Watershed Conservancy board seat still vacant

No applications have yet been received for an upcoming vacancy on the board of directors of the Muskingum Watershed Conservancy District, and a Washington County resident would be eligible to fill the position.

Those interested have until May 15 to apply for the seat, said MWCD Public Affairs Administrator Darrin Lautenschleger.

“I’ve generally seen multiple applications each time a vacancy exists on the board,” he said.

Muskingum County resident Steve Kokovich will be leaving the board June 3, after serving two consecutive five-year terms with the board, the most allowed under state legislature, said Lautenschleger.

According to law, members of the board of directors must all be residents of different counties and three directors must reside within the territorial limits of the conservancy district.

A political subdivision of the state of Ohio, the MWCD was organized in 1933 to provide flood reduction and water conservation benefits in the Muskingum River Watershed. The district manages more than 54,000 acres of water and land space – including 10 lakes and a total of 14 reservoirs – dedicated to public use.

Other members of the MWCD board of directors are William Boyle Jr. of Richland County, David Parham of Carroll County, Harry Horstman of Harrison County and Richard Pryce of Stark County.

Because none of the current board members are Washington County residents, the vacancy leaves an opening for local representation on the board.

“I think it’s always good to have local representation. It is an important opportunity that people might think about,” said Marietta resident and Friends of the Lower Muskingum River board member Marilyn Ortt.

Ortt, who is already a member of the Conservancy District’s Development Advisory Committee, said local representation on the board would allow area residents to be better informed of the happenings within the conservancy district.

A few years ago when the MWCD’s board of directors voted to levy an assessment that applies to nearly 500,000 parcels of property within the district-a controversial decision- Washington County was without representation on either the board of directors or the district’s Conservancy Court.

The Conservancy Court, which acts as the district’s governing body, is supposed to be compromised of one judge from each of the 18 counties in the district, including one from Washington County.

However, Washington County Juvenile Court Judge Timothy Williams, had resigned from his appointment to the Conservancy Court in August 2006 after a group of citizens filed a grievance against all 18 judges.

The citizens alleged that the judges had improperly received free gifts from the MWCD and therefore should not have had the power to approve the district’s assessment fee. The Ohio Supreme Court ruled in April 2007 that there was no wrongdoing and allowed the court to make a judgment on the assessment.

No other Washington County judge was willing to accept the appointment until 2010 when Common Pleas Court Judge Ed Lane accepted the position.

Also around the time of the assessment debate, Washington County’s last representative on the board had just finished his term.

Lower Salem resident David Brightbill finished his second consecutive full term in July 2007, a month before the board officially voted in favor of the tax assessment.

But, said Brightbill, he had been there for much of the assessment discussion.

“That was a couple of years worth of meetings and of people picketing,” he recalled.

Still Brightbill said he enjoyed his 13 years on the board.

“There was always something interesting and sometimes controversial going on,” he said.

And growing up near the source of the Muskingum River and then settling near the confluence gave Brightbill a unique perspective on the board, he said.

“I think it’s beneficial to bring the perspective of Washington County and Marietta to the board. After all, this is where all the water ends up,” he said.

The board members set guidelines, approve the budget and provide guidance to the MWCD executive director, said Lautenschleger.

Appointments are to a five-year term and applicants must be a registered voter.

Applications can be requested by contacting deputy clerk Lisa Pastircak with the Tuscarawas County Clerk of Courts office at 330-365-3243.

So far the office has only received one request for an application from a resident of Guernsey County, said Pastircak.