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Weiss, two others, leave PAWSD

As previously reported, Pagosa Area Water and Sanitation District Manager Carrie Weiss tearfully announced three staff resignations during last week’s monthly board meeting, including her own. Understandably, following nearly 28 years of devoted district service, it was a particularly poignant moment for her.

At the virtual end of a lengthy public session, an emotional Weiss began by first asserting that, “I have some resignations to report.”

While clearly struggling to maintain composure, she added, “Um, Lisa Dermody is leaving the district, and Nancy Stahl has, um, agreed to fill her position. It was opened up to the rest of the staff and Nancy was interested and she gladly accepted that. But, it (Dermody’s departure) is a huge loss to the district.”

With somber hesitation, Weiss tentatively continued, “... Sheila Berger is leaving ... and ... it’s time for me to leave the district.”

With that, board director Bob Huff quietly asked, “How many years have you been here?” to which Weiss ruefully replied, “It’ll be 28.”

Dermody is currently the PAWSD office manager, and will continue in that capacity until the end of August. She first joined the district in 2001 as a data processing technician, with primary duties in accounts receivable, monthly meter-readings processing and monthly account billing.

In 2002, the district implemented new utility billing software as Dermody worked to acquire additional resources adequate to expand convenient bill-paying options for district customers. Some of those options include an automatic bank withdrawal program, the ability to accept credit card payments both in the office and online, and online payment processing through third-party payers like iPay Technologies and Metavante.

According to Dermody, her most exciting PAWSD achievement came as the district successfully implemented its new automated meter-reading system — a project first initiated during the summer of 2008, with full installation completed just last year. That state-of-the-art system allows the district to accurately read water meters monthly — even in winter — while also serving as a useful tool in detecting unchecked water leaks.

Dermody tendered her resignation earlier this month, “ ... after making a decision to leave the area to pursue other opportunities.” At present, her replacement, Nancy Stahl, is the PAWSD Account Specialist.

When asked about her feelings toward leaving PAWSD, Dermody replied, “I am very proud to have been a part of such a wonderful team of hard working, professional, and dedicated people. I will miss them all.”

Berger also announced her impending departure earlier this month, after becoming the PAWSD Special Projects Manager in May 2008. As such, her responsibilities have included public education and communications, external affairs and various administrative services. Prior to joining PAWSD, she held a similar position with the Archuleta County government.

In the public education and communications arena, Berger has helped maintain the PAWSD website, prepared periodic newsletters, made regular radio appearances and organized — then presented — numerous public events, forums and tours.

Her work in external affairs has involved ample grant writing and management, coordination with various organizations on cooperative projects, and acting as district liaison with outside agencies.

Behind the scenes, Berger has often conducted detailed research and data analysis, produced reports for both internal and public use, facilitated internal projects like strategic planning and drafting resolutions, and documented other legal issues, while always providing general administrative support.

As for why Berger is leaving: “I would like to make it clear that my reasons for leaving are entirely personal and have nothing to do with working for PAWSD, which is a great organization,” she exclaimed.

“Comparatively speaking,” she continued, “I believe that this district is forward-thinking and extremely good at planning. We have been criticized locally (and applauded regionally) for the aggressiveness of our planning, but there is no alternative other than no planning, and all that will leave us are pipes that look like the roads, and no reserves in the coffers.

“We have great people who stay (with the district) a long time. This district has historically been extremely kind to its employees, the importance of which many organizations just don’t get.

“I am truly sad to leave this agency and the beautiful San Juan Mountains but, quite frankly, not the community. There are wonderful people trying to do wonderful things here, but the level of acrimony, cynicism, discord, downright vitriol and personal agendas that, in the end, sabotages and burns out those efforts made my decision easy.”

Though Berger has lived in Pagosa Country for 11 years, she and family will now pursue educational, cultural, professional and recreational opportunities elsewhere that, she says, “are not available in Pagosa Springs.”

Her final day at the district will be a week from tomorrow.

“I am grateful for the many wonderful people I have met, worked and played with,” she added, “and for those who are still here, I wish them the best.”

Weiss joined PAWSD as a customer service representative in 1982. Steadily rising through the administrative ranks, she became assistant manager in 1991, and eventually succeeded longtime manager Jack DeLange in 1998.

When Weiss first joined the district, PAWSD serviced approximately 800 total equivalent units (EUs) — an EU being roughly equal to the amount of water a typical single-family residence uses in a year. Today, PAWSD serves more than 7,100 water and wastewater EUs.

“The district is fortunate to have such a dedicated staff whose team efforts have continued to provide impressive quality customer service and fiscal responsibility,” Weiss wrote in a recent statement. “The district’s budget and day-to-day operations are in excellent condition. A huge ‘thank you’ is due the staff and board (of directors) for these accomplishments.”

Immediately following a devastating 2002 drought, PAWSD greatly enhanced its Water Conservation Plan under Weiss’ direction. Through the district’s ongoing educational programs, community members soon recognized water as a finite resource and began practicing meaningful conservation. Today, as the plan continually expands, it enjoys statewide recognition as a model in the Colorado Water Conservation Board’s “Guidebook of Best Practice, Handbook for Municipal Water Conservation in Colorado.”

When asked, Weiss says she is most proud of her involvement in securing and developing raw water storage, and completion of the Dutton Ditch Pipeline. Though work on the line actually began in the late 1980s, the district realized significant progress over the past 10 years.

As area growth exploded between 1994 and 2006, other projects gained prominence. Just this year, PAWSD completed the enlargement of Stevens Reservoir, while noting marked progress in securing land and water rights (contingent to remand in District Court) for the proposed Dry Gulch Reservoir.

“Developing raw water is a lengthy process,” Weiss admits. “It can take decades and involves many hurdles. Whether or not Dry Gulch remains the selected site for necessary raw water storage, the foundation has been laid and, as the Water Supply Planning Work Group moves forward — in whatever format it evolves — I am confident that we can find a consensus for water storage and how to assure the necessary financing.”

In her statement, Weiss further added, “My decision to leave the district is one of the most difficult and is somewhat bittersweet. It has been a big part of my life. I’ve had the privilege of working with some great staff and board members, but the political wrangling has been a distraction and factored into my decision. It is the perfect time to have a new manager help provide a fresh look to fulfill the district’s mission — ‘Provide safe drinking water and wastewater services in an economical and environmentally responsible manner.’

“The staff and members of the board are committed to this community and will ensure stability … residents can continue to count on the district as it is an essential stabilizing influence in our community.”

While the search is on to find Weiss’ replacement, she aims to assist in the transition through the end of August. As for future plans, she intends to seek another form of employment in the area, but looks forward to spending more time with family.

chuck@pagosasun.com