A contentious atmosphere ruled a nearly three-hour session for the troubled North San Joaquin Water Conservation District when its chairman returned to the board Monday night.
Bryan Pilkington, who missed several months due to heart surgery, returned to the board after also attending a closed session last week. Although he used a walker to move around and spoke softly for most of the meeting, Pilkington did become animated at times when arguing with board members or people in the audience.
While there were outbursts of laughter as barbs were exchanged between members of the audience and the board of directors, tense moments dominated the session as the district talked about its lack of revenue, need for employees and a new legal team. Having just released the law firm Herum Crabtree from duty in a closed session last week, the board discussed options on replacing the attorneys who served them for the past 11 years. The board voted 3-2 to fire Herum Crabtree on Thursday afternoon.
"I want to know when the new attorneys give us the same marching orders and tell us the same thing, what is the board going to do? It's an important question to think about," said board member Joe Petersen.
Pilkington did not agree with Petersen's train of thought.
"Are you asking us to predict the future?" he said.
Director Mark Beck thanked the law firm for assisting the district and for helping them host public information workshops for free earlier this year.
"They were diligent and served with what I thought was good capacity," he said.
As for replacing the attorney, the board will send out applications to attorneys who are familiar with working with the Department of Water Resources and California water laws. The district will accept applications through April 22.
The board of directors also discussed how it will replace its vacant general manager position and soon-to-be-empty watermaster role. Former general manager Ed Steffani stepped down earlier this year, and watermaster Pete Weinzheimer will officially retire as soon as a replacement is trained. The idea of combining the two roles was considered, but directors felt it could become too costly to have one person share both titles. The district will look to hire a watermaster and general manager separately.
"We have to be real on what we are looking for," said Petersen. "This (general manager position) is looking like a $250,000-a-year job description."
Earlier in the meeting, the district's financial report was not approved by the board.
Petersen said he would not approve it because it was a good start but lacked specificity. Along with the agenda was a one-page expense report detailing how much the district spent on insurance, vehicles, office supplies and how much is in its checking account.
The amount of money spent on each item was not a concern, Beck said. However, he said he would like to see more details regarding the checks that were spent. A financial software program like QuickBooks would help the district detail future expenditures and have an accurate picture of how much money it has, he said.
Members of the public weren't as kind in their review of the financial report.
"It's inadequate and a joke," said Joe Valente of Kautz Farms. "There are no dates and no check numbers corresponding with data."
The data is more in-depth than what the district has made public since he's been a member, Pilkington said, but Valente wasn't impressed.
"This board been on for four months. If this is all you can provide, we aren't moving forward."
The district's next meeting will be April 25 at 6 p.m. at the Lodi Public Library.
Contact reporter Jordan Guinn at firstname.lastname@example.org.