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Its time to get back to work

Community Soapbox by Kami Kehoe and Barbara Kemper

It is time to get back to our important business, and stop the false accusations that have cost Clackamas River Water, its ratepayers and other agencies hundreds of thousands of dollars in money and staff time.

Clackamas River Water has been in the news a lot the past few years, with numerous allegations of malfeasance, criminal activity, ethics complaints, accusations of financial mismanagement, court cases, lawsuits, etc., all of them unproven. Dealing with all these unsubstantiated issues has taken a huge amount of staff time and valuable energy away from our real mission of providing clean, affordable drinking water to residents and businesses in our region.

Here are the facts: Clackamas River Water is a well-managed, financially sound water agency. You don't have to believe us on this point, since the agency has undergone three extensive financial audits and one forensic audit that examined every aspect of our business and operations. Every single audit came back with a clean opinion, meaning that the auditors believe our financial statements and position to be sound.

In addition, CRW has under spent its budget every year since 2008, saving millions of ratepayer dollars. While we have been saving money, we have managed to finish all major projects-including unplanned repairs of our system-on time and on budget.

Even in a period of declining revenues we have done this without raising our rates during the past three years. Dealing with these allegations has been expensive, and we have continuing increases in labor and material costs, and at some point we may have to make rate adjustments. Even so, we still have some of the lowest rates in the Clackamas River Basin.

When CRW Commissioner Holloway made allegations of staff wrongdoing to the CRW Board, we took action by retaining Moss Adams, a reputable auditing company, and spent additional funds to conduct a supplemental audit and a forensic audit to investigate the claims. The result was no evidence of wrongdoing and a clean audit.

Commissioner Holloway refuses to acknowledge the expert findings that our agency's finances and operations are exemplary and continuing to fight her unsubstantiated claims is costing the district money-a lot of money. The cost to ratepayers of dealing with the repeated allegations has been at least $175,000, and none yet have proved to have any merit. For example, the fiscal year 2010 audits cost CRW at least $113,192, which was $90,242 more than CRW's usual contracted yearly audit amount, or close to a 400 percent increase.

The CRW Board has fiscal responsibility for the agency, and the majority of the board takes this responsibility very seriously. If there were any real problems, we would be the first to investigate them and get them corrected. Recently, Commissioner Holloway's husband admitted to filing a complaint with the FBI, apparently using the same allegations that have been raised and judged baseless in all the lawsuits, ethics complaints and complaints to our auditors.

It is time to move on and resume district business, which is water. Clackamas County has a unique position to fill in the region's economy, and could be a location of renewed economic growth in the future. Our agency has sufficient water to fuel that growth. However, it is extremely difficult to provide services if we continually have to deal with these false accusations. We-and the staff of Clackamas River Water-will continue to do our part to protect this district and its ratepayers, but it's in the best interests of all of us for these unsubstantiated attacks to cease.

Kami Kehoe and Barbara Kemper are Clackamas River Water commissioners.