Water focus group shrinks

Mount Werner Water doesn't want to be in water focus group

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Mount Werner Water and Sanitation District no longer wants its board members to be part of a group created to build a better relationship between the district and the city.

The Mount Werner Water District recently sent a letter to the city stating its desire for members to withdraw from the water focus group. Mount Werner District Manager Bob Stoddard said problems would arise when the three members of the five-person board would attend the water focus group meetings and return with recommendations.

"The three on the water focus group had already agreed, and the other two were not part of the discussion," Stoddard said.

In its letter dated June 9, Mount Werner Water said the water focus group was valuable and it supported continuing the group. When matters concerning the Mount Werner Water District arose, it would send a representative to the meetings, Stoddard said.

"At the district level, we would review any such invitation on an issue-by-issue basis to determine the designee who we feel is appropriate and the appropriateness, in general, of our representation in these discussions and/or negotiations," the letter states.

Despite the withdrawal of one-half of the water focus group, Councilman Steve Ivancie is optimistic about the group's future.

"The water focus group saved us a lot of money, a lot of costs. A lot of important discrepancies came to our attention," Ivancie said.

The City Council has asked the water focus group, comprised of city representatives Bill Martin, Paul Stettner and Jim Engelken, to look at what role it should have. The council plans to discuss that role at an upcoming meeting

Ivancie and Martin see the water focus group as being a city advocate when dealing with water and sewer operations and with other entities. They also hope it will bring historical perspective and continuity to the city.

Martin said he was disappointed in Mount Werner's withdrawal.

"If they want to not be there, that is their choice," Martin said. "But that is a huge mistake on their part."

Martin proposed forming a new seven-member water focus group with two members from each of the city's three districts and one at-large member. Because Mount Werner District is within the city limits, the group would have at least two members and potentially five that could live in the district.

Stoddard said the district would "certainly welcome" having residents from the district serve on the water focus group. In its letter to the council, the district said the City Council should appoint all the members of the water focus group.

The water focus group, which was created in 2002 after voters rejected the formation of a joint water authority, has a rocky history. Its intent was to continue looking at consolidation of the city's and district's water and sewer systems.

The group was assigned to look at why the 2002 vote failed and how to create efficiencies with the two entities.

Martin said the water focus group's look at consolidating the two entities ended quickly.

"People's definitions of consolidation were very different. Mount Werner's notion was hand everything over to them, and my notion was for Mount Werner to dissolve," Martin said. "Those were night and day definitions. It was more than just semantics."

The water focus group had disagreements on even the smaller details, such as whether the meetings should be recorded, whether the city and district staff should review 30 years of negotiations and handshake deals, and whether a water focus group should exist.

In December, the water focus group agreed to form a committee to look at the group's policies, goals and objectives.

When the board formed, it was comprised of Martin, Paul Stettner and Nancy Mayer as the city's representatives and Councilman Loui Antonucci. The district representatives were board members Joe Brennan, Tim Borden, Mark McElhinney and John Fetcher.

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