Coin toss decides North Marin water board seat

02/16/2017

The North Marin Water District no longer has a board member from West Marin: it appointed Novato resident Michael Joly—by a coin toss—to the seat vacated by Dennis Rodoni, who left after two decades because of his election to the Board of Supervisors. Meanwhile Point Reyes Station resident Rhonda Kutter, the other finalist, will soon start a new job as one of Mr. Rodoni’s two aides. 

The water board appointment lasts until the November election, which Mr. Joly, who has attended almost every meeting of the water board for the past 15 months, intends to run in. Mr. Joly, a retired investment banker who serves on the board of an electric vehicle charging company based in Pennsylvania and loves to garden, attended the Point Reyes Station Village Association meeting last Thursday, at Ms. Kutter’s suggestion. “He said to me, ‘I’m serious about West Marin. What should I do?’ I said ‘Hey, come visit us,’” she told the Light. “I feel that it will end up being positive for the community.” 

Mr. Joly, who has never held public office before, said the meeting was informative. “I’m very committed to all of our water users. I especially want to ensure that West Marin voices are heard.” 

In his letter to the board seeking the position last month, he cited qualifications that included his 35 years living in Novato and his finance background. He is also passionate about his trees; he spends a couple of hours each day in the dry season hand-watering his garden, particularly the conifers and Japanese maples that he grows. (“Al Gore said if you want to help the environment, grow trees. So I germinate and grow trees,” he said.)

Last week’s water board meeting was a continuation from a Jan. 31 meeting, when the board narrowed six candidates down to two before the four sitting directors reached a stalemate. Unable to decide, they brought back the top three: Mr. Joly; Gary Butler, also of Novato; and Ms. Kutter, the only West Marin resident who interviewed for the appointment. 

The candidates were asked why they want to join the board, about their understanding of how the board interacts with Novato’s other special districts, how they would respond to complaints, what issues they believe are most critical for the district and, toward the end, their opinions on the taste of the water. 

When asked what water district issue was “personal” to them, Mr. Joly said having a “high-quality, safe, fair-price product” was paramount. “The rubber meets the road at the nozzle,” he said. 

Ms. Kutter emphasized both the importance of local government as “a place where our voices can be heard” and the clean water the district provides, which she said is not available everywhere. 

Despite the extra hour they spent on interviews, the four directors split their votes two to two between Mr. Joly and Ms. Kutter last week, just as they did after the first round of interviews. The board chair, Stephen Petterle, suggested a coin toss, noting that whichever way the coin landed, the district would get a qualified director. 

The two directors who supported Mr. Joly—John Baker and John Schoonover—initially opposed the toss. But absent a change of heart on the part of one director, the decision would have gone to the Board of Supervisors, and all the directors opposed giving up control over the appointment. (Theoretically, the board could have called an election, but the next regularly scheduled one is just nine months away.) 

Eventually, Mr. Schoonover “very reluctantly” voted for the coin toss. The district secretary pulled Mr. Joly’s name from a hat, meaning that he could choose heads, his pick, or tails. 

General manager Chris DeGabriele flipped the coin. It was heads. “I don’t like the way we got here, but I like the results,” Mr. Schoonover said to Mr. Joly as he shook his hand and welcomed him to the board.