Serving Clovis, Portales and the Surrounding Communities

Water board considering leadership options

Projects Editor

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How and which way to move forward is the dilemma facing the Eastern New Mexico Rural Water Authority now that Portales Mayor Sharon King is no longer a candidate to be the agency’s first executive director.

The authority’s chair Gayla Brumfield said Wednesday she’s sure the agency’s board will hire someone to be executive director.

But board member and Clovis City Commissioner Juan Garza said there may be other options.

And, Clovis Mayor David Lansford said he’s not convinced there is a need for an executive director or the authority can find any one person with all the skills sought.

King announced her withdrawal as a candidate Tuesday shortly after the authority met behind closed doors in executive session about the matter and adjourned without taking any action. King’s email to board members said she didn’t want to create any more of an issue as to whether there was a conflict of interest, according to Garza.

King is also vice chair of the authority board.

“We’re going to talk about it at our next meeting (Nov. 20) and we’re going to look at our different options,” Brumfield said, “but we still more than likely need to move in the direction of hiring an employee.”

Brumfield said recent discussions with auditors make it clear the authority needs someone to protect the agency’s interests as it moves forward with construction of the estimated $500 million project. Program Manager Paul van Gulick has been filling that role, Brumfield and Garza agreed.

However, Brumfield noted van Gulick is not an authority employee. He is employed by Occam Consulting Engineers, a subcontractor hired by the authority. Brumfield and Garza both also noted van Gulick is retiring at the end of the year.

“We have only subcontractors watching subcontractors and there’s no ultimate responsibility,” Brumfield said.

Brumfield said while there have been no issues so far, auditors were adamant the authority needed to have someone directly responsible only to the agency to keep track of finances and progress on the project. She said she believes that should be an executive director.

Brumfield said hiring an executive director becomes even more important now that the agency is expecting a major grant from the federal Bureau of Reclamation. Although she said she didn’t know how much money the authority will be getting, Brumfield said, “We hope within in the next 90 days to have an amount of money from the bureau that will pretty much take care of the cost of the project out by Cannon.”

The project by Cannon is the $20 million interim pipeline. It will eventually connect to an intake structure at the Ute Lake reservoir to siphon fresh water to communities in Curry and Roosevelt counties.

“We need transparency,” Brumfield said. “We need accountability and we need someone to look out for our interests.”

Brumfield added that an executive director “would be the face of the project here. We would have an office. They would have a presence.”

Garza isn’t as convinced as Brumfield that the agency needs an executive director.

“Things might change,” Garza said. “We’re not sure which direction to go right now ... if we can’t find the right person, we might look at doing something different. I don’t know just what.”

Lansford, who doesn’t sit on the board, said he’s convinced hiring an executive director at $80,000 to $110,000 a year is premature.

“I think the expertise that the utility authority needs is engineering oversight, number one,” Lansford said. “And number two, they need an accounting function that can manage the grants, the loans and the financial aspect operating the authority and its development, which is very dependent upon state and federal funding.

“Also, I think the utility authority is looking for someone who can navigate through the legal aspects of the project,” Lansford said. “When you look at those three particular functions, I’m not sure one person is going to be able to handle all those skill sets.

“I would opt to consider putting out an RFP (request for proposals) for an engineering firm that possesses those services.”