Bigham retains chair following RWD ouster meeting in Meriden
by Clarke Davis
Rod Bigham remains chairman of the board of Jefferson County Rural Water District No. 1, Meriden.
The one agenda item for a special RWD No. 1 meeting May 19 was the removal of Bigham from the chairmanship requested by member Mike Carmona.
It didn’t happen.
Member Kyle Brown made a motion to retain Bigham as the chairman and the motion passed 6-3.
Carmona was supported in the effort to remove Bigham by members Bobbie Clough and Bill Hilbert.
All nine board members were present and more than 60 members of the district attended the session held at the United Methodist Church.
Bigham presided at the meeting, which began with a 15-minute executive session with the board and its attorney, Gary Hanson. The closed meeting was called under the lawyer-client privilege of the Kansas Open Meetings Act, but no reason was given for why it was held.
Carmona was given the floor as soon as the meeting resumed and he explained that the board was in turmoil and unable to function properly since Bigham had been elected chairman.
He said the chairman was hostile toward the office manager René Keller and the operations contractor Tristan Charbonneau and that other issues were not being dealt with.
He accused Bigham of working independently from the board to carry out a vendetta against Keller, that it was a form of harrassment, and that it was distracting the board from the job was it was supposed to do.
“René and Tristan are doing a good job. Rod is not the one who should be leading this board,” he said.
Bigham recognized a number of people in the audience and a couple sought to lay blame on two former board members, Darrell Hammond and Earl Ross.
Bigham was the district’s operator for nearly 20 years until he resigned in August blaming those two members for “assassination of character” and causing him mental and physical anguish.
Ross spoke up to say Bigham never once came to him to work out any problems. “We applauded when you left,” he said.
At the annual meeting in February, Bigham was elected to the board and Hammond and Ross were unseated by the district patrons who attended and voted.
There are numerous other issues that cloud the issue at hand. They range from what the phosphate levels in the water should be and how to test for asbestos fibers to what Keller’s responsibilities are outside the office and what the board chairman’s duties are.
There’s been a couple of suspicious burglaries at the office in which either nothing was missing or some petty cash. Then the district computer went on the blink and is in the hands of law enforcement undergoing some kind of investigative work.
Learning that Keller is operating off a computer at her home upset one patron who didn’t like the idea that his personal information, i.e. bank or credit card numbers, are not secured on the office computer.
Board members said they had approved the purchase of a computer for $169 to help resolve that problem for now and get the office back to operating.
Bigham laid out his agenda going foreward, stating the district would get a computer back in operation; reduce the amount of petty cash, thus reducing the risk of breakins; work with the Paul Heinen accounting firm to follow the auditor’s advice in separating duties in handling money; set up job descriptions; and request early reports for board members to digest prior to meetings.
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