Yermo Governmental Authority Reasserting Itself After Nearly Collapsing

YERMO — Residents in this desert community are cautiously optimistic that its government structure is no longer on the brink of implosion.
Yermo is a town of roughly 1,750 population in San Bernardino County’s Mojave Desert 13 miles east of Barstow and just south of the Calico Mountains. It has been buffeted by events in recent years, a good deal of which pertained to water, a commodity of particular importance in the desert.
There has been political instability as well, and financial problems have dogged the closest thing to local government in the area, which is known as the Yermo Community Facilities District. For close to a year, the district’s governing board has not been at full strength and in June, it suffered a major shakeup when two of the board’s members were recalled after an extended process. In the week after that recall, the district’s means of paying its bills was extinguished, and the provision of basic services in the community came to a standstill.
Within the last fortnight, however, the community services district’s board has been brought up and reconstituted to full strength, and officials are hoping they have turned a corner on the financial and administrative issues that had thrown the entity into a tailspin.
Last September, proponents of a recall came to a district board meeting and served then-board president Bob Smith and board members Geoff Berner and Sean Cloughen with intent-to-recall notices. Cloughen resigned on the spot, reducing the board’s ranks to four. Smith and Berner toughed it out, or tried to, but the recall proponents gathered sufficient signatures to force the recall question against them onto the primary election ballot on June 7. When the voting was done, Smith and Berner were removed from office and Michael Cint was chosen to replace Smith and Clarissa Loehr were elected by voters to replace Berner.
In addition to being board president, Smith had been the district’s fire chief. With the successful recall of Smith and Berner, David Jensen, who was also the district’s fire commissioner, resigned. Prior to Cint and Loehr being sworn in, the board was reduced to just Gary Yearsley.
In the meantime Smith and Berner, on their own initiative, destroyed the district credit cards that were issued in their names, eliminating the only means the district had at that time of paying the district’s bills. The district languished, and bills went unpaid for over a month. Even after Cint and Loehr took their oaths to assume their positions on the board, the district continued to founder.
After some three weeks of regrouping, the trio of Yearsley, Cint and Loehr began to coordinate and, choosing from among three applicants, appointed Deborah Shields and Summer Crank to fill the two vacant board seats.
As now constituted, the board consists of Cint as board president, Loehr as vice president, Yearsley as fire commissioner, Crank as parks and recreation adviser, and Shields as treasurer.
The board has voted to pay its members a $100 per-meeting stipend and dispensed with the practice of having directors issued credit cards. Instead the district’s bank will issue credit cards to the district manager.
The new general manager is Vickie Paulsen
Problems in Yermo are not just recent developments.
Decades ago, Donald Walker acquired the Yermo Water Company. Walker ran the water company, which had exclusivity in town, for profit, and he did very little in terms of maintenance or upgrades. In the 1990s, Walker relocated to Florida. The neglected pipes and pumping systems were falling into a critical state of disrepair and Walker refused to hire a licensed operator to look after and operate the system.
During the summer of 2006, the primary water tank serving the Yermo community’s water system developed a leak and customers were without water for a week in the community, where temperatures exceeded 100 degrees every day. The California Department of Health and the California Public Utilities Commission initiated action and an order appointing a receiver was issued in May of 2009. After a potential community-based buyer emerged, Walker continued to dither, exacerbated by a refusal to disclose how much he owed in back taxes and fines to the California Department of Health. As a result, the sale fell through. In August 2012 the California Public Utilities Commission filed to take control of the water company. Three months later, the Superior Court entrusted operation of the Yermo Water Company to the Yermo Community Services District and appointed California Public Utilities Commission Attorney John Richardson to act as receiver. The Yermo Community Services District then made $40,000 in emergency renovations to the system to keep it functioning.
The receivership arrangement that took place in November 2012 was contested by Walker’s wife, Charlene, who filed an opposition to the appointment of a receiver, raising a number of claims that were ultimately denied by the Superior Court on March 6, 2013.
In July 2013 Apple Valley Ranchos, acting on behalf of Park Water Company, bid $300,000 on the purchase of the Yermo Water Company. Subsequently, Bob Smith, then the president of the Yermo Community Services District, acquiesced in Richardson’s decision to accept Apple Valley Ranchos’ offer.

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