UPDATE: Silicon Valley water board elects new chair
The Santa Clara Valley Water District is the region’s largest water supplier. Photo by Lorraine Gabbert.

In an unexpected turn of events, Valley Water’s board of directors reelected Director Nai Hsueh to be its next chair.

After a motion to elect Director Barbara Keegan failed, the board voted 5-2 to make Hsueh chair. Directors John Valera, Richard Santos, Tony Estremera, Rebecca Eisenberg and Hsueh voted yes, and Director Jim Beall and Keegan voted no.

“I did not plan for this pursuit, but I am willing to take this responsibility,” Hsueh said after being nominated.

Hsueh was chair in 2020 and was nominated by Estremera, who said in the meeting that he saw her as someone who could unite the board.

Keegan, board vice chair, had hoped to fill the role. Historically, as vice chair she would have rotated in the chair position, but the system changed last year to the seven-member board electing the chair and vice chair at the beginning of each January.

Eisenberg said in the meeting that stopping the rotation system would mean some communities are left out of their district holding the chair spot.

Valley Water board of directors from left: Tony Estremera, Nai Hsueh, Richard Santos, John Varela, Barbara Keegan, Jim Beall and Rebecca Eisenberg. Photo courtesy of Valley Water.

During the meeting, seven people called in to support Keegan for the chair position. Keegan also said she had received multiple public letters of support, calling for her to be elected chair.

“We all have strong opinions because the work we do is important to us,” Keegan told San José Spotlight. “I think the chair’s role is to make sure everybody has the chance to be heard, and collectively, we can make decisions that are going to positively impact the community.”

Santos said previously the next chair should be someone who does not have a personal agenda and works to bring the board together, adding directors don’t always agree. Keegan is the only person Santos had heard advocating for the chair seat.

“She’s out here making it a popularity contest,” Santos told San José Spotlight.

Disagreements have plagued the Valley Water board of directors for the past few years. Most recently was a controversial measure passed in 2022 that increased the maximum number of board terms from three to four, capping service to 16 consecutive years.

To Keegan, it is critical the directors work together and communicate with each other respectfully. That sentiment was echoed by Directors Beall and Santos, who told San José Spotlight the next chair should be someone who can bring board members together so the projects in the pipeline move forward.

“The board relationship is a very important key,” Beall told San José Spotlight before the vote. “I think the chair’s job of bringing some training and skill development and working relationship development among board members is going to be very important, so that we show respect for one another and we’re able to function even though we might not agree on issues.”

Beall said he’s not interested in the chair position, and would like to see a chair who is able to unify the board. He added that in his experience, people can get caught up in the politics of a situation rather than focusing on the tangible issues the board needs to address.

“You’ve only got so many hours of the day, so I think it’s always a dilemma for any government institution, is focusing on the work that has to be done,” Beall said.

While Keegan could run for a fourth term, she plans to step down when her term ends in 2024, citing her disagreement with the extended term limits. She added she has been trying to find a woman who could run for her seat, but the search has been difficult.

Contact B. Sakura Cannestra at [email protected] or @SakuCannestra on X, formerly known as Twitter.

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