No mudslingin’ in this election
(Five candidates are competing for two seats on the board of the Washington County Water District, the first time the district has had to hold an election in more than 20 years. The Union interviews the candidates in today’s edition.
All election stories that have run since Sept. 25 and that appear in today’s paper can be reviewed on our Web site, http://www.theunion.com.)
They’ve played bingo at the firehouse and gorged on some of the fire chief’s finger lickin’ summer chicken barbecue. They are particularly fond of swapping stories on weekends at the town’s landfill while dumping trash.
That’s what passes for a politician’s life in the town of Washington, where candidates for the only elected board commonly address each other with terms of endearment and wave at each other as they drive along the burg’s block-long main street.
The five candidates seeking three seats on the Washington County Water District admit they’re just a group of friends, pursuing the purest form of public service.
“Everybody needs water,” says Jeanne Godfrey, who’s retiring from the board in November, “and those of us who are running are just trying to get the job done.”
For the first time in at least 20 years, the town is spending approximately $1,500 to run an election for the three seats up for grabs. The district is responsible for maintaining the water system that flows into Washington from Canyon Creek and for carrying the volunteer fire department’s insurance.
Simply put, this is the first time there’s enough interest in the water district to call for an election. Members were appointed in the past.
Godfrey, who has lived in Washington for 27 years, was asked to join the board 20 years ago as a favor, “and I’m still there.” She’s retiring to help her husband run the 93-space Pine Aire Campground on the banks of the South Yuba River.
The water district job pays nothing, and the quarterly meetings are attended by a handful of the town’s 150 or so residents. This year, the district’s major accomplishment involved replacing a 90 year-old wooden flume with a 600-foot steel one that cost $300,000.
The candidates for the three posts include Bobby Hicks, the manager of a hard-rock gold mine; John Stark, a self-employed energy consultant/certified drinking water treatment services operator; Lyla Tracy, a retired hard-rock gold mine manager; George Price, a retiree who roams the town with his ever-present cane, and Henry DeCorte, owner of the Washington Hotel and a current board member.
DeCorte said if the candidates have a disagreement, they talk it over among themselves, resolve it, and it doesn’t go any further.
Kissing a porcupine would be easier than getting any of these folks into a debate about their qualifications.
“None of us are trying to dishonor the burden that these people have carried,” said Tracy, 65, whose parents owned the hard-rock mine Hicks now runs. “We just want to help. The people have done their duty, and they need their time of rest.”
Asked if there’s been much rancor or finger-pointing in the race, Tracy laughed.
“No, honey. This is not a job that a lot of people want. None of us that are running are radical people. We just want to help.”
There’s been no money raised, no campaign signs in front of the Washington Hotel.
Tracy’s father, Sam, formed the water board decades ago with the proprietors of the River Rest campground and the Washington Hotel bar. Before the board was formed, water was delivered in an open flume. Residents piped it individually from the flume, which often froze in the winter.
Men with pickaxes furiously chipped at the ice to bust it up. “It was backbreaking work,” she said.
Often the water carried hepatitis and giardia, Tracy said.
Nearly 30 years ago, Tracy and her children lived through Christmas and New Year’s days without water from the flume.
The flume “helps ensure continuity of service,” said Stark, the energy consultant and the board’s secretary. “It’s about time that we had an election,” added the 60-year-old. His white hair is pulled back into a ponytail, and he drives a rust-red Jeep.
He’s been attending water district meetings the past few years as secretary.
Hicks, 53, who works at the Red Ledge Mining Co., said he’s concerned about the condition of the fire department and its trucks, both of which are more than 25 years old.
“We just need some more direction,” said Hicks, who has lived in Washington three years. “I’ve never questioned the way things were done until recently.”
Hicks said he is concerned about the fire department’s financial future. Though he is loathe to criticize Chief Merv Lee, Hicks admits, “It would be good to get some new blood. The people on the water board have always trusted each other’s judgment.”
Hicks said he’s had these questions for a while.
“As long as I’m going to raise hell, I figured I’d be involved.”
Price, 68, said this campaign, like the town, remains laid back. “It’s good to have interest in water,” he said.
In Washington, it’s hard for the candidates not to cross paths at least once in a given week.
Often, it’s at the landfill, where Washington residents commonly unload garbage on Saturdays.
“It’s kind of like a social, almost like mail call,” Tracy said of the weekly ritual.
Tracy, who tracks her roots to the gold-mining days, said she believes her run merely represents a simple changing of the guard.
“The people who have been on this board deserve a break, a pat on the back and a hug for a job well done.”
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