Many in the community may be wondering why we feel there is a need to recall these board members, or that this effort is simply “sour grapes”. However, there are serious issues at play here, and they need to be addressed. The actions of Mr. Cheyne, Mr. Knoll and Mr. Smith have not been shown to be to the benefit of the Klamath Irrigation District or its patrons. These board members have shown a lack of regard for the voice of the majority patrons, are under investigation for breaking Oregon public meeting laws and have put the lives and property of Klamath County citizens at risk.
On May 9th, 2016, board members Dave Cacka and Greg Carlton filed a complaint with the Oregon Government Ethics Commission alleging Board President Brent Cheyne, Ken Smith and Grant Knoll broke open meeting laws. At the Commission’s July 1st meeting, they decided to investigate three of the complaints.
Three members had special, individual contact with specialty lawyer, New York City’s Lawrence A Kogan, to write a letter opposing the Klamath River Dam Removal pact. Instead of initiating a public meeting, Cheyen, Knoll and Smith instead went behind the scenes and had Mr. Kogan draft a letter not only opposing dam removal, but threatening lawsuits.
Board Out Of Control
An investigation of ethics violations is just one instance of how the majority faction of the Board of Directors is out of control. Cheyne, Knoll and Smith have seen fit to operate the board with the impunity of dictators, casting aside the will and wishes of KID patrons in favor of pursing what appears to be a personal, political agenda.
We have seen the board improperly dismiss long-time KID employees without any explanation to the districts patrons. Instead of fulfilling the mission of an irrigation district – to deliver water to irrigators, they’ve seen fit to get into the realm of water politics. While suspending Klamath Irrigation District’s relationship with the Klamath Water Users Association, they’ve still seen fit to keep the money taken for the dues without letting patrons know what they plan to spend the over $200,000 on. The majority faction has also seen fit to hire two more attorneys while watching the budget for legal fees spin out of control.
This is a board that has gone out of its way to work behind the scenes to pursue an agenda that is contrary to the will of KID patrons. It’s time to get our board back under control.
In their zeal to fight dam removal and what appears to be the Federal Government in general, the majority faction of the Board of Directors took it upon themselves to hire extra legal counsel. The result has been the hiring of Nathan Rietmann and Lawrence Kogan.
While having good legal counsel is advisable, Rietmann also represents Tom Mallams, an off-project irrigator who opposes the Klamath Irrigation District’s claim for a water right, creating an obvious conflict of interest that Cheyne, Knoll and Smith have been willing to overlook.
Kogan, the Board’s New York City-based attorney hired to oversee the C-Flume contracts, has proven to be a more controversial figure. Along with chastising the board for following the vote of its patrons, Mr. Kogan has taken it upon himself to write editorials attacking local irrigators, directing the activities of the board and being a dickhead in general.
To make KID’s legal matters worse, the Board has allowed these attorneys to run up bills that have emptied the legal budget.
The C Canal Flume Debacle
In what was a genuine moment of solidarity for Basin irrigators, KID patrons voted 269-16 in favor of replacing the C Canal Flume. When the Board of Directors voted, all five (including Board Chairman Cheyne) voted in favor of the $7.5 million loan from the Bureau of Reclamation to move forward with the repairs. However, when it came time to sign the paperwork with the contractor to replace the flume, at the direction of Mr. Kogan the majority faction of the Board of Directors changed course and held up signing the finalized paperwork by avoiding meetings at all costs. In doing so, as the C Flume continued to deteriorate and put Henley schools, the farms serviced by the C Canal, the homes near the flume and the irrigation districts dependent upon it for water deliveries in jeopardy.
In the end, Chairman Cheyne snuck into KID offices and signed the paperwork, but not after R&G Excavating, the firm hired to oversee replacement, extended the contract.
Lack of Leadership
Though elected to lead, Cheyne, Knoll and Smith appear to have decided to decline their leadership roles. Instead of making the hard decisions that comes with their elected posts, supporting the will of KID irrigators against outside forces and taking heat for their decisions, these men hide from their responsibilities.
A prime example of their failure to lead was when KID irrigators voted overwhelmingly to replace the C Canal Flume. However, instead of fulfilling the will of their patrons, they allowed Mr. Kogan to use the project as ammunition in his seemingly personal battle against Tribal rights, the Federal Government and dam removal. Even worse, through inaction, these men have essentially allowed Mr. Kogan to dictate KID activities and policies from the comfort of his NYC law offices.
Unfortunately this isn’t the only instance of these men abstaining from leadership. More recently, in a July 14th public meeting, when the subject of ending Mr. Kogan’s contract was voted upon, Mr. Knoll did not vote and Mr. Cheyne excused himself from voting under the guise of only need to to vote to break a tie (though he has voted several times, including to sign the C-Flume contract).
These are only a few example of when given the chance to be leaders these men failed our district. Instead, they’re inclined to allow their contracted attorney to make policy for the irrigation district, hope inaction gives them the result they’re looking for or to go behind the backs of patrons and do as they wish.