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Saturday, February 23 , 2019, 3:03 am | Fair 37º


New Policies, Personnel In Place As Cuyama Communty Responds to Grand Jury Report

A Cuyama Valley representative said many of situations cited by the Santa Barbara County civil grand jury relating to the Cuyama Community Services District had been resolved even before release of a recent report.

The grand jury on Monday released a report called “Operating Under Difficult Circumstances,” criticizing the district’s board of directors for the way it has operated.

Cuyama Valley sits in the far northeast corner of Santa Barbara County along Highway 166, approximately 50 miles east of Santa Maria.

Community leaders from the Cuyama Valley Community Association said steps have been taken to fix many of the concerns raised by the civil watchdog panel. 

“In the intervening time between when the report was written and when it was published, most of the issues enumerated have been resolved, and all recommendations have been taken under advisement by the CCSD Board,” said Paul Chounet, president of the Cuyama Valley Community Association and superintendent of the Cuyama Valley Joint Unified School District.

Among more than a dozen findings and recommendations, grand jurors told the five-person board of directors the district needed to  maintain current job descriptions, conduct annual  performance reviews, and enforce its delinquent accounts policy, its company vehicle policy, and its policy against the existence of a hostile work environment. 

In one situation, the grand jury said, the then-general manager had recommended the district hire his son, who also worked for the district although the son lacked appropriate licenses. 

After the report’s release, Chounet said he expects changes as the district has hired a new manager “who is fully licensed and highly qualified.”

“We’re on the road to fixing it,” he told  Noozhawk.

Both Chounet and the grand jury noted the big challenge facing the remote community services district responsible for providing water and sewer services to less than 300 customers, many of whom are low-income households.

“With new policies and new personnel in place, we look forward to positive outcomes for the CCSD and for the community,” Chounet said. “While the Cuyama Valley is facing serious issues— including critical overdraft of the valley’s groundwater supply, lack of economic development — the community is coming together to help find practical, positive solutions to these issues.”

Nearly two years ago, The Fund for Santa Barbara awarded the Cuyama Valley Family Resource Center (CVFRC) a grant for “Cuyama Planning for the Future,” a project supporting leadership development and community advocacy.

“We’re trying to advocate for and support the entire Cuyama Valley,” Chounet said, adding the community has lot of good things occurring.

Chounet, who retired from the military and started leading the Cuyama school district staff in 2014, is familiar with small ag-based communities such as Cuyama. 

He grew up and worked in communities on the west side of the San Joaquin Valley, an area dotted with towns similar to Cuyama.

Noozhawk North County editor Janene Scully can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

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