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Pauma Valley farmers rule

Votes still being counted, but water district board is changed already

Of San Diego's 153 county, city, school, and special district races on the November 8 ballot, Pauma Valley’s Yuima Municipal Water’s 2nd district seat had one of the highest voter turnouts in the county — 91.6%. And it was perhaps the most cantankerous campaign.

The district's 120 registered voters essentially chose between preserving a good ol’ boy administration and a candidate who offered financial accountability and less expensive water for farmers.

Lori Johnson

With 110 votes counted as of November 23, investigative whistle-blower and now incumbent Roland Simpson was ahead by 22 votes over challenger Lori Johnson.

Roland Simpson

A 37-year district employee, Johnson retired on November 4, four days before the election, after serving one year as general manager of the small, 350-customer water district.

Johnson became general manager after her former boss, Linden Burzell, retired in October of 2015 under a shadow of criticism for his $237,000 salary and questions about how the district was being run.

According to a February 2, 2016 article in the online publication Valley Center Happenings, Burzell squandered a $7 million cash reserve and put the district $4 million in debt.

A relatively new farmer in the valley, Simpson, in 2015, started inquiring as to why water rates seemed to have doubled over recent years. He did not get the answers he was looking for. Using the district’s own data obtained through public information requests, Simpson’s investigation into the district’s excessive salaries and expenditures led to Burzell’s departure.

Simpson then led a recall vote to get rid of the “cronies” (his word) who had been on the board of directors for years. “Nobody ever asked questions. They were all yes-men to what ever Burzell wanted,” said Simpson. “While he may not have broken the law, there is a difference between right and wrong, ” Simpson said of Burzell.

The recall caused one longtime boardmember to resign. Another boardmember, who had served for 25 years and was believed unbeatable, fought his recall. He was ousted by a 3-to-1 vote. Simpson was overwhelmingly elected to the unexpired term.

In November 8’s election for a full four-year term — with thousands of provisional and mail-in ballots still to be counted as of November 23 — Simpson’s lead over Johnson is expected to hold, statistically speaking. With daily updates from the county registrar of voters, Simpson was able to expand his election-night lead by eight more votes.

“She [Johnson] said she wanted someone with more experience on the board, that’s why she ran,” says Simpson. “I think she just wants to get rid of me.... At least now the majority of the district’s board are farmers.”

The district was formed in 1963 to support a growing agricultural industry. The growers in the area wanted a more readily available water source than pumped ground water, so they formed the district to import water from the Colorado River.

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Of San Diego's 153 county, city, school, and special district races on the November 8 ballot, Pauma Valley’s Yuima Municipal Water’s 2nd district seat had one of the highest voter turnouts in the county — 91.6%. And it was perhaps the most cantankerous campaign.

The district's 120 registered voters essentially chose between preserving a good ol’ boy administration and a candidate who offered financial accountability and less expensive water for farmers.

Lori Johnson

With 110 votes counted as of November 23, investigative whistle-blower and now incumbent Roland Simpson was ahead by 22 votes over challenger Lori Johnson.

Roland Simpson

A 37-year district employee, Johnson retired on November 4, four days before the election, after serving one year as general manager of the small, 350-customer water district.

Johnson became general manager after her former boss, Linden Burzell, retired in October of 2015 under a shadow of criticism for his $237,000 salary and questions about how the district was being run.

According to a February 2, 2016 article in the online publication Valley Center Happenings, Burzell squandered a $7 million cash reserve and put the district $4 million in debt.

A relatively new farmer in the valley, Simpson, in 2015, started inquiring as to why water rates seemed to have doubled over recent years. He did not get the answers he was looking for. Using the district’s own data obtained through public information requests, Simpson’s investigation into the district’s excessive salaries and expenditures led to Burzell’s departure.

Simpson then led a recall vote to get rid of the “cronies” (his word) who had been on the board of directors for years. “Nobody ever asked questions. They were all yes-men to what ever Burzell wanted,” said Simpson. “While he may not have broken the law, there is a difference between right and wrong, ” Simpson said of Burzell.

The recall caused one longtime boardmember to resign. Another boardmember, who had served for 25 years and was believed unbeatable, fought his recall. He was ousted by a 3-to-1 vote. Simpson was overwhelmingly elected to the unexpired term.

In November 8’s election for a full four-year term — with thousands of provisional and mail-in ballots still to be counted as of November 23 — Simpson’s lead over Johnson is expected to hold, statistically speaking. With daily updates from the county registrar of voters, Simpson was able to expand his election-night lead by eight more votes.

“She [Johnson] said she wanted someone with more experience on the board, that’s why she ran,” says Simpson. “I think she just wants to get rid of me.... At least now the majority of the district’s board are farmers.”

The district was formed in 1963 to support a growing agricultural industry. The growers in the area wanted a more readily available water source than pumped ground water, so they formed the district to import water from the Colorado River.

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