Friday, January 7, 2011

Tensions rise at Jan. 4 Dripping Water Supply board meeting

One might suspect that the reason they want to know who was involved is so they can sue them. Is it proper for the board of directors to intimidate the petition signers?

Note: Dripping Springs CPA Roy Pursley has closely followed the infighting that has now erupted into an open brawl between board directors and member-customers of the Dripping Springs Water Supply Corporation. He sent this open letter to the editor earlier in the week. The RoundUp's Contributing Editor Charles O'Dell has reported extensively on this story and will have more in the days ahead but was unable to attend this latest meeting. For background, here's a link to O'Dell's last story. The DSWSC provides water service to nearly 1,400 customers in the greater Dripping Springs area – homeowners, renters and commercial accounts. The corporation is guided by a set of bylaws that extend voting rights currently to 1,064 voting members. Governance is overseen by a 5-member board. Six staff members, including the general manager, Doug Cones, handle the day-to-day operations. We find it interesting, but not surprising, that coverage of this controversy-strewn story by the two local newspapers (one a sister paper of the Wimberley View) has been nonexistent or spotty at best.

Mr. Pursley, a DSWSC voting member, explained his deep interest this way: "When you go to the meetings and listen, nothing is getting accomplished. They are not getting to the business of the (water) company. They are just fighting. How long can you keep that up?"

Send your comments and news tips to, to Mr. Pursley at or click on the "comments" button at the bottom of the story

Letter to the Editor:

On Jan 4th there was a contentious meeting at the water board lasting until near midnight. There were several speeches which chastised certain members of the board.

The first speech cited violations of Roberts Rules by the president of the board, Steve Harris, and concluded by asking for an apology from Mr. Harris or his resignation. Mr. Harris did neither. Several speakers called for board member resignations including Mr. Chuck Sellars, former board president, who stated a very polite request that board president Mr. Harris and director Mr. Larry Brewer resign for the good of the community.

There were a number of hotly debated issues. One of these was the Recall Petition. Two current board members who had foreseen an attempt to invalidate the members’ recall petition, cut off that move by submitting a petition for removal of Mr. Harris and Mr. Brewer under authority granted in the bylaws for directors to make charges.
Board director Larry Brewer, left,
and board president Steve Harris

The petition does not require any member signatures and its validation could have been done at the Jan. 4 meeting. Instead, the board voted to have legal counsel validate it so they could then delay it to the next meeting. What a waste! Now the Dripping water supply corporation is paying legal fees to validate the members’ petition when they have an exact same charge made by the directors which requires no validation.

The board did not heed members’ statements from the audience that this was a waste of money, since even if they invalidate the petition from the members, the board members' petition is valid. The board also voted to have the members’ petition validated by counsel and also to have the signers’ investigated by the attorney to see who gave them the petition to sign.

They want to know if any employees, non-members, or board members were involved. One might suspect that the reason they want to know who was involved is so they can sue them. Is it proper for the board of directors to intimidate the petition signers? Director Brewer and Director Gilbert Wolf (Secretary/Treasurer) both stated that each petitioner could be sued because they signed the petition. They implied that any employee who participated could be disciplined or fired.

Mr. Brewer spoke loudly about suing the petitioners for slander or libel. Mr. Brewer continued his diatribe even after the opposing attorney, Lynn Sherman, stated that since the board members are public officials, the burden of proof of slander was increased greatly and that it was unlikely such suit would prevail.

Is this what life in Dripping Springs has degenerated to? Why do these two board members feel that they have to intimidate the members of our water supplier into believing that they may be sued over their signature? Why not just let them vote?

Yet another bizarre event occurred when Directors Harris and Brewer stated that the board had voted 3-2 on a motion to require all communications with the attorney to go through Mr. Harris. This clearly seemed to be a move to control the attorney’s communications with board members. A great deal of time was spent blaming other board members for the legal expenses since they had communicated directly with the attorney.

Since no one else remembered this motion, a person in the audience asked when was this motion passed; they stated it was either June or July. The minutes for those months, obtained under an open document act request, simply do not show that any motion which would have required legal activity to be funneled through Mr. Harris. But just to be safe, I checked the minutes for the month before and the month after. In fact the minutes for the April 1 meeting show that the board went into executive session on this subject and NO ACTION WAS TAKEN.

At the May meeting of the board, there was discussion concerning funneling the legal request through Mr. Harris. Mr. Harris states in these minutes that no action had been taken on the issue. He further said that it was only in regard to the handbook that was being produced, not a general issue. The claim now is that a legal vote of 3-2 was held requiring all board communication be filtered through Mr Harris. Clearly, this would filter out any opposition comments to the attorney.

What is going on? Why would these board members remember a vote which the minutes do not reflect happened? Is it perhaps because there was an illegal vote in closed session for which the minutes are not available? Would this indicate an open meetings Act violation? I cannot explain the difference between what Mr. Harris and Mr. Brewer assert happened and the official record of the corporation. This needs explanation. Was their memory simply faulty or was there an unrecorded vote in a closed meeting? The members have a right to know. Perhaps there are hidden minutes not available through an open records request. We need to know. It is time to end this mess!

