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Seeley Water District to file grand jury response

September 09, 2012|By ALEJANDRO DAVILA | Staff Writer

Noncompliance of public records requests, as well as various Brown Act violations within the Seeley County Water District, are some of the allegations presented in a recent Imperial County Civil Grand Jury report.

 The water district is expected to officially respond to the report during its board meeting Monday.  

This report, presented to the water district in mid-June, is the result of an investigation that was ongoing since at least October 2011.

 A civil grand jury routinely investigates agencies like prisons, jails and special districts, as well as other city and county departments, said County Counsel Mike Rood. Rood said these organizations also receive citizens’ complaints they may decide to investigate. “The civil grand jury is considered a watchdog in the state of California,” said Rood, who noted findings are taken seriously.

The water district “continually fails to comply with minimum California safe drinking water standards for the amount of carcinogens and chlorine when tested,” reads the report before listing examples of noncompliance of the California Public Records Act and the Brown Act, which regulate public scrutiny. 

“Some of the directors and staff exhibit an indignant attitude toward members of the public who seek to review and scrutinize” the water district, reads the report. In its earlier pages, the report describes a public request placed by the civil grand jury that was never fulfilled.

“The civil grand jury waited approximately 35 days for the requested documents. These documents were never received by the CGJ,” the report reads, and later describes potential Brown Act violations.

The water district “did not appear to comply with requirements of the California Brown Act by conducting closed sessions for matters that should be deliberated in an open session of a public meeting,” the report explains. It also notes that choosing a private contractor “does not appear to be a valid use of a closed session under the Brown Act.”

The report notes that all budgets, income and expenditures are not published or made available during public meetings and that these documents “can only be accessed, according to the board president, with a request at the SCWD office.”

Moreover, the minutes of the water district were found “deficient in vital information that would allow a person to understand what was being discussed and voted up,” according to the report.

But allegations about alteration of the minutes aren’t new for the water district. Just late last month some residents came before the board and stated minutes had been tampered with. As a result, water rates were increased unlawfully, the residents said.

Neither the water district’s attorney nor Donald Turner, president of the board, could be reached for comments. Board member Bill Brown said, “I plan to clarify the minutes in question.”

However, he pointed out that he can only make a motion to amend the minutes.

Brown also explained that no water rate increase resulted from the changed minutes, because “the motion was to ensure that we were charging everyone in the public fairly (and) in accordance with the rate structure that is already approved.”

This rate structure, which Brown said is established policy, will be discussed on Monday.

When asked about the report’s findings prior to the posting of the agenda on Friday, Brown said he had only reviewed a portion of the report and would read more over the weekend, once he has the informational packet.

He pointed out that there were positives and negatives in the report, adding, “We are pursuing (actions) to resolve some of the issues.”

 Financial records of the water district were kept in good order, according to the report, and supporting documents are available for access. 

Out of five findings, the latter was the only one that didn’t describe a California Public Records Act or a Brown Act non-compliance issue.

Staff Writer Alejandro Davila can be reached at 760-337-3445 or adavila@ivpressonline.com

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