The Water District left behind in the desal collapse can’t even vote on hiring a new GM.
Thursday, February 16, 2012
If the defunct Regional Desalination Project hasn’t already pulled Marina Coast Water District into a messy whirlpool, its board members appear to be doing their best to drag each other down into the salty wreckage.
At its Feb. 14 board meeting, directors Ken Nishi and Dan Burns expressed their desire to refer their colleague, Jan Shriner, to the county Grand Jury for comments that appeared in the Weekly.
They allege Shriner violated confidentiality rules of the Brown Act, which governs public meetings. Assistant Editor Kera Abraham paraphrased Shriner for saying a press release was forthcoming in a story about California American Water’s announcement that it was abandoning the desal project, for which Marina Coast was one of three partners.
“To me, this is a trust issue,” Board President Dan Burns said to Shriner. “If the wrong information gets out and gets published, there is a lot of money at stake.”
Terry Francke, a Brown Act expert and general counsel for Carmichael-based Californians Aware, a First Amendment rights organization, reviewed Shriner’s comments. “I don’t see any disclosure worth treating as a Brown Act violation,” he writes by email. “I think most people would be at a loss to see any harm done.”
District Counsel Lloyd Lowrey offered an acceptable disclosure: “I’m going to Wild Thyme and get a sandwich,” he said. “Almost anything else would be covered [by confidentiality rules].”
If the Grand Jury found Shriner violated the Brown Act, they could refer the case to the District Attorney. But upon reviewing the matter in response to questions from the Weekly, Deputy District Attorney Terry Spitz says, “There is no criminal violation.”
The board discussed media access in light of Shriner’s comments, and identified outgoing General Manager Jim Heitzman as the district’s official media representative. He did not return multiple calls for comment on this story, and walked away when approached by a Weekly reporter.
With board members Howard Gustafson and Bill Lee absent from the meeting, the board found themselves unable to secure the three votes needed to act on most items. With Burns and Nishi in favor, and Shriner dissenting, the board failed 2-1 to take any action on the Brown Act item, and it will return to the full board. Two motions to hire a recruiter for an in-house lawyer and a new general manager also failed.
Heitzman estimated hiring internal counsel would save up to $1 million over five years.