YERMO — Three years ago, Mike Henderson believed he had a great idea for one of the buildings owned by the Community Service District.
He wanted to turn the boarded-up structure across the street from the U.S. Post Office into a gathering place that would include a museum, welcome center for tourists and arts and crafts displays from the community.
"It's prime location. It's not being utilized. It's a good structure," Henderson said Tuesday. "We need to highlight the silver mining industry. We need to highlight the Union Pacific Railroad and the way stations that were here. The fact is this is one of the largest Union Pacific Yards in Southern California. And no one has done it (visitor center and museum) so far."
Henderson approached the CSD board, but said the president at that time, Bob Smith, was not interested. Henderson said he was told the CSD had just moved all of the Fire Department's exercise equipment into the building and it was being used as storage space.
"He was not at all considering community input, the community aspect of it," Henderson said.
Henderson said he gave up on the idea. But then last June, Smith and Vice President Geoff Berner were recalled by residents during the June Primary. Board member David Jensen resigned. All of sudden, the board had a new president and three other new directors. And apparently a new attitude.
Henderson pitched his idea to the new board again this month. Not only did the board support his idea, it authorized the formation of a committee to work with Henderson on the project. The committee will help plan fundraisers and seek public funding.
But it wasn't just Henderson's idea that was receiving support. The community held a Trunk or Treat event on Halloween weekend.
"The Trunk or Treat was a huge success," said Summer Crank, one of three new board members. "We expected 100 kids. We had approximately 250 kids show up and about 150 adults. It was just an overwhelming turnout.
"This was definitely a moment that made us want to continue to do things for the community. Continue to do things for the kids."
With help from the community, the CSD board is now preparing for several upcoming holiday events. A Polar Bear Express event will include picture taking with Santa Claus and a movie. A coloring contest and house decorating contest also are planned.
A Community Outreach Committee is being formed to help directors gather input and turn ideas into action.
"I'm hoping after all the misunderstandings and disappointments that happened in the past, we can get back to who we were. I really miss that," said Deborah Shields, another new director. "To see it all come together, come back to life, makes me pretty happy."
Despite all the progress, some serious issues still haunt the community and district. The outcomes of a wrongful death lawsuit and a wrongful termination lawsuit filed against the district and former officials are still unknown. Trial dates are scheduled for the beginning of the new year.
The district is again operating without a general manager. Vicky Paulsen worked as interim general manager for 90 days and recently left the position because of personal issues. Board President Michael Cint says it's difficult to recruit a qualified general manager when the position is only for 20 hours a week and only pays $12 an hour. He said the board is working on a new budget that will allow for 32 hours.
A report by interim Fire Chief Don Simard revealed Fire Department deficiencies.
"We found out our medical supplies were only 10 percent good and still within range of being able to use them," Fire Commissioner Gary Yersley said. "We put in some orders. But we need another $1,000 in stuff to be up where we need to be."
Simard said three Inland Counties Emergency Medical Agency computers that the district received three years ago were still in boxes, never used. The computers allow firefighters to input information right away at emergency scenes like all the other law enforcement and response agencies.
A Firetruck engine the district purchased for $25,000 a few years ago is rarely used because the transmission and a pump are going out.
"Some of his concerns, it seems like to him, over the last eight years we kind of pushed our volunteers from this town out of the Fire Department," Yearsley said. "What we really want to do is put a real push to get people from the community to volunteer and get back into the Fire Department that were there before."
Both Yearsley and Cint believe the board and community are ready to move forward to deal with some of the obstacles that remain. But Yearsley admits many Yermo residents are still reluctant to get involved.
"I get answers like we want to make sure (Bob) Smith isn't coming back. We want to make sure the board doesn't go back to the way it was before we invest all of our time," Yearsley said.
Cint pledges the board will remain supportive of the community as long as he's a director.
"In the end, it really doesn't matter. We are here for the people. That's more than anything else," Cint said. "I look at everything that has happened on the national stage and how we are split down the middle between ideology. It's ironic that you come down here on a smaller scale, the smallest possible scale of government you can get, and we understand what's it's like. We are all brothers and sisters, citizens and we all know each other's family."
Yearsley gives a lot of credit to how much as been accomplished since June to the three new board members. Vice President Clarissa Loehr is the third new director.
"It's totally amazing how much emphasis our board members have for the community," he said. "The board meetings when I first got on, were like, we are going to do this and we are gong to do that. Now we have three ladies who are going out in the community and pulling together like that Trunk or Treat. It was huge. They did a good job.
"This board is just like how I dreamed it would be."
Mike Lamb can be reached at 760-957-0613 or firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also follow him on Twitter @mlambdispatch.