North Marin grills West Marin’s sole candidate for seat

David Briggs
WATER BOARD: Four directors quizzed, and in some cases grilled, Rhonda Kutter, West Marin’s only candidate for the open seat on North Marin’s board, on Tuesday.   
02/02/2017

How important is it for the North Marin Water District to have a West Marin resident on its board?

That was a key question at a Tuesday night board meeting where a roster of six candidates hoping to finish Dennis Rodoni’s term was whittled down to two. But not before a tense exchange involving one board member who was adamant that a new director be familiar with Novato. The water district serves over 20,000 Novato homes, compared to about 760 in West Marin.

The appointment follows the departure of Mr. Rodoni, the only director from West Marin, to take the District Four county supervisor seat. 

On Tuesday, the four remaining board members interviewed five candidates from Novato—Donald Brand, Gary Butler, Jim Grossi, Michael Joly and Richard Paulson—and one, Rhonda Kutter, from Point Reyes Station. Though they reached a top-two list—Ms. Kutter and Mr. Joly—the stalemate led directors to schedule another meeting to interview the top three, including Mr. Butler. 

If the board does not appoint someone by Feb. 18, the county Board of Supervisors will make the decision. That appointee will serve until at least November, when a board race is scheduled.

Gary Butler works in insurance and risk management and previously served on Novato’s planning commission and sanitary district. He said he volunteers widely, including with the Boy Scouts, the Ignacio Rotary Club and more. 

He suggested that the board could undertake more robust strategic planning, such as by tinkering with the plan every year as opposed every couple of years. 

Michael Joly is an avid gardener who worked as an underwriter of technology stocks before retiring. 

Though he said he is a relatively private person and has not immersed himself in the political process, he has come to almost every board meeting for the past 15 months. (He noted that the district is “eight days older than I am,” both having originated in 1948.) He said he would “love to help interface” with other agencies and said the district served “an excellent product.”

Ms. Kutter, a West Marin resident for 15 years, owns a massage therapy business and volunteers widely in town, such as with the West Marin School P.T.S.A. 

She said she was encouraged to apply for the board position and was especially motivated to run after watching a recent presentation at a water board meeting about a trip an employee took to Denmark to learn about water systems, which she called “forward thinking.” 

She called the district stable and well-run and said she specialized in coalition building and working with people.

Though other candidates were asked how well they knew West Marin, Ms. Kutter was drilled by one director about how well she knew Novato. 

Director John Baker expressed serious reservations about her answer, in which she said she knew the town through errands and friends. 

“This is where most of the action is,” he said. Mr. Baker said that when Mr. Rodoni ran for office, he spent much time walking around Novato to get to know the area.

After the interviews, the directors ranked their choices. In four rounds of voting, they reached the top two, who tied.

In hopes of breaking the stalemate, the directors took turns explaining their stances. Two directors, Stephen Petterle and Rick Fraitas, said they thought both candidates had great credentials but that they supported Ms. Kutter.

“There is a freshness that’s appealing as well as a…West Marin perspective, which is something we just lost,” Mr. Petterle said.

Mr. Fraitas echoed that sentiment, noting that Mr. Rodoni had hoped they would try to find someone from West Marin. He also said he would “like to see some gender balance,” as the board is all men.

But Mr. Baker disagreed. He said he was impressed by Ms. Kutter, and knew it was “important to Dennis…to continue representation from West Marin.” But he said, “to me [it’s] a huge thing to have someone that lives in Novato and not someone that occasionally comes in from West Marin.” 

He said he believed the district looked after West Marin fairly well and it was “not critical” to have a West Marin board member, “especially when it’s less than 5 percent of the people.” 

His mind, he said, could not be changed.

Mr. Joly, on the other hand, knows Novato well and had put in “a lot of effort” to come to board meetings, Mr. Baker said.

When pressed by a colleague about how to overcome the impasse, Mr. Baker said he didn’t know. “You guys came in here with a preset thing that Dennis asked you to—” he went on.

Mr. Petterle replied, “Dennis didn’t ask us to do anything. I resent that… that’s way out of line.”

“Maybe I shouldn’t have said that,” Mr. Baker answered.

 

The special meeting at which the North Marin Water District board will interview the three final candidates starts at 7 p.m. on Wednesday, Feb. 8 at the district office (999 Rush Creek Place), in Novato. The public is welcome.