Local Spin: La Coasta Nostra
Marina Coast takes a new and bizarre blood oath.
Thursday, December 1, 2011
Of the following scenarios, which seems to be the most implausible?:
A) The Marina Coast Water District board (or, as I affectionately refer to them, the Insane Clown Posse), citing no government code in existence, agrees to a plan allowing them to render inert any director who “offends” another director.
B) In an executive committee meeting, when they talked about the plan to render inert any director who offends another director, the Marina Coast board president said he feared there weren’t strong enough consequences for board members who violate procedures. To which district General Manager Jim Heitzman perked up and (according to a draft of the meeting minutes) said he knew of a case in which a board member was silenced – and he’d get that information for the committee.
C) Marina Coast, currently hanging on for dear life as one of the three partners in that complete debacle known as the $400 million-and-counting Regional Water Project, paraphrases a famous dead author (who’d turn in his grave if he knew they were using his name) in an official document sent to the Public Utilities Commission.
A, B and C are true, true and true, which is good, because I’m not clever enough to make this stuff up. Gentle reader, let’s go out of order, and start with item B. We’ll work our way from there.
On Oct. 26, Marina Coast board directors Bill Lee and Dan Burns met with Heitzman, who noted board attorney Lloyd Lowrey had added language to the board’s manual about how to handle procedural violations. Lee thought Lowrey’s additions didn’t go far enough.
THE MARINA COAST BOYS CLUB IS TRYING TO TURN SHRINER INTO A PAPERWEIGHT.
And that’s when Heitzman – whose tender feelings have been hurt enough times by Board Director Jan Shriner that he made a formal workplace harassment complaint against her (prompting an outside investigation that found Shriner might be a pain in Heitzman’s ass, but didn’t actually harass him) – said he knew of a precedent to keep Shriner quiet.
He didn’t name Shriner, of course, because that would be offensive. But the case he referred to appears to have emanated from Crescent City, Calif., where Donna Westfall was publicly censured by fellow City Council members in 2009 for violating the city’s code of ethics. Westfall, they found, “knowingly used false, inaccurate or partial information” to oppose expansion at a wastewater treatment plant. Westfall sued, claiming the board violated her First Amendment rights. The suit was dismissed in September – and now Crescent City can sue her for legal fees.
So item B then leads to item A. At its Nov. 8 meeting, the Marina Coast board (with the exception of Shriner, the lone woman in the group) approved additions to its procedures manual that will allow a majority of the board to censure any fellow member who violates a variety of rules, including some that are so arbitrary they’re ludicrous.
For example, board members are required to maintain a “positive” environment that encourages the open exchange of ideas and information. They aren’t allowed to publicly criticize any staff members, but must discuss concerns privately with Heitzman – even if he is the one being criticized.
Other than censure, the consequences for violating the rules include removing the offending member from committees and forbidding them from placing items on the agenda without advance board authorization. That applies whether the offense is failing to show up to a meeting all perky, or violating conflict-of-interest law.
Says one reader: “The policy is so contradictory that a director would have to be Mother Teresa not to ‘offend.’” The Marina Coast boys club is trying to turn Shriner into a paperweight.
Speaking of conflict of interest, there’s item C, a document filed with the Public Utilities Commission by Marina Coast on Nov. 28. The Division of Ratepayer Advocates claims the agreement that forms the Regional Water Project’s foundation may crumble due to alleged violations of the Fair Political Practices Act by former county water agency board member Steve Collins. (Remember the 33 felony charges filed against him a few weeks ago?)
Marina Coast counters by pleading with the PUC for the life of the project, writing, “No party should be allowed… to fan the flames of uncertainty to delay, defeat or harm the Commission-approved project.” And in the big finish, Marina Coast attorney Mark Fogelman adds: “In the words of Mark Twain, the rumors of the death of the Regional Desalination Project have been greatly exaggerated.”
A public agency shooting for big-time dollars and glory in an old-boy, small-time way: Twain would have had a field day.
MARY DUAN is the Weekly’s editor. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.