What happens when an elected official—acting alone—says thanks but no thanks to tens of thousands of dollars for his financially struggling district to study an issue that a) is hugely important to that district and b) he vehemently opposes?
That’s basically what Lompico County Water District boardmember Sherwin Gott did, according to members of both Lompico’s board and the San Lorenzo Valley Water District board. In March the SLVWD board was weighing whether or not to spend up to $30,000 on a study about some of the nuts and bolts of just how a possible merger with the ailing Lompico district would work. Then Gott stood up at the March 15 meeting to speak.
Lois Henry, another Lompico boardmember who attended the meeting to watch, says Gott told San Lorenzo’s board that the study “ought to be done, but we have $70,000 to pay for it.”
Shocked after hearing Gott’s comments, Henry—who hadn’t planned to talk—told the SLV board that Lompico doesn’t keep secret pots of gold stashed away to pay for studies. “We didn’t have $70,000,” Henry says. “We didn’t have $30,000.”
SLVWD ultimately voted to loan Lompico the money but have Lompico cover the entirety of the study’s costs. The Lompico Water Board, plagued for years by quarreling leadership, mismanagement and crumbling infrastructure, has since 2010 been discussing a possible merger with its much healthier neighbor, the SLVWD. Lompico customers have the highest water rates in the county, paying on average over 70 bucks a month. The district is also facing over $2.5 million in repairs and upgrades.
Gott, who could not be reached for comment, is well known for his opposition to pursuing the merger, which more than 85 percent of Lompicans favor, according to a recent survey. Gott is also known as a wild card on the board; in October 2011 he was censured for taking action without consulting other board members and for speaking out of turn.
Jim Rapoza, an SLVWD boardmember, agrees with Gottt that paying for the study is Lompico’s responsibility. He tells the Weekly the Lompico district will be able to use the results of the study even if it doesn’t end up completing the merger. The board also found that Lompico has the most to gain from the merger.
Rapoza says he doesn’t know how heavily Gott’s comments weighed in the board’s decision. “We took everyone’s [comments] into account,” he says.Lucky for Gott (and for the rest of the district), some emergency funding—left over from projects started in 2006—did come in from FEMA and CALEMA later in the spring. That helped fund the study.
Still, that shelter from the storm was short-lived. Henry says a recent audit found Lompico Water District owes a public pension fund $741,000. Then there’s that $2.5 million in repairs.
As for Gott’s actions, Lompico board president Rick Harrington says, members don’t have the authority to go to another governing body without a vote from the board—something Gott didn’t have. “He does things on his own,” Harrington says.