cost the district about $18,000, compared to a cost of about $5,000 should the board instead wait for the general election in November.

County elections officials say they don’t yet know whether board members elected in May would have to then run again in November. Clearly, that’s a crucial question. We can’t see the point of spending $18,000 on an election in May — then turning around and doing a $5,000 rerun in November.

But let’s assume that the county attorney researches the question and decides that board members elected in a May election could serve staggered terms to get back into synch with the normal election cycle — without another vote in November.

In that case, we think it makes sense to have the special election in May after all — given the critical junction at which the district finds itself.

One of the last actions of the outgoing board was to renew the management contract of CH2MHill and to award that company a contract to come up with a master plan for future development. As a result, the district can muddle along easily enough for the next few months while the consultants work on the master plan.

However, the district will need to act promptly to implement that plan once it’s finished in about six months. We’re not sure that waiting until November before breaking in a whole new board makes much sense, considering the need to move quickly on the master plan and shore up the district’s delicate financial situation.

Certainly, we hate to see the district spend the extra $13,000 or so for a special election. And we understand the urge to put things off in hopes tempers will cool and people will refocus on the future — rather than the battles of the past.

Still, the sooner the district gets back on track and confronts crucial long-term decisions the better — even if it involves a bit of bubbling.

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