By Karen Brainard
David Barnum is settling into his role as the new general manager of the Ramona Municipal Water District (RMWD). He replaced Ralph McIntosh, who retired on Oct. 6.
With nearly four years of experience working for the Ramona water district, first as chief financial officer (CFO) and then as assistant general manager, he is very much aware of how the district runs and all the issues it is facing.
“Over the last four or five months I’ve taken the lead in most of the GM duties including creating the agenda, doing the agenda memos, managing the meetings, so it’s been great experience… a lot of on-the-job training that’s led me to this point,” said Barnum.
The water district will not be filling Barnum’s former position of CFO but instead is searching for a finance manager. Barnum said the district received responses from some very qualified candidates.
While the former CFO said he will most likely retain the tasks of debt service or financing and is an expert witness for the district in matters of finance if there is any litigation, he anticipates the finance manager will create the budgets, set the rates, do board presentations and the annual financial report, and lead the audit. But, Barnum added, he will retain as many financial duties as possible to allow that person to transition into the job.
When asked how he has managed to continue to perform as CFO while taking on general manager duties, Barnum said he averages 70 hours per week, working long days in the office and then a full day at home catching up on correspondence.
“It’s not realistic to continue that forever,” he said.
That is why a finance position needs to be filled, he explained. When that is done, he will look at the organization.
“What I’d like RMWD to do is to be flexible, to be able to accommodate this community, to accommodate our board,” Barnum said. “That means that the organization is going to have to change as the economy changes, as priorities for Ramona change. So I don’t anticipate this being a stagnant organization. This should be an organization that will be more dynamic in the future.”
Staff members may need to multi-task and be flexible, which would be especially helpful in an emergency or a special project, he said. As RMWD becomes smaller as impacted by the economy, “we’re going to have to have the right mix of people with the right attitudes so that we can provide the best possible customer service to our customers, (and) in addition manage all the various responsibilities and initiatives brought forth by our board,” he said.
The district has an excellent staff, he added, but additional training may be implemented.
As a staff member retires, Barnum said he will look at the position to see if it is still required. He anticipates a few retirements in the next three to five years.
RMWD is facing a lot of major issues, and Barnum said the district needs look forward. RMWD just finished with a rate study. Barnum said the next step would be a fee study that encompasses all the projects, which would include the San Vicente road alignment for which RMWD has to re-locate pipelines; improvements to the Santa Maria and San Vicente sewer plants; and possibly a recycled water program.
A fee study would go before the board and the public could provide input. The board would help prioritize the projects, a timeline would be created, costs would be identified and revenue sources would be estimated, he explained. Once that is done, Barnum said the district could give the customers an idea of how the costs will affect the rates over several years.
The 45-year-old general manager has an extensive financial and management background, has lived in places around the world, and has experienced a variety of cultures. Barnum’s father was a U.S. Air Force officer who met his wife while stationed in Sardinia, Italy. Born in California, Barnum grew up overseas—in England, Italy and Germany—until he was 10, when his family returned to the United States. He lived on the East Coast and in the deep South before coming back to California.
Barnum graduated from San Diego State University and worked in the high tech field. At one time he was employed at Qualcomm.
“I went into international finance early on in my career,” he said, noting he spent nine out of 12 months traveling all over the world.
“Great experience. I really enjoyed it. It really teaches you a lot about working with people, being flexible, coming up with alternatives in difficult situations,” he said.
Barnum also had such unique experiences as running with bulls and climbing Mount Fuji, and he was exposed to “every known disease.”
“When there was a SARS outbreak, I was trapped in China. When there was a mad cow outbreak, I was trapped in the UK (United Kingdom). It had its ups and downs but I really enjoyed it,” he said.
Barnum said he made the career move to the public sector when he and his wife, Kathlyne, decided to start a family. For three years he worked as the budget officer for the city of Carlsbad, overseeing a large staff. In March 2008 he came to Ramona as CFO of the water district where his work became more hands-on.
None of the issues for RMWD have easy answers, Barnum noted, but said he enjoys a challenge and considers himself lucky to be where he is.
Barnum and his wife live in San Marcos with their 6-year-old daughter, Reagan, and their 3-year-old son, Dalton.