LOCAL SPIN: Felony Stupid
La Coasta Nostra boys refer Shriner to Grand Jury.
Thursday, March 1, 2012
Dear Members of the Marina Coast Water District Board who aren’t Jan Shriner (also known as Howard Gustafson, Ken Nishi, Dan Burns and Bill Lee):
I have to admit, I was a little hurt when Gustafson said, during the Feb. 24 Marina Coast Water District meeting – you know, the one where you voted 4-0, with Shriner abstaining, to send Shriner to the county Grand Jury – that he doesn’t “consider the Coast Weekly the press.” Instead, he considers us “fiction writers.”
First off, it’s Monterey County Weekly, not Coast Weekly. We changed the name eight years ago. I suppose it’s fair, though, that Gustafson doesn’t consider us the press. Because really, we don’t consider the Marina Coast Water District board anything that a public agency board, one allowed to collect and spend ratepayer money, should be. Competent, for one. Fiscally responsible, for another. Forthright. Rife with common sense and honesty. Wallow in it.
Wallowing, it seems, is something you guys are pretty good at. Like pigs in mud, since 2010, you’ve wallowed in the idea that you held the winning ticket in the $400 million desalination plant lottery. You were the chosen ones, the local agency picked out of a pile of local agencies to lead the Regional Desalination Project.
Only you didn’t deserve to be, apparently. To put it in terms of the great television series Arrested Development, if California American Water were the smart and savvy Michael Bluth character, and the Monterey County Water Resources Agency the conniving and scheming George “Gob” Bluth, then you were the dumb baby brother, Buster Bluth. He’s the one who, despite being an adult, was regarded as so incompetent that he wasn’t allowed to heat up his snack because “mom said to keep away from the microwave.”
Let’s skip over the fact that, based on the county’s investigation, it was your general manager, Jim Heitzman, who helped maneuver county Water Resources Agency director Steve Collins into a consulting gig with the engineering firm that won the $28 million project management contract. That gig is what started the Regional Project down a road of destruction that has seen Collins charged with upwards of 40 felony counts related to double-dipping and conflicts of interest, has at least two supervisors embroiled in an ongoing investigation by the state Fair Political Practices Commission, and ultimately slapped some sense into Cal Am and the county.
Let’s instead focus on the actions you decided to take following Jan. 16.
That afternoon, Weekly reporter Kera Abraham spoke with a well-placed source who had some information. That confidential source told Abraham that Cal Am was finally, mercifully, putting a bullet into the Regional Project and starting over in its state-mandated quest for a new water supply. A formal announcement would be made in the morning, on Jan. 17.
That confidential source was not Jan Shriner.
Abraham did what reporters do. She began calling just about everyone associated with the project, trying to corroborate what the source told her. She made multiple calls to the Marina Coast office and tried multiple times to reach Heitzman. She called Shriner, who has what the rest of you don’t have, in spades: abundant common sense. Shriner told her that the board had met in closed session (info that should have been publicly noticed under the Brown Act) and that an announcement would be made in the morning. Then she told Abraham that all related media calls should go to Heitzman.
So where was he that day? Hiding under his desk? Because he sure wasn’t calling the press back to offer up a “no comment.” In fact, we’ve grown used to seeing the back of Heitzman’s head: He walks away when reporter Sara Rubin, whom Ken Nishi once called “little girl,” tries to ask him anything. He’s about to flee Marina Coast, too, according to the Feb. 14 agenda item on looking for a new GM.
So Shriner told us to talk to Heitzman – and for that, you’re sending her to the Grand Jury?
Here’s what the Grand Jury likely will tell you, because it’s what Chief Assistant District Attorney Terry Spitz told us: “There is no criminal violation.” To prosecute a Brown Act violation, evidence must prove “willful or corrupt misconduct in office.”
There’s a term criminal-law attorneys like to use, and that term is “felony stupid.” As my defense attorney pal describes it, felony stupid refers to conduct that is so dumb and inept that, if it’s not an actual crime, it should be.
Burns said during the Feb. 24 meeting that “there is a trust issue.”
There is indeed, but probably not in the way he meant it. Maybe the Grand Jury should take a close look at the definition of felony stupid, and see how it relates to the Marina Coast board.
Mary Duan is the Weekly’s editor. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org, twitter.com/maryrduan.