The right precedent

This is the first Christmas that Shonda Martinez will spend without her husband and companion, JoJo, in 36 years.

Many Pagosans know that JoJo died in a tragic on-the-job accident in May while attempting to recover a Solar Bee that was anchored in a lake while he was employed by Pagosa Area Water and Sanitation District (PAWSD).

At the Dec. 11 PAWSD meeting, board chair Mike Church stated that the PAWSD board had approached Shonda to express sympathy and to ask what the board could do to help her.

The family was told by board members that PAWSD was interested in helping them financially and needed to help by the end of the year.

Following the tragic accident, attorney Michael McLachlan conducted an investigation into JoJo’s death on behalf of his family. The investigation resulted in a letter written by McLachlan that aimed to have PAWSD put policies in place in order to make certain what happened that fateful day in May would never again happen to anyone else.

In a remarkable move, JoJo’s widow chose to put the well-being of JoJo’s former coworkers and friends at the forefront in order to provide for their safety after PAWSD had previously failed to set policy that could have saved her husband’s life.

And, when asked how the board of PAWSD could help her, there was a small, simple request made on behalf of Shonda — a request to extend the widow’s health insurance coverage.

During the Dec. 11 meeting, the board took no action on several motions made in an effort to provide health insurance for JoJo’s widow.

PAWSD has an uncommon bylaw in place that states, “Any motion raised for Board approval, at which all five Board Members are present and voting, that fails shall not be brought back to the Board for six months.” This is an example of a bylaw enacted by a board with a record of dysfunctional meetings.

It is a travesty that after the board made an offer to help Shonda, and they put no limitations on that offer, that they failed to follow through with a request as basic as health insurance coverage.

Shonda didn’t make extravagant or impossible requests. She didn’t ask for her husband back. She didn’t ask for a new house or even a new car. She didn’t ask for $1 million.

She asked for health insurance.

Shonda would have had health insurance coverage until JoJo’s retirement had he not died in that lake while performing his work duties.

Providing Shonda with the funds to purchase health insurance from now until the date of JoJo’s retirement wouldn’t require a rate increase for customers.

When it came to the issue of health insurance, amazingly, the issue of setting a precedent was a concern to the board.

The reality is that PAWSD had already set the worst possible precedent in having an employee die on its watch.

An email from PAWSD staff received earlier this week by The SUN indicated that the district had no boating safety standard operating procedures formalized prior to the accident that claimed JoJo’s life — another bad precedent.

Unfortunately, the PAWSD board missed the bigger gift that JoJo left with everyone he met — he always gave more than he took and he believed in leaving this world better than he found it.

JoJo’s death was a complete tragedy.

It would be an even bigger tragedy to not assist his widow, who will never celebrate another Christmas with the love of her life.

We encourage the board to set a precedent for doing the right thing.

Terri Lynn Oldham House