Race pits veteran against challenger
Florrie Donovan, a businesswoman running against the senior member of the South Tahoe Public Utility District’s board of directors, measures the progress of her campaign one voter at a time.
“People in general are ready for a change,” said Donovan, who is running against Jim Jones, a 16-year board member. “I get a thumbs-up sign when I’m walking around, and it’s surprising when someone calls and wants one of my signs in their window.”
A first-time candidate for office, Donovan said she doesn’t mind the long odds of facing Jones, a board veteran who can boast of a professional background tailor-made for a utility district.
She notes that she beat two incumbents to win a seat on the Tahoe Keys Property Owners Association, and believes she can upset Jones by hard work and listening to the voters.
Donovan has raised about $600 in small donations, and tried to make the money stretch with television, radio and newspaper ads. In fact, she is so satisfied with her ads on local television, she thinks the district could benefit by having its board meetings televised on the public access channel as well.
But perhaps her most novel idea is a way for the district to raise money and forestall rate increases – by selling the drinking water the district pumps from wells.
“Why not bottle the water and sell it?” she asks. “Why not have the tourists pay their fair share?”
More importantly, Donovan identifies the need to balance the district’s needs with a sensitivity to the environment as her greatest concern.
Because Donovan has run a relatively low-profile campaign – she couldn’t afford a candidate’s statement, for instance – Jones said he has not campaigned as hard as he might have otherwise.
By Tuesday, he will have spent about $2,000, including $800 in contributions, to get his message out that the district is well-run and headed in the right direction.
With the largest campaign war chest in either contested district race, Jones sent out the campaign’s only direct-mail piece, a political ad he mailed to the 3,600 district residents who voted in the last two elections.
An engineer who has worked for the Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, Jones said he is proud of his contributions to the district. If elected, he will be the longest-serving director in the district’s history.
Jones said he will continue to improve both the water and sewer systems, improve their reliability, and continue to lobby the federal government for help in replacing the wastewater export line. The district received $7.15 million this year from the government for its $34 million replacement project.
The veteran board member initiated the district’s lobbying in Washington during a visit in February, 1996, and again this year on a visit with a delegation from the Association of California Water Agencies.
Jones is a member of ACWA’s water quality committee, and may be appointed by Gov. Pete Wilson to a task force studying the risk to water supplies from the fuel additive MTBE. The South Tahoe district found MTBE contamination in one of its wells.
While identifying rates and sewer allocations as the campaign’s most sensitive issues, Jones said he feels good about his chances of being elected to a fifth term.
“It’s been a real quiet campaign and not controversial,” Jones said. “I feel confident, but you never really know until Tuesday night.”
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