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Future of Shady Cove water board still murky

SHADY COVE — Incumbents in the Shady Cove Water District election were soundly trounced by challengers Tuesday, but whether a new board will take over July 1 remains in question.

Five candidates who ran on a platform of shutting down the district if elected, beat pro-district candidates with 85 percent or more of ballots cast.

But district board members last month — after the candidates had filed — changed the qualifications for serving on the board, effectively disqualifying their opponents from serving.

With the threat of potential court cases worrying some, district manager Jim Collier said he doesn't know whether the incumbent board will try to block the victorious candidates.

"I've called each board member Wednesday morning when I got the paper," said Collier. "I know that the board was anticipating this, but so far we haven't made any plans."

The district was formed in 2002 to develop a water system for the largest city in Oregon without one. It has been mired in conflict for years. Residents voted to dissolve the district in 2005, on a vote of 567-114, but that vote was overturned on appeal, and the district was back in business a year ago in March.

None of the incumbent board members was voted into office except board President Dee Hawkins and her husband, Bob.

(Note: This sentence was corrected) Others received appointments by Collier or his appointees after the 2005 election.

The current board has raised some concern by moving next month's regular meeting to June 30, three weeks later than normal and the day before the new board is scheduled to take over.

"That bylaw change that they put in, in the middle of April," said Roger Hays, winner of Position 2 on the board, "it says they are the ones who will decide who will sit on the board — I think they think they have a lock on keeping their seats."

Position 1 winner Gene Reitz said he thought the margin of victory in Tuesday's election will help get the new board members seated.

"With this high percentage of vote and our platform that said we wanted to dissolve the district, I think the incumbents are going to be hard pressed to try and hold on," Reitz said.

The district angered many residents last year when they began billing a $6 monthly water service fee, even though they were not providing any water.

"I'm happy about the results of this election and the obvious mandate from the people, but it's probably too soon to know how this will work out," said Phillip Keith, winner of Position 3. "Right now we're just waiting for the final results to be certified."

The district posted a notice on its office door Wednesday saying the office would be closed until further notice.

"We're not going to be open to the public," said Collier. "The judge said, among other things, that having an office open wasn't providing a service, so we don't need to do that."

Jackson County Circuit Judge G. Philip Arnold ruled April 29 that the district's monthly water service fee was a tax and therefore illegal under Oregon law. The district had argued it was providing a service by having an office and attempting to find water for the town.

"Once again," said Hays, "I think the people just decided that we might be able to help them. For the second time they've said they want this district dissolved. It's time we finally get rid of it."

Writer Bill Miller lives in Shady Cove. Reach him at newsmiller@yahoo.com.