The voters have spoken

Most people learn at an early age to recognize when they've overstayed their welcome. Then there are those who, for whatever reason, never acquired that skill.

Take the Shady Cove Water District.

For the second time since the district was founded in 2002, the good citizens of Shady Cove have voted overwhelmingly to shut down the district, which has yet to provide a single drop of water.

The first vote, in 2005, was 567-114, but supporters of the water district's continued existence challenged the election and succeeded in having the vote overturned in court. Last week, Shady Cove residents voted to seat a slate of candidates who vowed to dissolve the district if elected.

Again, the town's sentiments were clear. The candidate with the biggest margin of victory won 88.2 percent of the vote; The candidate with the lowest percentage still managed 85.9 percent.

By law, the new board members should take office July 1. But the now lame-duck board members — all of whom were appointed, not elected — have one more card up their collective sleeve.

After the five challengers filed for election this year, the existing board met and changed the district's bylaws governing the qualifications to serve on the board. In effect, the changes disqualified each of the challengers.

A fundamental principle of American government that should be familiar to any middle-school civics student holds that a government body may not enact laws ex post facto — after the fact. A city council cannot vote this week to outlaw spitting on the sidewalk and then arrest someone for expectorating last week.

Should the current board members decide to play this card — and we sincerely hope they don't — we trust any court would toss out the bylaw changes as an ill-disguised attempt to cling to power, and declare the new board legally elected.

The voters have spoken, and they have said loud and clear that they do not want this water district to continue in its present form.

That's not to say that Shady Cove does not need a public water system. It does. The town is the largest incorporated community in the state without its own water system, and the nearly 1,000 private wells that now provide drinking water are not a reliable source for the long term.

Water systems don't come cheap, of course, and the potential cost is probably the biggest factor influencing public opinion against the district. Eventually, the town's residents must come to grips with the reality that they cannot rely on wells indefinitely.

But that's not going to happen as long as the current Shady Cove Water District exists.

It's time to shut it down and start over again.

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