The DS Water Supply Corp’s job is to deliver water to its member-customers at a rate acceptable to the community. The Legal expenses for the last 12 months seems to be around $158,000. The audit and tax return was $23,000. Mr. Phil Haag, attorney for DSWSC, stated in the May meeting that he could reduce his legal cost by 50% if it were not for the infighting. What a massive waste. If this is true, and the prior auditor had done the audit, then the company would have had $90,000 added to the corporations' bottom line. What is going on?

The Board is not functioning in a reasonable way. There is a petition to remove Mr. Harris and Mr Brewer. I don’t know if that is the best way to fix the problem, but I believe it is a start. These two members have controlled the board for some time, and this mess has occurred. Is it all their fault, probably not. However, they have been in charge and they don’t seem to be able to accomplish anything for the members, they just fight over trivia like who gets to post the agenda.

Perhaps they will give us the answers to these questions at the meeting to remove them so we can all judge for ourselves what their motives are. Why did they vote to fire the general manager and all the office staff and leave the corporation with no one who has experience in the administration of the company? What was the plan to staff the office and for a general manager replacement? Why do they say a motion passed to funnel the legal issues through Mr Harris when the record in the months they said it was done, does not reflect any vote? Was there an illegal vote taken during closed session?

Why does the company’s attorney attribute half of his expense to infighting? Why was the independent investigator’s report on the harassment charge of office staff not made available to the public? If it was for the protection of the employee as stated, why did the board have to agree to restrict their interactions with company employees by signing a written Board Code of Conduct? Anyone who reads this document is led to ask, what did they do to cause this level of detail to be put into their code of conduct? Why doesn't the board release the report and let us judge who was at fault? Why, Why, Why?

Have you noticed all the unanswered questions? All prior boards have been run with openness and transparency. Why not this one? It's time to end this Mess. Vote for Removal.

Roy Pursley


Anonymous said...

Wow, Mr Pursley knows how to boil the situation down to exactly what needs to be said. I was there and it was rediculus. They really made a big issue of the 3-2 vote that had passed which required the communications to be funnelled through Mr Harris. Now it appears that didn't happen.

Wow, what next?

Anonymous said...

I was at the meeting to and I will not leave my name because I don't want to be sued. Can you imagine threatening the people who have to vote to keep you in office. I am filing a complaint with the Attorney General's office if I hear of anyone getting sued.

This is a really sad situation

Anonymous said...

The agenda for each of the last two meetings has had listed a discussion of the LCRA's selling of its local water distribution interest. This is the line along 290. Guess what, in neither meeting did it get discussed. The only thing that occurs is these two directors trying to block attempts to their removal.
The LCRA situation needs discussing.Fire these two guys so we can discuss the real issues.

Anon # 4 said...

Anon # 3:
The LCRA's sale of their line would be only for their utility service area, not the trunk (delivery) lines. The concern of who will buy their service areas would be of concern for those who are serviced by the LCRA; but for the delivery of water to DS, it's biz as usual.

Anonymous said...

Yes, its true that this is the trunk line, but what about the people along that line that LCRA serves. Should DSWSC look at buying those systems and serving these people? THe board should look at these issues.Why do we Need multiple Companies supplying water to these Dripping Springs people?

Anonymous said...

I wouldn’t be surprised if Aqua Texas came in and bought up the whole shebang. God help the customers if that should come to pass! Maybe all this infighting is just a diversion from the underlying issues with the ownership of the water supply in the area. I don’t trust any of these bastards, especially the ambulance chasers.

Anonymous said...

All of America are ambulance chasers. What do you think lobbyists are, and Republicans, and Tea Parties? They are all opportunists of a pissed off majority - a stupid majority to boot.

Local water users are just as stupid to have gottne their asses in this sling.

DSWSC Member said...

1. Re: LCRA: The Board of LCRA is offering to sell ALL their water utilities to a single buyer. LCRA will not sell the water system piece-meal.

2. Re: DSWSC extending service area: In 2000, when DSWSC was negotiating with LCRA for service to DS, LCRA asked DSWSC if DSWSC would provide retail water service to Sunset Canyon. DSWSC declined the opportunity and LCRA installed the distribution lines and is now the retail water provider to that subdivision.

3. Re: Board Recall: Much attention is focused on Harris and Brewer and the legal fees (which are approx $1 million over the past 10-years). There is an underlying issue that is causing this board-member versus board-member hostility. That issue is Doug Cones and his $2 million, 10-year contract. It's really a fight between the Cones supporters (Walden, Garnett and Wolfe) and the Cones detractors (Harris and Brewer). A simple and reasonable solution is for ALL board members to resign, for Cones to resign and allow the membership to elect a new board and hire a new manager.