Digger - November 12, 2009
Notwithstanding the Borrego Water District General Manager's frequent requests for community participation in decision making and claims to openness, since early 2008 when he was hired there has been a disturbing trend toward less timely and complete disclosure and more control, if not actual manipulation, of information about the District. As evidence, consider the following:
In general, there has been a persistent problem in getting matters of concern to the public on the board's agenda. There appears to be no established procedure for doing so; and even when an item does appear on the agenda, it all too frequently results in no meaningful response or none at all from the board or the General Manager, and a hasty dismissal with no resolution.
In February 2008 the District reduced the time audio tapes of meetings are held from 5 years to between 30 and 60 days without compelling reason to do so which suggests that the board and the General Manager simply want to prevent or severely limit the public's access to these verbatim records of meetings.
In April 2008 the General Manager, Rich Williamson, met with only those who opposed the implementation of the original tiered water rates proposal, cut a deal that favored those who opposed it and significantly weakened the original proposal, and then "sold" it to a public meeting by filibustering any objections that were raised. Although the board eventually passed the weakened version, his actions prompted an unprecedented formal minority report by some members of the board.
In October 2008 the District disclosed that it had for sometime been working with a consultant on an Integrated Water Resources Management Plan, but only after the fourth and final draft of the plan had been completed. Even then the identity and recent employment history of the principle author was not disclosed despite the fact that it goes directly to the confidence - or lack thereof - that can be placed in the plan.
In December 2008 the board made a highly unpopular decision under questionable circumstances to offer free health insurance to board members and to their dependents and domestic partners at a small fraction of its actual cost to the District. There are legitimate questions about whether the agenda for the meeting gave adequate notice of the matter and concurrence among members of the board on the matter prior to the meeting.
February 2009 a special board meeting raised a number of questions of intent and good faith, such as: Why did a number of seemingly complex issues arise so suddenly that a special meeting was required to deal with them? Why were the agenda items so brief, cryptic, and opaque? Why was there no amplifying information in an agenda pack for the meeting? In particular, the Clark Dry Lake project that was discussed at that meeting was and is especially troubling. It gave every appearance of an attempt to ram through a disingenuous, grand-stand play calculated to take advantage of our nation's economic plight to obtain ten million stimulus dollars for a pipeline to nowhere.
In June 2009 the General Manager flatly refused, and continues to refuse, to allow members of the board to access the Association of California Water Agencies website, including that part of the site specifically devoted to information intended for water agency boards of directors.
In June 2009 the Borrego Water District considered an overly and unnecessarily restrictive Resolution 2009-6-6 establishing a time limit for speakers at board hearings and meetings of not more than three (3) minutes, which time may not be transferred or yielded from one speaker to another. The public's right to remain informed and retain control of public agencies necessitates the right to query decision makers within public agencies. That right is gratuitously truncated and frustrated by Resolution 2009-6-6 which appears to have no rationale or justification except to stifle public discussion of the District's shenanigans.
In September 2009 Borrego Water District passed Resolution 2009-09-01 adopting a public records policy for the district, which, by itself, appears unobjectionable; but taken with the District's other questionable and nearly simultaneous efforts to restrict and reduce release of information about the District's affairs, nonetheless raises legitimate questions about motive and intent.
September 2009 the District adopted Borrego Water District's resolution 2009-09-04 regarding disclosure of district documents which contained severe restrictions regarding disclosure of District documents and appears, at least in part, to have as its purpose further reducing the public's access to information about the affairs of the District.
In October 2009 the District cited the Brown Act as a reason for refusing to provide the agenda packs for board meetings by e-mail to members of the public who request them in that format. The agenda packs are regularly provided to board members and others by e-mail and the agendas themselves for these meetings are routinely provided by e-mail to members of the public who request them in that format. Since the Brown Act treats the agenda packs as a proper part of the agenda and the District already provides the latter via e-mail, there is no reason that the agenda packs cannot be provided in the same format and every reason that they should be. To do otherwise is to make a distinction without a difference.
In aggregate, the above leave little doubt that there is an ongoing and purposeful attempt by the Borrego Water District to progressively reduce and restrict the public's right of access to information about its public agencies as guaranteed by the Brown Act and the California Public Records Act. The question is: Why?
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