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KWAPA’s future uncertain.
Board members refuse to reinstate executive director
by LACEY JARRELL, Herald and News 7/16/15

     The Klamath Water and Power Agency’s future is uncertain after board members voted earlier this month to terminate the agency’s executive director.

   “You tore down your house before you had a plan or the materials to rebuild it. We’re all just here wondering what we are going to do,” Gretchen Young, a KWAPA project assistant, said Tuesday at a special board of directors meeting.

   “The smartest thing one of you can do today is to make a motion to reinstate Hollie until this grant is closed out — you are going to have some serious struggles ahead of you if you don’t.”

   The board members declined to reinstate the executive director position, and which was held by Hollie Cannon. Cannon has worked with the agency since its inception more than six years ago. His last day at KWAPA is July 23.

   “You’ve cut the brains off. When you cut the head off a body, the body falls apart,” said executive assistant Cathy Waters. “We’ve had an amazing leader in Hollie … He is the idea person. He’s able to figure out how we can keep things moving until we have enough funds or different guidelines or legislation for water users to work toward.”
The board voted to eliminate Cannon’s position on July 7, the same day as the monthly KWAPA board meeting. Board member Bill Heiney said the position was eliminated because the board wants the Basin ag community to have a “more unified voice.”

   Board members Gary Wright, Bill Heiney and former chairman Ed Bair voted in favor of eliminating the position.

   “I think it probably makes sense in some respects. It was a very, very difficult decision,” Bair said.  

   Bair declined to clarify why he voted “yes.”

   “(Hollie’s) termination had nothing to do with job performance,” Bair said. “He worked with the greatest of integrity. He did a fantastic job for us.”

   Board member Rocky Liskey voted against termination, and Todd Koch abstained from voting.

   At the special Tuesday meeting, several mentions were made of the Klamath Water Users Association and its relationship to KWAPA.

   According to Heiney, the two organizations have similar goals, but irrigators and districts have been bickering about KWAPA’s level of power and authority since the agency was formed.

   “We’ve got two organizations that are trying to compete for what to do — what direction is best,”   Heiney said.

   “We’re struggling right now. No matter how common our goals are, we have two boards, two CEOS — there’s always two approaches. I’m tired of being stagnant and not moving forward.”

   According to Water Users Executive Director Greg Addington, his organization has always supported an entity that can provide services KWUA, a nonprofit, cannot.

   “It goes without saying that the irrigation community is better and more effective when we are all on the same page. That goes for individuals, irrigation districts and the entities that represent them.

   “It will be up to leaders in the irrigation community to decide what that looks like, but a unified voice for the irrigation community should always be the goal,” Addington said.

   Addington declined to say whether the unified voice board members spoke of includes a more intimate collaboration or melding of the two organizations.

   “I keep hearing this mantra of one voice — the Project needs to speak with one voice. Water Users and KWAPA need to speak with one voice.   Who is the ‘one voice?’ ” said irrigator Dave Cacka. “Anyone that believes the districts speak with one voice needs to come to a Klamath Irrigation District (KID) board meeting. … The differences of opinions on all the issues run the entire spectrum.”


   According to Heiney, the board still “needs to iron out some details” about how the agency — which in a cooperative agreement with the Bureau of Reclamation manages a Water Users Mitigation Program — will finish out the year. He said board members hoped KWAPA’s staff, not including Cannon, would remain in place until the agency’s 2015 water mitigation programs are complete.

   KWAPA Bookkeeper Robin Huntsman said she isn’t giving up on the agency, but if another job opportunity presents itself, she will leave KWAPA.

   “There’s no future — there’s nothing for us — there’s no funds; there’s no plans. It’s gut wrenching,” she said.

   Waters echoed Huntsman, adding that the KWAPA board has not been clear in its goals.

   “We need goals and guidelines and timelines and all of that structure approved so we know we’re doing what the board wants us to do,” she said.

   Waters said she has put wheels in motion to retire.

   “I don’t have a date yet, but I will be leaving,” she said. “I don’t have faith this is going to go where it’s beneficial to the Project.”


   After voting in favor of eliminating KWAPA’s executive director, KWAPA chairman Bair resigned his post as a KlD board member, therefore disqualifying himself from sitting on the KWAPA board. Bair stepped down from the KWAPA board at the Tuesday special meeting. According to KID Assistant Bookkeeper Linda Seater, KID received Bair’s formal KID resignation the same day.

   Bair said he retired from KID because sitting on various ag-related boards for 25 years is enough.

   KID board members appointed Dave Cacka to assume Bair’s position on the KWAPA board. Heiney said he will act as KWAPA board chairman, until a formal chairman appointment is voted on.

   KWAPA board member Gary Wright said he believes the board’s action was in the best interest of Project irrigators.

   “It was time to make a change. The unity we need in two organizations is not here. Somehow we are going to bring that unity together, and that’s what this is about,” Wright said.

   Cacka asked the board what its next steps are.

   “Are we going to continue to create consternation about who gets credit for what? Are we going to continue to scheme about how to institute pay to play? Are we going to continue to wring our hands about speaking with one voice?” Cacka said.

   “Or are we going to become humble, bury our egos, step up as board members, forget about what is ‘good for me’ and seek equitable solutions for the entire irrigation community to ensure its future for generations to come?”

   Heiney hinted that the KWAPA board does not have a solid plan for moving forward. He wants board members to reach out to the Bureau of Reclamation, which funds KWAPA, to start a discussion about how the rest of the year might play out.

   “One way or another it’s going to look different, but (Bill Heiney and I) are in support of KWAPA going forward. If that’s not good enough, I can’t give you the answer what that looks like,” Wright said.

   KWAPA Project Manager Julie Matthews said she plans to start exploring employment options. She noted the agency’s funding could disappear as early as December.

   “That’s not very long,” Matthews said. “I love what I do, and I love the Project. I’m going to keep my eyes open, though before I wasn’t even looking for (job) options. It’s just not moving forward in a positive manner.”

    ljarrell@heraldandnews  . com; @LMJatHandN



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