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Candidates endorse district policies

Patrick McCartney

The three new candidates running for the South Tahoe Public Utility District board of directors largely endorsed the direction of the district’s current board Tuesday in the first public forum of the campaign.

Pembroke Gochnauer and David Kelly, competing for an open seat, and Florrie Donovan, who is contesting the seat held by incumbent Jim Jones, agreed on the need to complete improvements to the district’s water and sewer systems.

At the forum sponsored by the district’s Employee Communication Committee, the candidates emphasized the personal qualities they would bring to the position more than any policy differences they have with the current board.

In the open race, Gochnauer came across as the insider who is most knowledgeable about the details of the district’s business, while Kelly positioned himself as the independent candidate who would open up the district’s affairs.

Kelly, who is disabled but active in civic groups, said he would strive to make the board’s decisions better known in the community.

“I am in favor of moving the board meetings to a time when more people could attend, and reduce the feeling of secrecy that surrounds the board meetings and the board,” Kelly said. The board now meets on two Thursday afternoons a month.

Gochnauer displayed the knowledge of the district he has gathered as a commercial real estate agent, and said he would work well with the current board.

“A board member must not be a maverick,” Gochnauer said. “The board is a consensus group. Do I know this board? Yes. Are they friends of mine? Yes. Do I always agree with them? No.”

In her remarks, Donovan said the district’s ratepayers would benefit from a new face on the board. She is running against the board’s senior director in Jones, who has served 16 of the last 20 years.

Donovan also pointed to her experience in financial services and in running a household as assets.

“The 20 years I have spent in financial services gives me the unique ability to handle large sums of money,” Donovan said.

She was the only candidate to suggest that the district may have been better off paying a $50,000 fine for wastewater spills than go to the mat against regional water-quality regulators.

For his part, Jones pointed to the awards given to the district during the last four years as evidence the current board has overseen its operations responsibly. He also said that the improvements in the district’s water and sewage systems made a difference during recent emergencies.

“We didn’t spill one drop of wastewater during this year’s floods, while everybody else in the state of California were spilling water all over the place,” Jones said. He told the district employees he wanted a chance to continue serving on the board.

“In the last four years, we have eliminated a lot of controversy that was there,” Jones said. “I have a strong interest in continuing to serve on the board, representing the district … and being a member of a team of active professionals.”

Chris Strohm, the chairman of the district board who is unopposed in seeking a second term, also addressed the forum and answered questions. He also praised the board and the district for progress during his first term, and defended the district’s aggressive defense against the spill sanctions.

“As a board, I think we’re all trying to do the right things for the right reasons,” Strohm said, and then referred to his automatic election.

“You’ve got me whether you want me or not.”


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