Four months shy of his 17th year on the Ramona water board, Division 2 Director Doug Wilsman quietly resigned.
His one-sentence letter to General Manager Ralph McIntosh on Monday morning stated, “This is to notify you that for health reasons I must resign my position as Director of Division 2 of the Board of Directors of Ramona Municipal Water District, effective immediately.”
Wilsman has suffered three minor strokes, McIntosh said, and his resignation will be “a big loss” to the district.
“It’s like losing a family member,” McIntosh said of receiving Wilsman’s resignation. “He’s always has the community and the district’s best interest at heart.”
Wilsman has served on the water board since April 1992, when he successfully challenged the Division 2 director in a recall election.
Since then, his knowledge of and dedication to the district have been lauded and even legendary. Budgets are his strong suit, two men who have served on the board with him for more than a decade agree.
“He’s always been the budget guru,” said board President Robert Krysak, crediting Wilsman for “singlehandedly keeping the rates as low as they are.”
Division 4 Director Jim Robinson recalls times “I’ve called him at 8 in the morning and found out he never slept the entire night. He was crunching numbers.”
Robinson, elected to the board 1-1/2 years after Wilsman, said that, when Wilsman first got involved with the district and was “quite active in the meetings, I thought, my, that guy is a crackpot.”
He learned differently.
“There’s nobody that works harder for the district than he does,” said Robinson. “The man works night and day for the district.”
Wilsman has a great capacity for numbers, Robinson said. “He could go through numbers ... and make the staff or whoever prove the numbers.”
Krysak, whose term on the board ends Dec. 31, said “I felt good leaving the board, because Doug was going to be there.” The district budget wouldn’t have been nearly as effective without Wilsman’s guidance, facts and knowledge of the issues. “He was the bulldog.”
“I think it’s a tragedy for the water district,” Krysak said of Wilsman’s resignation. “I think he was the lion and the heart and soul to this board. He dedicated his life to this board.”
There is a saying that no one is indispensible, Krysak said.
“But if anyone is indispensable, it’s Doug,” he said. “Doug is the one with the corporate knowledge, the stick-to-it-tiveness.”
Wilsman’s reputation goes beyond the water district. “Had anyone listened to Doug Wilsman” in 1987, a 2005 New York Times business article began, United Airlines employees wouldn’t be facing pension cuts and the federal agency that guarantees pensions might not be struggling with its biggest losses ever.
Wilsman, a pilot who worked for United Airlines for 33 years, served as chairman of the pilots’ Pension Committee before his retirement in 1985. In 1987, he learned that United had switched from its older, “tried-and-true” approach for investing retirees’ money to putting most of the assets into the stock market — and he warned against it.
The article quoted him as saying, “Hey, you guys are really building yourselves a trap. Someday, at the worst possible moment, when the bottom falls out of the stock market, the plan is going to have to come up with new money.”
“Without Doug, it’s going to be harder, without that resource there,” said Robinson, who sat next to Wilsman at water board meetings and served on various ad hoc subcommittees with him. “Doug, you could always count on to dig it out and get the numbers straight.”
The water board on Tuesday is expected to discuss guidelines and options for replacing Wilsman, whose term on the board ends Dec. 31, 2010. The current board or the incoming board in January will decide whether to appoint a replacement or hold a special election. As a result of the Nov. 4 election, Bryan Wadlington will replace Krysak as Division 5 director in January and Darrell Beck will replace Division 2 Director Kit Kesinger.
The board on Tuesday also is expected to review a proclamation about Wilsman’s service to the district, said Krysak.
“I’m going to really miss him,” said Robinson. “Me and him, we think a lot alike as far as our conservatism and spending ... We both are very much like that, anything to keep those water rates down for the customers, whatever it takes to make it work.”
The district solved many of its water problems during Wilsman’s years on the board, said Robinson, listing the 30-inch line up the hill from the district’s pump station in Poway to Mt. Woodson, the new 16-inch water line to San Diego Country Estates from Old Julian Highway at Third and Keyes to Tank 1 at Rutherford and Ramona Vista above the Ryland development, a pump station for the 16-inch line, and the recently completed 12-inch line from Tank 1 to Ramona Oaks as among completed projects.
Prior to those improvements, San Diego County Estates had received water from a 14-inch line along San Vicente Road from close to Warnock Drive, said Robinson.
Two water lines to be done are one from the district’s Olive Street station to the 16-inch line at Old Julian Highway and a line from Montecito and Alice streets to the Olive Street station.
“The (first stage of the) enlargement of the Santa Maria sewer plant will be the next major thing coming that’s going to have to be taken care of,” said Robinson, commenting about challenges facing the district. “We bought the land for the sprayfields, the new pond — the preliminary stuff is done. We will have to go into the initial stages of the planning and construction.”
Robinson hopes to stay in contact with Wilsman.
“I expect to communicate with him,” he said. “I might, if he was able, call him up and ask an opinion or a question.
“I’ve learned a lot from him. I marvel at how he could do some of the things he could do.”