Turbulent times at Mapleton Water District

Some good news with grants from Three Rivers, others

Jan. 25, 2023 (Mapleton) - It’s been a tumultuous few years for customers of the Mapleton Water District (MWD), which has been grappling with issues arising from its existing treatment facility, forcing the district to secure funding for the purchase of a new treatment plan, which is scheduled to be delivered in March. 

In the meantime, issues with water have remained, most recently the discovery of multiple leaks in the system which led to empty pipes and an eventual boil water notice.

Though as of deadline a boil water notice is still in effect, mechanically things appear to be on the way to some degree of normalcy, with the district’s holding tanks filling up at a steady rate. 

However, though the making of clean drinking water appears to be on course, additional issues have arisen — chief among them questions on whether or not the district’s board of directors can work as a cohesive unit.

While the first two weeks of the water crisis saw an outpouring of support from both the community, and the likes of the City of Florence and Lane County, the past week the board has been embroiled in online controversies, as board members past and present argued over a variety of issues, along with accusations of wrongdoing. 

The board is made up of residents within the district who are elected every two years by vote of fellow district members. At the start of its special meeting held Jan. 17, the board consisted of the following:

Vacant – Chair

Millie Rochon – Vice-chair

Vanessa West – Secretary

Bryan Moore

Roger Gould

Gib Moles

What proceeded was a spirited — sometimes chaotic — meeting of the MWD Board. Voices were raised and there were some disagreements, but by the end the board had agreed to work together and move forward.

At the December 2022 monthly meeting, board chair Sharon Shrenk resigned from the active chair position, effective Jan. 15. This left the board chair position open to start last week’s meeting. Vice-chair Millie Rochon led the meeting as the highest-ranking director.  

Shrenk’s reasons for resigning are a glimpse into the issues the board is currently facing. 

“I resigned out of frustration, false accusations, the blame game, a lack of accountability, backstabbing — not only directed towards me but towards each other — drama, etc.,” she explained. “Basically, a dysfunctional board and no one listens.” 

Many topics were covered during this meeting, some of which were contentious. What follows are the important items discussed along with the discussions that were had. 

“We don’t have to necessarily like each other”

On Jan. 3, the Siuslaw News reported that someone had broken into the MWD offices and stolen the district computer’s hard drive, along with important billing information. Based on discussions at the Jan. 17 meeting, it appears this was false — though the discussion the board had didn’t actually clear up why it was reported to local media that the computer had been damaged.

“I talked to HYAK yesterday,” said Director Gould. “They were able to salvage everything off the hard drive. It was not damaged. The question is how whatever happened, happened. They don’t know. The tray that the hard drive sets in was missing. He [the HYAK rep.] asked why the tray was missing and we looked all through the office. It wasn’t there.”

Gould then explained that HYAK advised the district to purchase a new computer and estimated they could put one together for roughly $860. Both Gould and Director Moore offered to pay for — or share — the price of the new computer if needed. However, the board unanimously approved a resolution to make the purchase of the new computer using district funds.

Director Moore used the computer topic to segue into a broader discussion about how the board communicates, both with each other and the community.

“It went from someone who came in and did something [to the district’s billing computer], to where no one did anything,” explained Moore. “It was because of all the misinformation out there. I don’t want this anymore.”

Moore explained that, as of late, he has been very frustrated with false or misleading information not only being shared with the community, but also between board members themselves. 

“Take my name off the doggone texting list and you can come talk to my face,” said Moore. “I’ve been so mad, if I wasn’t a pastor there would have been some problems.”

Moore's laments prompted a comment from Director Gib Moles, who gave his perspective on how a board of this sort should operate.

“We don’t have to necessarily like each other,” Moles said. “We do have to work together for the betterment of the water board. We don’t have to agree but we have to come to a consensus of what’s the best way to move forward. And when we do move forward, it’s got to be documented so that there’s none of this chatter going on about what we’re doing and what we’re not doing — and what used to be. 

“Our focus is forward.”

Moles said he was one of the reasons a meeting had been called and wanted to do so for a very specific reason.

