The East Quincy Service District (EQSD) and Quincy Community Service District (QCSD) have somehow found a way to snatch drama from the jaws of cooperation at the eleventh hour of their consolidation process.
In November all seemed to be well — the two district managers told the American Valley Community Service Authority (AVCSA) board, made up of the full EQSD and QCSD boards, they would work out a solution for sharing duties and deciding which of them should have the title of general manager.
Time passed and the proposal never materialized. In its place a firestorm of controversy arrived in March as the QCSD board voted at one of its meetings to endorse QCSD General Manager Larry Sullivan as a candidate for the new combined district.
After a closed session discussion on the matter, the vote passed 4-0, with director Kim Kraul absent. The closed session included the other four board members and their legal counsel; Sullivan was not present.
The fact that the individual board members supported Sullivan for the position was unlikely to be a surprise to anyone on the AVCSA board or either district’s staff, but EQSD board president Howard Hughes responded to the action, upon reading the minutes of that QCSD meeting, by sending an email to QCSD board member Denny Churchill.
Hughes informed Churchill he felt the QCSD board made an error by formalizing its support for Sullivan and could be leaving itself open to litigation.
The resulting string of emails between the two board members eventually led to an EQSD board meeting Tuesday, March 22, soliciting comments on the consolidation from the district’s employees, followed by what the agenda described as an “open discussion” among EQSD board members concerning consolidation issues.
Employees and public
The meeting began with EQSD employee Vicki Poh handing out a two-page letter explaining her vehement opposition to the consolidation.
Poh argued that the Quincy district showed a “complete lack of respect” for EQSD General Manager Mary Henrici since the consolidation process began.
She said the Quincy board taking action to endorse their manager while Mary was out on medical leave was hurtful and cruel.
Henrici appears to have been on medical leave from January through the end of March but her district has never discussed or mentioned that fact during public meetings.
Poh also said Henrici would be “gone as of June 30,” the day before the consolidation of the two districts is scheduled to take place.
Poh added that the Quincy district seemed to want a “hostile takeover” of the East Quincy district, as opposed to an “amicable merger.”
QCSD employee Mike Green, who is a resident and customer of the East Quincy district, disagreed with Poh’s characterization.
“I don’t know why you think we’re trying to take over this district. This is my district. I pay the bills over here too. Most of the people here help pay these bills,” he emphasized, pointing to several other QCSD employees who live in the East Quincy district.
“I don’t know why it’s become us against you. It shouldn’t be. It should be all of us taking care of our customers, and by having a larger base of people to do that it’s better for the customer.”
Kraul also spoke briefly about the consolidation at this point, before quickly leaving the meeting, saying she didn’t want to get in the way of the East Quincy board’s discussion.
“I think the future holds so many issues for us. We all know about the state mandates coming down, the lack of funds that our community has.
“I wasn’t at this meeting in February unfortunately, but I too might have voted for what we perceived as an endorsement of Larry to be strongly considered for that position, not that he had to be that person.
“My belief is personally that we need to be one district and that’s the most efficient thing for our rate payers, and they are — after all — our bottom line.”
QCSD employee Jacqui Harris agreed, pointing out she was also an EQSD ratepayer and arguing, “In the last 15 years each district has spent over $100,000 towards consolidation.”
“I’d sure hate to see all that money wasted,” she concluded.
EQSD customer Dorothy Green asked for clarification on Poh’s comment about Henrici leaving at the end of June.
Hughes said, “We do not know any of those details at this time,” adding, “Her rights would be violated if we discussed them in a public forum.”
At this point, Poh responded to some of the other comments, saying she didn’t think the consolidation would save any money and, if it continued, “I will be giving serious thought to seeking other employment.”
Another EQSD employee, Kevin Andrews, agreed, “As far as pursuing any consolidation, I won’t have any part of it. If it goes through I’ll be walking.”
After hearing public and employee comments, the board members took turns explaining their stances on consolidation.
EQSD board member Greg Margason said he went to the next QCSD meeting after “the controversial minutes came out.”
Margason felt the Quincy board members were “very sorry for what they had done and the way they had done it.” The director said he believed the QCSD board’s action wasn’t ill intended. “All of us realize that both sides of the hill were looking with favor on our own manager.” He said the Quincy directors now realized they chose “a little inopportune time and method of saying that.”
