Aaron Wharton, who owns Cambria craft brewery, 927 Beer Company, has been selected to fill the seat vacated by the August resignation of Mike Thompson on the Cambria Community Services District Board.
The decision on Tuesday, Oct. 3, capped more than six hours of discussion in two special meetings. The vote was 3-0, with director Harry Farmer abstaining. Wharton, 48, was sworn in soon after. His wife Jennifer Wharton has been a Cambrian since she was one month old. They have two daughters who attend local schools.
It was standing-room-only Tuesday, and the meeting ranged from being introspective to raucous, with occasional audience outbursts. One verbal confrontation triggered a five-minute, cool-off recess called by Board President Amanda Rice.
A dozen people, including Wharton, had applied for the vacant seat when the noon meeting began. Then Bruce Fosdike dropped out for personal reasons. However, district counsel Tim Carmel confirmed that anyone registered to vote in Cambria still could toss their hats in the ring. Momentary pandemonium ensued, and eight other people indicated their desire to do just that, some of them on the spur of the moment.
As Rice appeared ready to launch a Q&A round with the applicants, Director Jim Bahringer nominated Wharton. Director Greg Sanders seconded the nomination, and several members of the audience endorsed Wharton, considerably more than for any other applicant.
Bahringer asked Rice and Farmer why they had opposed Wharton at an Aug. 19 meeting.
In response, Farmer asked Wharton a series of questions. Topics ranged from the district’s most serious challenges and the need for infrastructure upgrades to the CSD’s fiscal circumstances. Farmer indicated concerns about the time constraints that being a director might add to Wharton’s already jam-packed schedule as a business owner-operator and family man.
Wharton said communication should be a high-priority challenge for the district, and “I listen to everybody and anybody.” He said he’d “support improving the infrastructure as needed, as can be afforded by budgetary constraints,” adding that “we need to have a fiscally responsible budget.”
He said that although the county sets Cambria’s growth rate, once the moratorium on issuing new water connections is rescinded, it will be up to the district board to determine how many new connections to issue in any given year, “given the resources we have as a community … we have to look at what we have in the bank and in the aquifers.”
Rice said she understood that Wharton would have a steep learning curve “and shouldn’t be expected to know everything right off the bat.”
According to Sanders, Wharton’s youth “would be absolutely refreshing” on a board that has traditionally been dominated by directors on Medicare.
“The role of a director is a policymaker,” Sanders said. “Aaron may not know where every last nickel has been spent, but it’s the vision he has that means the most to me … He very succinctly laid out the only viable financial means of dealing with the infrastructure problems this district has. When the moratorium is lifted, the district has to balance resources versus growth.”
The board will be back to four members again soon since Sanders has resigned, effective the end of this month. Rice said they could start the process to fill his seat as early as mid-November.