“That’s the whole reason I tried to get the board together,” Moles explained. “So, we could talk together and try and smooth over some differences and work together.”

The board then moved on to discuss the topic of grants.

Director West said that, the day before, she had received a call from Three Rivers Casino and Resort that included some very good news. MWD had asked the Casino for a $29,450 grant for safety equipment and other items for district infrastructure. They, instead, awarded the water district $40,000.

A list was presented at the meeting showing the items the district plans to purchase with the money. These items include leak detection equipment, an enclosed trailer, chain saws and climbing harnesses.

Next, another grant was also announced, this time by Caty Giovinco, MWD Grant Chair.

“This grant is from Biz Oregon and it’s a $20,000 award for the “Safe Water Revolving Loan Funds Study Project,” announced Giovinco. “It’s basically a $20,000 award for hiring someone to do a rate study.”

A utility rate study is a financial review of a water utility that projects future revenue and expenses, in theory providing a preview of what future costs MWD can expect. 

“There is no ‘I’ in team.” 

Next, Director West read from the Special Districts Association of Oregon (SDAO) Board Member Handbook — specifically, the section titled “Commitment and Responsibilities.”

West was apparently prompted to read from the handbook as a result of a disagreement between her and Moles on the reasons for which the meeting had been called. 

Moles wanted to have a meeting of the board, in private, in an attempt to facilitate a more productive relationship amongst the directors; West believed there was a meeting that needed to be held, but that it was required to be done publicly.

“I want it to be part of the meeting address [record] that my purpose of this meeting was bringing the board together so we can work closer together,” said Moles.

West also wished to go on record.

“My reason is we’ve got things to vote on,” countered West.

“You took it upon yourself to do that,” replied Moles. “My purpose was to bring us together. That’s it.”

This back and forth prompted Chair Rochon to recommend the entire board take advantage of any opportunities that arise to receive training on how to operate as part of a special district board. Also, it was understood by the board that Rochon planned to step down soon and she explained some of her reasons.

“I hope that everybody does take part in the board training that is coming,” pleaded Rochon. “There is no ‘I’ in team. You guys can save the MWD. I don’t want to be a part of it. There are able-bodied minds right here and everyone just has to communicate and see the people [in the MWD] instead of themselves … they have to see themselves as a ‘we’ instead of an ‘I’. All those things have to happen in order to move forward together.”

“Supposedly there was some hacking”

The next topic discussed was MWD’s email account. 

Director West has had issues accessing the district’s email.

“Do you know how hard it was to write up the agenda?” asked West. “I have to try and type it all out in bits because I don’t have access to email. I had to write minutes a week later — when everything wasn’t fresh — and try to remember what happened [at the meeting]. What should have taken me 30 minutes took me probably eight hours of complete frustration over a few days. No access to email has been a pain. Why has there not been any access to email? A previous board member, when she quit, did not give access to the email.”

In addition to being locked out, West mentioned other problems the district is having with the email, including not having the ability to look up the budget and other necessary functions as a board member.

“Until I figure this out, no one is going to get in until I investigate,” said West. “Supposedly there was some hacking. I have not seen any evidence of that.”

When Shrenk was asked about this “hacking” situation, she gave the following statement, via email, to the Siuslaw News.

It is true, someone hacked the email. First of all, please make this clear, this gmail account was set up by me and associated with my own Google account. So, all access went through me, a code was sent via text to me to allow for access, or so I thought … On Jan. 6, I noticed something fishy with the email, so I went in and looked at the account. 

Acording to Shrenk, someone had been into the account and was forwarding all the email to [email protected] — something that Shrenk said she found disturbing, considering the name of the account “vendetta.” 

She continued: I immediately changed the password and deleted the forwarding address. All of the district business with the State of Oregon, engineering, etc., went through this email. I was very concerned. We have grants etc. that could be taken. 

Shrenk explained that, since she was supposed to the main contact, she was concerned this could be an “inside job” and voiced her concern. 

