The Graton Community Services District has never held an election in its 10-year history, which may be why the Nov. 5 race for two seats on the board that runs the rural west Sonoma County sewer system is so contentious.
The five volunteer directors who serve four-year terms have always run unopposed. But after a recent Grand Jury report that said the board lacked understanding of the district's finances and sewer rates that are among the highest in the county, HolLynn D'Lil and Richard Coleman stepped forward to challenge incumbents John Roehl and Jane Eagle.
Annual sewer rates are $1,574 per residence, second highest of the nine sewer districts in the county.
The heated race has included allegations of illegal campaigning and vandalism from both sides. It has caused a deep rift in the quiet agricultural community of 1,700 north of Sebastopol.
The challengers, who are running as a slate, have filed a complaint with the state Fair Political Practices Commission after the district used about $500 of taxpayer money to send out nearly 600 newsletters containing the incumbents' campaign statements.
The newsletter states that the challengers were asked to provide a statement but declined. Both D'Lil and Coleman said they were not approached about contributing to the newsletter.
The two incumbents have had their campaign signs damaged, and a car that was plastered with incumbent posters was vandalized, Eagle said.
The challengers have also experienced vandalism. On Saturday, someone posted a flier at the Graton Post Office with Coleman and D'Lil's pictures defaced above the words "Liars, Cheaters, Bullies."
At stake in the election is control of the district's new $11.5 million wastewater treatment plant that serves 550 houses and uses a unique pasteurization technology, and oversight of the district staff.
General Manager Bob Rawson, a Santa Rosa Junior College professor and wastewater consultant, works as a contractor for the district billing taxpayers $70 per hour for his services. His agreement allows him to use district equipment to test his wastewater inventions.