75 Years: Board members set the pace for TCPUD
August 27, 2013
EDITOR’S NOTE: In December, the Tahoe City Public Utility District celebrates its 75th anniversary. To honor the milestone, the district and Sierra Sun have partnered on a multi-part story series that will run periodically through Labor Day weekend. This is the sixth installment. Read parts one here, part two here, part three here, part four here and part five here.
TAHOE CITY, Calif. — In the first TCPUD board meetings of 1939, new directors Joe Henry, Ernest Pomin and C.W. "Bill" Vernon had some work to do. They voted to bond the district for $13,500 to install the town's new water mains and a pump station. They set distribution rates at $15 per month, and they agreed to pay themselves $3 per meeting.
Today, five directors make up the Tahoe City Public Utility District board, and each sits on at least one committee (sewer, water, finance, parks and recreation).
Directors often spend more than 20 hours a month researching issues and communicating with the public. With the functions of an expanded district, as well as cost-of-living increases, directors now receive $400 per month and full medical benefits for their work.
However, as many residents who've served on the board know, the position is no waltz in the park.
There have been 34 directors in the PUD's 75-year history. On the board now are two of the longest-sitting members, Ron Treabess at 25 years, and Erik Henrikson at 21 years. There have been two women, several contractors, numerous business owners and one ordained minister.
While contrasting outlooks can make for some rocky debates, the many points of view represented on the board is in fact a key to its success, according to vice president Dan Wilkins, who was elected in 2006.
"Erik Henrikson has a contracting background," he said. "I have an engineering and public works background. Ron Treabess has a parks planning and small business background along with Judy Friedman who also has great knowledge of special events production and is in touch with a great number of primary and second homeowners. And Lou Reinkens comes from a mechanical background."
Keeping the perspectives from bulldozing each other is the job of board president.
"You solicit opinions and listen to them," explained Reinkens, who currently holds the one-year, rotating position of board president. "People elect us for different points of view. You have to be respectful of that."
In the early 1940s, there was no reason to hold board meetings in winter. Now the full board gathers at least monthly. Committees meet separately, and there are special meetings as needed, depending on the issues at hand. Last summer, there were 16 meetings and public hearings on the Tahoe City Golf Course, alone.
While in the 1970s and '80s, some general board meetings routinely lasted through 5-6 hours, now they will vary from 30 minutes to three hours in length.
Information packets — agenda, minutes, reports, charts, statistical analysis, and correspondence, address everything from grant funds to setting rates, to the farmers' market location, to a new activity or concession.
While in the old days to hear a meeting you had to physically get yourself to the PUD office or listen to an audio recording later, since 2010 anyone can review online meeting videos at any time.
First-time directors face a big job. But there's plenty of support for newbies, said current director Judy Friedman, a master organizer who's served on 23 boards since she arrived at Lake Tahoe in her early 20s.
"The staff has an open door policy," Friedman said. "They are so giving of their time, and so knowledgeable. They are 100 percent vested in what they're doing and why they're doing it. This community is fortunate to have them committed to guarding our best interests."
Recently, the board has addressed some big projects like completing the Tahoe City Lakeside Trail, acquiring the Lake Forest water system, and bringing the Tahoe City Golf Course into the fold. It has some equally weighty tasks ahead.
On the slate are: planning for the Tahoe City Golf Course, working with some private water companies who are interested in considering consolidation with the district, replacing sewer lines around Tahoe City that date to the 1950s, and securing new water sources for the long-range future, including considering location options for a lake water treatment facility.
The assignments are big; the board member commitment to see them through is even larger.
From historic family names such as Pomin, Bechdolt, Mayfield and Henrikson, to relative newcomers like Leonard Shaheen, Ron McIntyre, Roger Kahn, Ric Winter, Dennis Schlumpf, Michael Walz and Bob Maddox, the collective hours invested by board members into structures both above and below ground, has made Tahoe an exciting, healthy and safe place to live and visit.
"The district is always there making things go well without fanfare," Treabess reflected recently. "As a community we do better if we work together to take care of our needs."
The hours of service may not always be a waltz in the park, but thanks to them the parks we have are excellent places to dance.
— Laura Read is a freelance writer and a 22-year resident of North Lake Tahoe.