The Santa Clarita Valley Water Agency board of directors voted Tuesday to appoint their second director this year due to two former colleagues’ resignations.
While the majority of the board decided that it would be in the best interest of the ratepayer and continued local governance to allow the board to once again select the replacement for a vacant seat, the minority bloc of the board decried the timing of longtime local water board member B.J. Atkins’ resignation and argued that the board was subverting the democratic process.
On July 11, Atkins submitted his resignation to the water board after saying in a previous story published by The Signal that he had already begun moving to San Diego and out of the district he represented on the SCV Water Agency board since 2018.
In his comments for that July 13 story, Atkins said that he still had “80% of his belongings” in the Santa Clarita Valley. According to the SCV Water board website, “each director must live in one of the three electoral divisions and will be directly elected by the people within that electoral division.”
However, during the meeting a handful of the board members — who also stood in opposition to the board appointing another candidate to what is normally an elected position — claimed that Atkins had not lived in his district for some time and that the timing of Atkins’ resignation seemed to force the hand of the board toward majority appointment. Up until April of this year, the board had been holding meetings remotely in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
According to SCV Water Agency staff, the board had three options that they would need to decide on: vote to approve, find and appoint a replacement in the next 60 days, vote to hold a special election next March, or do nothing and allow L.A. County to make the decision.
Kathie Martin, SCV Water spokeswoman, said in a statement sent to The Signal on Thursday that news of Atkins’ potential move and resignation had begun to circulate as early as December 2020. In a previous statement, Atkins said he had been considering moving since 2021, but paused his plans due to construction delays on the house he was building in San Diego County.
Director Kathye Armitage said the board had been made aware by the county back in March that, if Atkins had resigned by midnight on June 30, the agency would have had the time it needed to put the paperwork in to put his seat back onto the November ballot at “no additional cost to this agency.”
However, because he submitted his resignation after that date, Armitage argued, the board had been forced to decide between a special election on March 7 — the next L.A. County election day following the Nov. 8 General Election — that will cost the agency hundreds of thousands of dollars, or allowing the board to appoint on their own.
“The fact that Director Atkins submitted his resignation a mere (11 days) past the deadline that he was very well aware of…(made) it too late to be respectful to our democratic process,” said Armitage.
“He has not lived in this district for a very long time and this board knew, many people on this board, that he was not here,” said Director Lynne Plambeck. “So, I just feel like this board is appointing itself and that that’s very wrong.”
In defense of their position, and voting down attempts to either hold a special election or delay the board’s decision-making process on the matter, a majority of directors said that having their own election next year would cost “hundreds of thousands of dollars” and that they did not want to leave the choice to the county.
“What I see is this board isn’t doing anything more than abiding by the rules and regulations counsel has told us,” said Director Bill Cooper. “The board has nothing to do with when Mr. Atkins decided to resign; that was all up to Director Atkins.”
Cooper added that a standard election costs the agency roughly $500,000 and that L.A. County officials had previously informed staff that a special election price tag would be “significantly higher.”
“We are at this point,” said Director Piotr Orezechowski, “and we have to make a decision that’s in the best interest of our ratepayers.”
The discussion to appoint someone to Atkins’ seat paralleled one held earlier this year regarding former Division 3 Director Dan Mortensen’s seat, who resigned from his position after being convicted of misdemeanor domestic violence. Director Maria Gutzeit was later appointed to the board to carry out the remainder of Mortensen’s term, which expires in January.
Additionally, the board announced it will be holding a special meeting Tuesday to discuss the board’s third vacancy of the year, which was left after Director Jerry Gladbach died unexpectedly on July 13. The board will have the same options as before in terms of how to fill the vacancy. Gladbach’s term is also set to expire at the end of the year.
However, the person appointed to Atkins’ seat, since he had been elected in 2020 to a four-year term, will complete the remaining life of the four-year term. Furthermore, Senate Bill 634 requires that six board members’ terms expire at the end of this year and three seats — one for each of the agency’s three geographical divisions — will be on the November election ballot.
Candidates to replace Atkins must have their primary residence within Division 3 and be a registered voter. Applications will be accepted until 4 p.m. on Aug. 4. For more information on the application process, visit yourSCVwater.com.