Addressing consolidation itself he added that he could remember when the sewage treatment plant was first built: “I was very glad to see they had the foresight to size it big enough to handle this whole valley, not just Quincy.”
Margason said the East Quincy versus Quincy divide was even bigger then and “that was a big step in those days.” He said the spirit of that move should be followed to its logical conclusion. “This is a small area and just the idea of having two special service districts is really just a little over the top to me.”
He said changing regulations would force the valley to take another big step soon: replacing the old plant. “With the combined numbers you will be in a much better position to get grants, loans, whatever it takes to operate from now on.”
EQSD director Bill Peay said he agreed with many of those points.
“I think I want to go forward. I think I want consolidation to happen.”
Director Ernie Eaton wasn’t so sure. He said he joined the board after discussions of consolidation began.
He said the East Quincy district gave QCSD almost $2 million, 18 years ago, when it bought into the current plant.
Eaton added the funding was supposed to be used for plant upgrades to handle more capacity, but he later found out it was used for plant maintenance instead, which left a bad taste in his mouth.
“I’m not sure that there is a benefit financially to a consolidation and I think that the staffs of the two districts, work together and have no problems,” he concluded.
EQSD Director Steve Grant said consolidation might happen eventually but he thought the process should slow down for now. He agreed with Eaton that he felt uneasy about the use of those funds.
Conversely, he said, in a way by buying into the plant “we consolidated at that time actually,” although he said that might have been a mistake.
At this point, EQSD customer Frank Green responded that he thought resisting consolidation was like sticking one’s head in the sand because one way or another money from East Quincy customers was going to pay for work needed at the plant because they had no other option, as it was the only sewage facility around.
“I think you’ve got to look further down the road, not just today or tomorrow. You’ve got to look down the road a few years. What’s the future of this community and how far is it going to expand?” he added.
EQSD board chairman Howard Hughes said a lot of controversy came out of the email he sent to Churchill, which was intended to be a message from one friend to another, and not meant to represent the views of the whole district.
Harris asked him if that meant he was threatening to sue the Quincy district when he mentioned litigation in the email.
Hughes told her he was trying to warn Churchill he thought Henrici might have recourse for a lawsuit claiming the QCSD board discriminated against her by endorsing Sullivan.
The director reasoned that the Quincy board members would play a part in hiring the new district’s manager and so they shouldn’t have voiced their preference before seeing both candidates’ resumes.
Harris reminded Hughes he stated in a previous meeting that if the combined board voted on the manager issue it would likely be deadlocked 5-5 and asked him how that was different.
Hughes said that was different than endorsing a candidate.
Harris asked him if Henrici turned in a resume for the new manager position and Hughes told her she went out on leave in December around the same time she was asked for a resume.
He said no one turned in a resume yet, as the job wasn’t posted.
Harris asked how someone could be discriminated against if there weren’t any candidates for the job yet.
Hughes responded that the districts promised they would keep both managers so they were the only two candidates for the job.
“That was a mistake” Peay opined, with Hughes answering, “It may have been.”
Hughes argued the four board members who voted as part of the QCSD board were also members of the AVCSA board and by endorsing a candidate for a position they might help hire for they were breaking the law.
Mike Green disagreed, saying the board members were speaking for the Quincy district, not the full AVCSA board.
Howard said they were still members of the larger board and he thought it was illegal for them to give support to a candidate before a hiring was made.
Harris asked what the two boards could do to address Hughes’s concerns.
Hughes said Plumas Local Agency Formation Commission Executive Director John Benoit told him mediation or selecting a manager from outside both districts were options.
“I’m going to continue and look and see what the options are, how to make this right,” he added.
The chairman said the districts should continue to collaborate no matter what happened but “at this point in time I can’t support the consolidation based on the discrimination factor.”
“I don’t care who you are, if you’re going to discriminate against people you shouldn’t lead. If those four people want to go ‘hey we’re not going to be part of this process anymore’ then great, I’m about that.”
“If they want to recuse themselves and say ‘you know what, you’re right, we shouldn’t have done that, we’re gonna step back and let the other six people make a decision on where we’re going to go,’ great, maybe that’s the answer.”