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FEUDS TIE UP BOARD EX-WATER OFFICIALS BICKER WITH MANAGER.

Byline: Heather MacDonald Staff Writer

SANTA CLARITA - Skirmishes involving the general manager and two former board members have taken their toll on the operations of the Newhall County Water District, officials said.

``This constant bickering has an impact over time,'' said Tom Shollenberger, the general manager. ``It takes time to answer these questions.''

Opponents question Shollenberger's use of a taxpayer-funded sport-utility vehicle for the 120-mile round trip between his office and his home in Rancho Cucamonga.

They dislike his attending meetings with other valley water officials and not reporting on them publicly at board meetings.

``He has taken it upon himself to do things behind the scenes that should be debated at an open meeting,'' said former board member Ed Dunn.

And it miffs the watchdogs who try to videotape meetings when Shollenberger hides his face.

But the board majority, including members who replaced Dunn and Michael Kotch, is not complaining.

Board President Valerie Thomas, a Santa Clarita real estate broker, said she disagrees with the former board members' characterization of Shollenberger's actions as inappropriate.

``It is the board's job to establish broad policy guidelines and the general manager's job to implement them,'' Thomas said. ``We'll tell him if he steps beyond that.''

Kotch said Shollenberger's actions are beyond the pale.

``He has simply not informed the board and thereby the people of his actions,'' Kotch said. ``And that is wrong.''

Thomas said she attributes the controversy to tension created by a change of direction on the board. Dunn and Kotch were ousted at the same time she was elected three years ago.

Shollenberger was hired by the district in 1997 after working as a consultant to several cities, Thomas said.

Dunn was on the board when Shollenberger was hired.

``(Dunn) micromanaged the district,'' Shollenberger said. ``Things are much better now.''

Thomas said she believes four of the five board members - with the notable exception of Lynne Plambeck - share her high opinion of Shollenberger.

``But we're a 4-1 board,'' Thomas said. ``That's just a fact.''

Dunn said he thought it was inappropriate for Shollenberger to buy a new Ford Explorer instead of a more basic car with taxpayer money.

``He should be in a Geo if he is on the public's dime,'' Dunn said.

The purchase of the $28,000 Explorer was well within the budget and approved by the board, Thomas said.

Shollenberger said the Explorer gets him across dry streambeds and hilly terrain he sometimes must cross while performing district duties.

``The only other option was a pickup truck, and the board did not like the image it presented by having their general manager in a pickup truck,'' Shollenberger said.

Dunn thinks the district manager should live in district territory, and he is especially critical of Shollenberger's using the SUV to commute 60 miles each way to and from home.

``I don't think that it is an issue,'' Shollenberger said. ``I put in long days and have trusted assistants I can rely on in the face of an emergency.''

Dunn videotapes board meetings. Shollenberger hid behind a stack of binders to avoid appearing on tape, Kotch said, and then bragged about annoying Dunn.

``I guess I'm just camera-shy,'' Shollenberger said.

Thomas and Shollenberger said all the criticism flows from sour grapes.

``I'm not sure why the vindictiveness is directed at me, but if that's the way it is, that's the way it is,'' Shollenberger said.
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Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Aug 21, 2000
Words:567
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