Saturday, September 13, 2014

Interview with Russ Thomas - CCWD Candidate for District 4

Why are you running for the CCWD Board?
Throughout my life, I have felt a desire to be personally involved in shaping my community. Over many years, I've enjoyed holding positions of responsibility as an appointed member of an Arts Commission, a County  Planning Commission, a Community Plan Committee, and a Fish & Game Commission.
In 2006, I was elected to be the Fifth District Supervisor of Calaveras County,  representing Copperopolis and the Rancho Calaveras Subdivision, near Valley Springs.  I spent 4 years, working very hard to serve the citizens of the District and Calaveras County, however, in November of 2010, the voters of the district chose another person to fill the position.  (We all know how that turned out.)
Naturally, I was disappointed that I didn't have the opportunity to continue serving Calaveras County, but another exciting opportunity immediately became available.  Since January of 2011, I've been managing construction projects in Mogadishu, Somalia, working with companies that serve the needs of the United Nations Mission in Somalia --important work that is providing stability in a nation that has been fighting a civil war for over 22 years.
In June, when I returned home from my last 13 months in Africa, I learned that Dennis Dooley was not going to seek re-election to his seat on the Board of CCWD.  Others have encouraged me to run for this extremely important seat, and I also view it as an excellent opportunity for me to renew my efforts to improve my community.  That's why I'm running!
What are your qualifications?
First, in the area of education: I earned a B.A. in Business Administration from California State University Stanislaus.
In the area of job related experience: For over 20 years, I was a masonry contractor and a leader in the masonry industry of California --holding the office of President of the state-wide Masonry Contractor's Association. I've also had many years of experience as a Management Trustee on Union Pension Trusts and Health and Welfare Trusts.  In my capacity of being a union employer, I have negotiated many collective bargaining agreements.
In the area of Public Service:  I've listed most of my previous activities in the previous answer, but here, I would like to stress the importance of my 4 years on the Board of Supervisors.                                                                                                                 

During each of those years, I worked closely with the board of CCWD, building strong relationships, and working to formulate a Water Element for the General Plan of Calaveras County.  While I believe that my prior experience (and training) as an elected official makes me a very qualified candidate, my opponent has publicly expressed the opinion that voters should avoid electing any candidate who has previously held public office.  Since this particular candidate has made two previous attempts, seeking a public office, I wonder how he would feel if he had been elected?
Finally, voters should consider this: The fact that I've spent the last several years, working in war-torn Somalia, should be a clear indication that I'm not afraid of a challenge.

What will you do to protect our water rights? 
A very serious problem that will be facing the next CCWD Board will be in trying to prove to the State's Regional Water Control Board that Calaveras County has realistic, present and future plans to "consume" many thousands of acre feet beyond the level of current consumption.  In my opinion, the only easy way of proving that Calaveras County is justified in preserving our existing water reservations (aka- rights) is by having a County General Plan that designates areas within the county where significant population growth is expected.  Therefore, I will immediately insist that the CCWD board must reach out (again) to the Board of Supervisors, and hopefully, we can convince them to adopt a more aggressive growth policy.  Clearly, we cannot protect water rights by merely saying they need to be protected.  We'll have to show how the water is going to be used, and this can only be done with a collaborative effort.

Do you support the wild and scenic designation of the Moke River?

I can support it only if the bill is amended with specific language that gives guaranteed access to future water -- if needed.  If these amendments are not included, then I will oppose the bill.

What is your stand on fleet gas cards and accountability of CCWD vehicle use via GPS or other means?

I understand that there have been some past cases where employees were abusing the use of fleet gas cards.  I believe that the problem has been solved,  however, I will still insist on keeping a watchful eye on the use of the cards.  Regarding GPS:  I can see huge advantages in being able to track rolling resources as they move around the county.  To me, GPS tracking would be an excellent tool to help maximize efficiency, as well as safety.

Will investigation into the apparent disappearance of the reserve funds be a priority?

Unfortunately, CCWD, like many other entities, lost approximately $1.4 to $1.7 million that had been invested with Lehman Bros. How could anyone anticipate that within a few terrible days, the fourth largest financial institution in the world would be bankrupt?  I don't believe that loss warrants an investigation, however, I intend to find out more about how the new CCWD administration building was financed.                                                                                                  

What new programs/policies would you like to see implemented?

In order to improve the county's business environment, I'd like to investigate the feasibility of making changes in the current policies that apply to the pricing and collection of new connection fees.  Instead of insisting of collecting 100% up front, why not give a company payment terms?
In spite of past efforts by CCWD's board to be perceived as "transparent and open" in their decision making, the organization has a tarnished reputation among ratepayers.  I will concentrate a large portion of my energies toward improving that reputation.
What do you feel is working within CCWD well and would leave alone?

I would cultivate the talented and dedicated employees.  I'd strive to create an environment where each of these employees would feel comfortable recommending positive changes within the organization. 

Will you or will you not, push for the completion of the sewer line on Little John Road?

The contract for the installation of the sewer line on Little John Road was in place years ago.  I remember when the staking was completed and the excavating equipment was trucked-in to commence the work.  I also remember when CCWD engineers (at the last minute) stepped in and forced the cancellation of the contract, pointing to the harsh reality that the sewer flows from Copper Town Square would not be sufficient to allow the pipeline to function properly. Instead of a pipeline, the district designed a large holding tank that must be pumped weekly.

Yes, I'd like to see the sewer line completed, and the developer has an obligation to see that the work is completed, however, until there is more development, with more toilets available to "flush" the system, the holding tank near Copper Town Square will continue to collect waste water, and a truck will continue hauling the effluent to the sewer treatment plant.

Do you support or oppose groundwater regulations?

In almost all of Calaveras County, except in a small groundwater basin near Burson and Wallace, ground water is drawn from fractured rock. (Under a long-established state mandate, CCWD has been monitoring designated wells in the Burson/Wallace area for number of years.)  In my opinion, monitoring private wells in Calaveras County would be an unjustifiable intrusion by government.  I am absolutely opposed to the concept.


Please explain the your understanding of the North Fork Stanislaus River Hydro Electric Development Project.

Many of CCWD's detractors are quick to point out that CCWD should not have "given away" the North Fork project to NCPA.  However, when you consider the immense cost of the facilities, I believe it is completely unrealistic to assume that CCWD was (at that time) capable of building and maintaining the facilities.  Like others, I suspect that a more favorable formula could have been negotiated, but of course, I wasn't there.  However, the NCPA contract and the FERC relicensing will be required by 2023, giving CCWD less than 20 years to get prepared to negotiate a better formula for the next 50 years.  That preparation must begin immediately.

My Prepared Statement:

With the drought upon us, we must work hard to build and preserve the District’s water rights for our communities and the future of this County. We can do this more effectively by building partnerships between the District, the County, its communities, and neighboring districts.

I will work to restore responsiveness and trust by reexamining the recent rate increase and business practices of the District. Wasteful spending during these difficult times is hurting our communities and businesses. My work experience combined with my public service makes me the best candidate to serve you by bringing a business approach to managing District affairs.

We must also ensure our infrastructure is appropriately maintained in order to deliver the level of service our communities need. The District’s poor leadership and changing direction does not provide sound management of its resources. I will work hard for you to bring back a steady hand and business acumen to restore hard work, strategic direction, and integrity. Please work with me to bring back a county-wide water district that can lead our County into the future. I would appreciate your vote.


Russ Thomas
Telephone: (209) 480-8968.
email:          rthos2020