In 2003, the Foresthill Public Utility District purchased Sugar Pine Dam, reservoir, and the pipeline from the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation for $3.1 million.
Ownership of this necessary and vital asset comes with great responsibility. Those who rely on the Foresthill Public Utility District water distribution system are expected to not only pay their monthly invoice but to garner an understanding of who is suitable and trustworthy to direct and oversee this valuable resource. Thus, as owners, Foresthill voters are trusted to evaluate candidates from the community and then elect five individuals with staggered terms to serve on the Board of Directors to provide direction for the organization. Once elected, owners must continue to stay engaged by reading materials sent to them by the FPUD, periodically attending public meetings to confirm the Board is on track with expectations and to have a general awareness of how the “asset” is being managed.
The elected Board is in entrusted with providing a strategic function aligning the vision, mission and goals of the organization based on input and needs of the community. The Board also has a fiduciary duty to protect the organization’s assets and owners’ investment and a fiduciary responsibility to represent and protect the owners’ interest in the organization. The Board must make sure the assets of the FPUD are kept in good order inclusive of all equipment and facilities and the human capital (people who work for the organization).
Under policy direction of the Board, the General Manager (GM) is trusted to serve as the chief executive of the District implementing Board policy. The GM determines and executes administrative policies through subordinate managers and is responsible for operations and staffing of the District as prescribed by the Board, including planning and design of facilities, construction, operation and maintenance of facilities and the administration of the business affairs of the District. The GM supervises employees through subordinate managers, manages the employer/employee relations of the District and works closely with Legal/Audit advisors.
The relationship between Owners, the Board of Directors, and the General Manager is based on trust. “Trust is like the air we breathe,” observed Warren Buffet. “When it’s present, nobody really notices. But when it’s absent, everybody notices.”
It appears the trust between a number of owners in how the Board is executing its duties and responsibilities has been fractured with some wanting a full recall of the Board while others have asked that three voluntarily resign to allow other candidates be vetted to assist in resolving concerns on the increasing number of litigants and the perceived role of the GM.
It is time for all owners to consider how they want the FPUD managed so balance can be restored in the Foresthill community. Once trust is lost, it is difficult to restore. The Board needs to consider reducing the noise level in order to regain trust. What options might be worthwhile to consider? Embrace that no one is 100% right or 100% wrong to find the middle ground. Treat owners logically recognizing they have a grasp of business and their inputs have merit. Negotiate in good faith reasonable and timely settlements with litigants that are binding on future parties or new owners of those properties to stem the cost of legal fees and impact on staff which distracts from the business at hand. Adopt a measure to preclude the FPUD infrastructure (Sugar Pine dam and all associated water delivery system capital assets) from being transferred or sold to another entity without voter approval of at least 55%. Accommodate public request that at least a few evening meetings be scheduled so more can attend and participate.
The current culture of the FPUD Board is creating tension and friction in the community with a perception that the relationship between the Board and the GM is deemed more valuable than that of Owners who fund the organization and are asked to support new rate tier on “trust”. This imbalance needs to be righted. Only the Board can restore balance. Change the dynamics of relationship to owners, voluntarily resign or face potential recall. It is the Board’s decision as to what is decided.
Trust needs to be restored.