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Irrigation District Dissent

Klamath Irrigation District

MERRILL — Irrigators called the Klamath Irrigation District board of directors’ recent actions unethical and suggested three board members resign during a contentious meeting in Merrill Thursday.

The comments came after the board voted 3-1 to accept KID Manager Mark Stuntebeck’s resignation and to reinstate office manager Rachelle Gates immediately.

Stuntebeck and Gates were both placed on administrative leave following a KID executive session Feb. 10.

Nearly 100 people and two Oregon State Police officers were present at the standing-room only meeting.

Chairman Brent Cheyne, board members Grant Knoll and Ken Smith voted to accept Stuntebeck’s resignation. Board member Greg Carlton voted against. Board member Dave Cacka was absent.

Since last year, Cheyne, Knoll and Smith have consistently voted for or against issues as a united front, forming what many irrigators are referring to as a “majority” dynamic.

In a letter read on his behalf, Cacka called the KID board’s actions “malicious.”

“The irreparable harm done to them (Stuntebeck and Gates) is shameful,” the letter read. “Chairman Cheyne and vice chairman Knoll had an excellent opportunity as leaders to try to bring reconciliation to the district, but instead they chose to create even further division among the farmers of the Klamath Project. They chose to lead with retribution and revenge.”

Membership dispute

Board member Greg Carlton said he believes some “gray area” exists about whether Stuntebeck violated his district manager duties.

“I also feel since you’ve had control of this board,” Carlton said to Cheyne, “you’re demeanor changed and you were going to find whatever you could to get rid of Mark.”

Cheyne said Stuntebeck and the KID mutually agreed to sever their relationship, effective Feb. 29. According to Cheyne, the separation stems from a controversy about a check for $213,825 that was issued to the Klamath Water Users Association on Jan. 5.

“Although the manager maintains he was authorized to issue the check, the board of directors maintains the issuance of the check was unauthorized,” Cheyne said.

The board ordered to stop payment before the check could be cashed.

“However,” Cheyne said, “the circumstances surrounding the issuance of the check have caused an irreparable breakdown in the relationship between Stuntebeck and the board,” Cheyne said.

“Neither party will be making any further public comment regarding this separation, on the advice of their respective attorneys,” Cheyne added.

Calls for resignation

Irrigator Jim Carleton said he believes the board majority is placing its political agendas in front of irrigators’ needs and the effects are harming the district.

“I think we need to change course and reconsider some of your actions,” Carleton said to the board. “If you’re unable to do that, I think maybe you all need to consider resigning from your positions until you are able to represent the people that are out here.”

Irrigator Ed Bair said actions of the KID board majority has “irreparably divided the irrigation community.” Bair said he believes the board is promoting division among irrigators.

“Although you represent the majority position on the board,” Bair said to Cheyne, Knoll and Smith, “I do not believe you represent the best interest of KID patrons … It is apparent to me you have violated the public trust. Your resignation is the only beneficial action you can take today.”

Irrigator Mark Trotman said he believes Cheyne, Knoll and Smith are heading down the wrong path. He said he would like his KID land to be represented by the Water Users.

“The direction you guys are going is dividing the community and the water users,” Trotman said. “We don’t trust you guys. You guys have an agenda — you’re going that direction and we don’t like it.

“I would also suggest you guys consider resignation right now,” Trotman said.

Water dues held up

Irrigator Steve Kandra said that as elected public officials, the board has a duty of public trust. He said the trust includes paying membership dues to the Klamath Water Users Association.

“You told these people you were going to take an action and you have not done it,” Kandra said.

The KID board has been waffling about whether to pay its Water Users dues for 2016. The board has voted to remove itself from Water Users, and later voted to remain in Water Users. KID has already collected $5.50 per acre from its irrigators for this year’s dues. It is the same money that was intended to payout the check Stuntebeck issued to the association in January.

Rob Unruh, chairman of the Water Users board, said Water Users agreed to compromise with KID and allow the district to make monthly payments. In return, Water Users would pick KID’s representatives on Water Users board. Unruh said if KID chose to make its annual payment in full, KID could chose its own Water Users representatives.

Open meeting violations alleged

Irrigator Mark Crawford said he believes some actions taken by the board are violating Oregon public meeting laws and the district’s bylaws.

“Oregon law requires that decisions of the board be arrived at openly,” Crawford said. “Oregon law prohibits a meeting of a quorum ... It appears that members of this board have violated this law.”

Cheyne said board members did not violate the public meeting law, which requires 24-hour public notice if at least three KID board members meet. A quorum is the minimum number of board members needed to take a vote. Cheyne said information was circulated among himself, Knoll and Smith by individual conversations.

“What we did, we did on advice of legal council,” Cheyne responded. “I assure you that we did not have an illegal meeting.”

Irrigator John Walker asked the board if it had Stuntebeck’s computer removed from the KID office.

Cheyne said yes but did not provide any explanation.

Walker then said the board can expect a call from the Department of Justice.

After the meeting, Marcy Anderson, a flood irrigator, said she supports the board. Anderson said she feels the previous board didn’t always look out for small farms.

Landowner Pat Lunde said she supports the board as well.

“We are standing behind our board because we think they are making the right decisions,” Lunde said.

Change in counsel

It also came to light during the meeting that long-time KID water attorney Bill Ganong has also tendered his resignation. He has requested his last day be on or before April 30.

Nathan Rietmann, of the Salem-based firm Rietmann and Rietmann, said he has been advising the board on personnel issues. Rietmann said he is not formally hired by the district or the board.

“I’ve been providing advice to the board; I assume that I’ll send a bill and they’ll (the board) will approve it or not at a future public meeting,” Rietmann said.

Rietmann declined to say if he began advising the KID board before the Feb. 10 executive session in which Stuntebeck’s and Gates’ leave was discussed. Rietmann has practiced law for about 10 years.


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