Voters soundly rejected two long-serving incumbents in the Oakdale Irrigation District, preferring challengers calling for transparency and an end to “good old boys” leadership, according to unofficial results late Tuesday.
Gail Altieri and Linda Santos appeared to stun board members Frank Clark and Al Bairos, respectively. With three of five precincts reporting, Altieri was leading with 60 percent in Division 1, and Santos with 61 percent in Division 4, where four of five precincts had been counted.
“The people have spoken: Business as usual is not what they want,” Altieri said.
A third incumbent appointed in April to fill a vacancy, Gary Osmundson, captured 75 percent of the vote to easily outdistance challenger Daniel Medina, who did not mount a campaign.
To the south, Michael Frantz scored a landslide victory to keep his Turlock Irrigation District seat, winning 84 percent to challenger Tracy Sunde’s 16 percent.
OID’s balance of power might not shift if Osmundson continues to align with remaining board members Steve Webb and Herman Doornenbal. Osmundson has not broken with the majority in his half-year on the board.
Santos and Altieri acknowledged riding a wave of OID customer frustration.
The district needs this change so much.
Linda Santos, OID board member-elect
“This is a mandate of the people: It’s time for a change,” Santos said. “They are not happy with how things have gone.”
The women had criticized the board and its general manager, Steve Knell, for being tone deaf to longtime customers while making secret deals selling Stanislaus River water to wealthy outsiders.
OID has reaped more than $50 million transferring water in recent years, enabling canal and equipment upgrades while drawing scorn from county leaders for not doing more to quench the thirst of local agencies. Neither challenger swore off such water transfers, but said local needs must first be met.
Santos called for better relations with the Modesto Irrigation District, whose canal system – adjoining OID’s – could facilitate transfers to other agencies.
MID has enjoyed stable leadership in the past couple of years. Board members Larry Byrd and Nick Blom kept their seats Tuesday because no candidates emerged to challenge them.
Although OID delivered more water at cheaper prices than just about anywhere in California, Altieri and Santos capitalized on voter dissatisfaction with the old guard, which struggled with public relations. Problems included OID ignoring federal election law by not resizing voting districts after the 2010 U.S. census and the board’s habit of dining at taxpayers’ expense while conducting no public business. Leaders also promised that OID customers would get all the water needed in dry years before selling any to a huge new almond company, then changed terms, infuriating some growers.
The latest black eye came two weeks ago when OID announced a $5.75 million sale to Fresno-area buyers. The district claimed a collaborative victory for fish interests and OID’s bank account, while Santos and Altieri accused leaders of forcing farmers to cut back while plotting in secret to sell the excess at season’s end, with no public discussion or vote in Oakdale.
I’m so thankful that people saw the potential in Linda and myself in making the change that’s needed.
Gail Altieri, OID board member-elect
Altiera and Santos pledged late Tuesday to be responsive to customers.
“I want what’s best for everyone in the community,” Santos said.
Altieri said, “The community needs honesty, integrity and transparency and that’s what they’re going to get.”
She added, “I commend Mr. Clark for all the years of hard work he’s put in on the board. I have no ill will toward him at all.”
Clark previously had served 10 years as a school trustee, and 14 years on the OID board. Bairos served nine years.
Altieri, 71, and Santos, 62, are the first women elected to the OID board in its 105-year history.
Garth Stapley: 209-578-2390