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Changes loom for water supply group

Following another long and somewhat contentious Pagosa Area Water and Sanitation District (PAWSD) meeting Tuesday night, area residents will likely see dramatic changes in the so-called Community Water Supply Planning Group (CWSPG) by month’s end.

As item five in a packed agenda, discussion of the volunteer water planning panel consumed much of the evening, resulting in the PAWSD board of directors tabling at least seven other matters until a special meeting now scheduled for July 29.

The overall exchange included constructive criticism from a variety of CWSPG panelists in the audience, as well as supporting remarks from Archuleta County Commissioner John Ranson, former county financial task force member Al Bledsoe and PAWSD directors.

Upon introducing the topic, board chair Steve Hartvigsen asked that PAWSD Special Projects Manager Sheila Berger begin by describing the status of the district’s agreement with Maro Zagoras of Desired Outcomes Inc. (Fort Collins). Until Tuesday, at least, Zagoras served as a paid, though unbiased, facilitator for the panel during its first two gatherings.

Berger promptly referred to a memo regarding Zagoras’ continued participation in the process, and various alternatives the community and board might choose to consider. Copies of the memo were passed to all in attendance, as Berger explained a conversation she and Zagoras recently shared.

“Essentially,” she began, “our facilitator, Maro Zagoras, feels that she’s perceived by the group as to be a problem or not the right person for this set of issues. She feels strongly that she should step aside ... .

“She indicated to me that she felt she should tender her resignation and no longer serve as facilitator for this group. Some members had made it clear that they did not want her to serve in that capacity, and she said that it’s important for all members to buy into the facilitator, lest the facilitator become an issue and, therefore, preclude or inhibit the process of discussing the substantive issues.”

With that, Berger pointed to the memo’s list of possible alternatives to Zagoras’ sustained involvement. Options included continuing the status quo; selecting a new facilitator or proceeding without one; making minor modifications to the makeup of the group; disbanding it altogether and creating a “county-model task force” to tackle the matter; or deciding on the key issue and putting it to a vote in November.

As Hartvigsen suggested taking public input, director Windsor Chasey asked if someone could explain what took place at the CWSPG meetings, since she was unable to attend. She mentioned hearing that several panelists had left the group and asked to hear from those in the audience.

Due to potential time constraints, Hartvigsen first expressed the need for succinct comments, while focusing on a positive path forward.

Bruce Dryburgh first suggested the group’s problems stemmed from too many unskilled participants, while really requiring a diverse group of finance people, engineers and long-term planners. He also expressed concern with perceived conflicts of interest in respect to some panelists, namely former members of the PAWSD or San Juan Water Conservancy District boards or staff. He also suggested that some members “have a financial interest in the expansion of PAWSD.”

Dryburgh then suggested breaking the group (CWSPG) down based on skills, including those mentioned above. He said the facilitator could never have completed her assigned task in the allotted timeframe.

“These kinds of facilitated groups that require a consensus cannot do that in six months,” Dryburgh added, “and we should’ve known better, both the board (PAWSD) and the members of the group. I don’t believe we need a facilitator, we have all grownups, I think you can kick that decision down to the group, we’ll set our own rules, we’ll elect whatever we need, then we’ll bring you a recommendation later on this year.”

In response, director Bob Huff quickly exclaimed, “May I say, that was a good statement, I liked that statement. I appreciate what you said and I agree with about 99 percent of it.”

Subsequent speakers agreed with Dryburgh’s remarks, systematically confirming the group’s extensive size and Zagoras’ ineffectiveness. Many suggested a “watered-down” version of the existing panel, while attempting to stay on track and move forward.

As attention increasingly turned toward disbanding the existing group and creating a more knowledgeable task force to press on, Ranson mentioned that when the county financial task force first came together, a large group of angry citizens wanted to know who stole the money and what went wrong.

“In our very first meeting,” he continued, “we said no, that’s not the important issue. The important issue is to figure out where we are today and how we’re going to survive the next three or four months.”

Comparatively, Ranson suggested that the matter of current water issues is similar. “This isn’t about what’s happened in the past or anything like that, I think it’s about what we’re going to do as a community moving forward.”

Following up on Ranson’s notion, Bledsoe said assembling the work group was “extremely well-intentioned,” but lacked communication between the county and PAWSD.

“Perhaps, with the oversight being the responsibility of the county, with input from PAWSD,” Bledsoe added, “that would give credibility to the process, because they (the county) are the oversight authority. And, I think the idea of the two boards jointly saying, here’s the kind of skills that we think they (panelists) need, you guys (PAWSD) know a lot about what needs to be known in order to make these kinds of decisions.”

With that, Bledsoe suggested the BoCC and PAWSD meet jointly, then report to the public. By doing so, he said, “I think you’ll still get the same level of credibility (as the county task force enjoyed).”

With the proverbial writing on the wall, various PAWSD directors and members of the audience gradually moved toward restructuring the CWSPG, while soliciting applications from those willing to serve on a smaller, more refined panel. Most agreed to immediately consider a list of qualifications necessary for inclusion, but director Roy Vega first insisted that current panelists be officially notified of the district’s and BoCC’s intent to disband the existing group.

All agreed, then passed a Hartvigsen motion to inform panelists of impending change, while asking for their input on how a new panel might appear. Because the CWSPG is scheduled to meet at the Vista Clubhouse July 28 (4:30 p.m.), Hartvigsen suggested that specific skill sets might be part of that discussion.

Meanwhile, Vega insisted the PAWSD board call a special meeting for July 29 to further expedite the matter and address CWSPG recommendations. The board unanimously agreed with Vega and will meet at 5:30 p.m. in its regular boardroom on Lyn Avenue.

Then, in an unrelated, yet momentous matter, PAWSD Manager Carrie Weiss fought back tears as she announced that Lisa Dermody and Sheila Berger were leaving the district.

But, she hadn’t finished.

Following a prolonged pause and with a broken voice, she added, “And, it’s time for me to leave the district.”

While Berger will end her tenure July 30, Dermody and Weiss will step away by the end of August. Weiss has been with PAWSD for the past 28 years.

chuck@pagosasun.com