No one else seemed alarmed, she continued. But I also noticed verification for access to email was now set up to go to a Samsung S21 telephone. I have an iPhone. This account had access to my personal Google account and was concerned I had been hacked. Unfortunately, this went back and forth several times. But not once did anyone contact me to see how to solve this — just unidentified person(s) changing the password and verifications. The rest [of the] board was passive and seemed unconcerned about this account behavior. I find it interesting that the forwarding name tells a huge story in itself.

According to Shrenk, MWD is on its way to getting set up with a new email as she hired someone to help separate her from the situation.

I hired an IT person to come to my home and figure out how to separate the district email from mine own personal email and my own personal google account, stated Shrenk. This happened yesterday [Saturday, Jan. 21], and I sent everyone on the board, to their personal accounts, the new password at 12:11 on Friday Jan. 20th.

“She was afraid to stay in there by herself”

Another contentious topic came up next: The lock on the MWD office. 

There had been rumblings on social media leading up to the Jan. 17 meeting that someone had changed the locks on the office, preventing access to some board members.

Moles explained that he was responsible for the changing of the locks.

“The sole purpose of changing the locks was Kelsie’s [Allen, MWD Office Administrator] security,” explained Moles. “She was afraid to stay in there by herself, so the locks were changed, and a deadbolt was put in so she can lock it when she’s in there.” 

Moles added that there was also a drop box put in for the convivence of customers.

“This was all about concerns for Kelsie’s safety,” said Moles.

West went on to explain how she thought the lock situation should have been dealt with.

“If Kelsie did have a reason she wanted locks, then she’d need to bring that to the board and the board would vote and decide upon that,” West said. “We would most likely been out of the boil notice if Joe [Rochon, MWD Plant Operator] had had access to the email and to the office. Joe has not been able to submit our documents to the state on time … he had no access to the email at all because they had been taken and held hostage.”

Eventually, the keys to the new locks were given to Joe Rochon, who said he’d give a copy to Allen and leave the remaining set at the office for checking out when someone needs them.

Next, West accused Shrenk of blocking access to engineering documents for the new treatment plant that is scheduled to be installed. Shrenk said in a correspondence with Siuslaw News that those who are concerned she is blocking access are simply wrong, and that the board has had access since the negotiations for a new skid began.

“All correspondence between Filter Tech, West/Yost [the two companies engineering the new treatment plant] and myself was always sent to the district email (which every board member has access to) and often times I would also send to each board member individually so they could read it,” said Shrenk in an email to the Siuslaw News. “For instance, the contract for Filter Tech was 65 pages long, I printed it, read it, made notes in the margins, highlighted areas of question — yet no one else even read it.  All they needed to do was go back through emails and look.

“Yes, the emails could be overwhelming,” she continued, “but they all had access. Yes, I agreed to give them pertinent information and agreed to upload to a flash drive.”

Shrenk said she had dropped a flash drive in the mail on Sunday with the pertinent information.

“I would like to vote for me as chair”

The final significant order of business was the selection of a new board chair and vice-chair.

“I would like to be something other than secretary,” West said in her opening to the discussion.

Vice-chair Rochon then presented what she thought the best direction would be.

“I think that Vanessa as chair and Gib as Vice-chair,” Rochon said. “They’ll learn to get along just like you [West] and Sharon did.”

West disagreed — in part.

“I would like to vote for me as chair,” said West. 

Moles didn’t know if he was the right person for the job.

“I don’t know if I can get along with Vanessa, period.” he said. “She wants to control everything and I’m just trying to move forward. My whole objective is to get this thing moving because it’s been sitting in a pile of dung for a year and a half.”

After a discussion, Gould offered a solution; he would be vice-chair with West as chairperson.

A motion was made to make West chair, which passed unanimously.

A motion was made to make Gould vice-chair, and it also passed unanimously.

With the approval of those two positions, it leaves an open position on the board. West said she would look into the steps that are needed to fill that position.

The MWD Board of Directors meets the second Tuesday of each month at the Mapleton Lions Club, 88158 Riverview. 

The next meeting is Feb. 14 at a time to be announced.