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FPUD board chairman Wolk named "Board Member of the Year"

FALLBROOK – Charley Wolk's resume looks great on paper, but he is so much more than that! Down to earth, this water and agriculture expert is a boots-on-the-ground hard worker. Yet, he is a highly scientific mind when it comes to managing water, resources and agriculture for the Fallbrook Public Utility District's (FPUD) board of directors.

Wolk has been named the 2023 Board Member of the Year by the California Special Districts Association. The award will be presented Aug. 29 at the CSDA's annual conference in Monterey. Wolk was surprised by staff at FPUD's June 26 board meeting with the announcement that he was chosen for the award. He didn't know the district nominated him for the honor.

"I am humbled," he said.

CSDA is a nonprofit association created in 1969 to promote good governance and improve local services for independent special districts such as water, fire, library, healthcare, and parks and recreation. CSDA has a strong focus on transparency and accountability, and offers its 1,300 organizations: education and training, representation at the state capitol, and current information that is crucial to a special district's management and operational effectiveness.

Wolk is a standout because, as a longtime board member, he asks for more detail, clearer explanations and breakdowns of issues and dollar figures, fewer acronyms, more frequent analysis, more transparent reports, and that reports are easy for the average layman member-of-the-public to understand.

"Charley always asks the hard questions," said Jack Bebee, FPUD general manager.

His input has challenged FPUD staff many times to pivot and develop creative and practical ways to achieve his recommendations. He has put this leadership skill to work many times when reviewing fiscal reports, budget plans, strategic plans and other reports.

"Charley's input is always effective, yet never demanding," Bebee said.

He has served for 23 years on the board, from 1981 to 1994 when he stepped down and then returned in 2014 when he saw that his help could be used in solving one of the longest-running water rights lawsuits in the state of California.

Back in 1951, the federal government sued FPUD over rights to local water in the Santa Margarita River. For seven decades, the district couldn't use the river's water that ran right through town, and instead had to buy 100% imported water, which is much more expensive than local water.

Wolk's input helped form a solution to the 70-year lawsuit by attending meetings on collaborating and finding a long-term solution to share the river's water. This ultimately resulted in an end to the lawsuit and a joint project with Camp Pendleton to share the river's water. The Santa Margarita River Conjunctive Use Project went online in 2021 and now provides about 50% of FPUD's water – a huge accomplishment.

Wolk has a bachelor's degree in engineering and a master's in management engineering. He lends his razor-sharp fiscal brainpower to hone in on a tight water agency budget. He is always looking out for ratepayers by looking for ways to save them money and keep district costs down. He serves as board president and is the chair of the Fiscal Policy and Insurance committee.

Wolk is well known around town as owner and operator of Bejoca Grove & Landscape Management since 1976, providing service to about 30 farms. He is a strong proponent of making agriculture as efficient as possible and has helped numerous farmers convert their avocado farms to water-saving operations. He has been featured on TV news and in newspaper articles as an advocate for farming and lower water costs.

Submitted by Fallbrook Public Utility District.


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