Cherry Tree residents petition for new water board
Cherokee Nation citizen Tom Duncan, of Bell, signs a petition on June 12 calling for the removal of board members of the Cherry Tree Rural Water District in Stilwell. KENLEA HENSON/CHEROKEE PHOENIX
CHERRY TREE – A petition has been circulating in this small Adair County community to remove members of the local water district after a May water outage brought to light what residents call improper actions by the board.
The board oversees the Cherry Tree Rural Water District, which purchases its water from the nearby city of Stilwell. The board is charged with collecting money from residents who receive water from the CTRWD.
In May, customers lost water for eight days due to outages of a water pump and regulator. The outages came after a waterline was discovered in contaminated ground and was removed.
Residents said they turned to the water board for answers but didn’t receive any.
“They (water board member) did absolutely nothing to get water to the people,” CTRWD costumer Bill Rust said.
Rust said the water district’s costumers were forced to find solutions. So the community banded together and went to the Cherokee Nation for help. CN officials took bottled water to the community and installed a new water pump.
“Cherokee Nation has been a godsend to this community,” Brooks Billings, former CTRWD board chairman, said.
Although the board didn’t cause the water outage, it didn’t do anything to help the situation, water customers said.
In the midst of the water outage, residents said they began seeing problems with the board. They said board members suspended employees without reason, failed to pay employees, failed to pay the water bill to Stilwell while still collecting money from customers and allegedly held illegal board meetings that violated the state’s Open Meetings Act.
Residents responded by circulating the petition to remove board members.
“Our board, unfortunately, isn’t doing what they need to be doing. The board needs to represent the members of this district, and they have completely disregarded any request and concerns they have,” Tamara Grooms, former CTRWD employee, said.
Grooms is one of four employees who were suspended. She said board members asked her to leave without giving her a reason.
“(They) basically came in and suspended me and told me I had to go home, and if I didn’t leave they would call the police,” she said.
Cameron Bennett, CTRWD employee, said he hasn’t been paid in five weeks.
“They said they had lost the time sheets. I had copies of all the employees that were under me and when I was there they had all turned them in. There are still two of us that haven’t been paid for our hours,” Bennett said.
If the petition gets 51 percent of the community’s signatures the current board members can be removed and the community can elect new members.
“It’s time to speak up for ourselves, sign the petition and take our district back,” Rust said.
The Cherokee Phoenix called the water district for comment but was unsuccessful as of publication.