Tag Archive | "Brown Act"

Why Do Some OCWD Board Members Loathe Being Watched?


By Debbie Cook
Special to the Surf City Voice
Commentary

About a dozen members of the public attended the July 16 meeting of the Orange County Water District to support Director Jan Flory’s request that staff gather information on the cost of streaming board meetings on the Internet, something many other Orange County government bodies have done for years.

Flory sees streaming as an important way to improve transparency and increase the public’s participation in managing its water resources.

But the stars above must have been aligned against Flory that night because, even though her proposal won five out of eight possible votes, it lost.

In earthly terms, what happened?

The answer is in the shrewd, some might say cynical, use of the OCWD’s administrative code, which specifically requires an affirmative vote of the majority of the entire ten-member board (six votes) to pass a motion, regardless of whether those members abstain or show up at the meeting or not.

Board president Shawn Dewane, who had voted to recommend tabling Flory’s proposal at a previous (July 3) meeting of the Communications Committee (he wanted it tabled for a year), and Director Denis Bilodeau, who has remained silent on the topic, were both absent.

Directors Kathryn Barr, Cathy Green, and Roger Yoh, all openly hostile to streaming meetings for public viewing, abstained–not because they had a conflict of interest, the only ethically valid reason for abstaining (apparently, they don’t want to take responsibility, on record, for killing the proposal), but out of spite. Read the full story

Posted in Headlines, OCWD, Water BoardingComments (6)

‘Absolutely Infuriating’ OCWD Director Says About Secret Meetings


By John Earl
Surf City Voice
Note: The characterization of the Executive Committee meetings as “secret” is the writer’s term and his term only. The wording of the opening paragraph was not meant to imply otherwise

An Orange County Water District director, infuriated over being misled by OCWD staff and other directors about secretly held and possibly illegal executive committee meetings, plans to speak out at the District’s next board meeting, July 16, the Surf City Voice has learned.

“Since I have been copied with agendas for recent executive committee meetings,” Director Jan Flory told the Voice in a phone interview, “I am very disturbed that they are not copied to the rest of the board before its meeting. The scope of issues it talks about far exceeds what I have been told the Executive Committee deals with.”

The previously secret agendas and other documents were shown to Flory by the Voice, which obtained them through multiple requests under the California Public Records Act.

Flory is one of three appointed OCWD directors on the ten-member governing board. She represents the city of Fullerton and started her term last January. The other seven board members were elected by districts.

Flory said she will ask Fullerton’s city attorney to look into the legality of the Executive Committee’s meetings. Read the full story

Posted in Headlines, OCWD, Poseidon, Water BoardingComments (5)

Water Board’s Penthouse-View Meeting: More transparency please, and save some food for the water buffaloes


By John Earl
Surf City Voice

A “special” meeting of the Board of Directors of the Municipal Water District of Orange County (MWDOC), originally designed by Best Best & Krieger of Irvine– the largest public agency law firm in California – to schmooze its new clients, became a public embarrassment Tuesday when the plush solitude of its penthouse-view executive board room was invaded by a small band of transparency advocates.

MWDOC meetings are normally held on the ground (and only) floor of its home office, humbly but conveniently located next to the County’s sewage treatment plant in Fountain Valley.

Despite the surprise BBK location, in addition to the usual inconvenience of morning meetings that are designed to accommodate MWDOC’s directors, most of whom are retired from professional life, but not the working public, 10 citizens at large—a rare turnout by MWDOC standards—attended, barely fitting into a small setting that clearly wasn’t intended for them.

But that setting was perfect for MWDOC’s seven water buffaloes: a towering view of Irvine’s skyline to be enjoyed with two large bowls of salad, what looked like two large dishes of lasagna, and plenty of chunky chocolate chip cookies, all nicely placed buffet style.

BBK’s recent additions, partner Russell G. Behrens and counsel Daniel J. Payne, both know what six of the seven MWDOC directors like (the seventh, Wayne Osborne, is a new comer) because they worked for them before as part of Kidman Behrens and Tague.

In January they left KBT for BBK and took MWDOC with them, entering into a five month test, according to MWDOC’s General Manager, Kevin Hunt. The purpose of Tuesday’s meeting was for BBK to seduce and corral MWDOC’s water buffaloes, thus sealing the deal.

So BBK’s managing partner, Eric Garner, used his very brief presentation to try to impress the board with the firm’s expertise in public agency law in general and water law in particular.

“When I’m not managing lawyers, I do still practice water law,” Garner cheerfully explained. “It would be a great privilege to work with the district if the opportunity ever arises for the need for my expertise. I can’t imagine ever practicing any water (sic) but water law to me. It is by far the most fascinating, interesting area in the legal world.”

Garner might get that opportunity to use his expertise sooner than he expected; but, judging from the sour look on his face, he wasn’t happy to hear former Huntington Beach mayor Debbie Cook infer that the opportunity would only arrive due to BBK’s incompetence. Read the full story

Posted in Environment, Headlines, MWDOC, Poseidon, Water, Water BoardingComments (2)

Comment: Water Agency Should be More Transparent on Huntington Beach Desal Plant


By Joe Geever
Surf Rider Foundation

Joe Geever is the Water Programs Manager for the Surf Rider Foundation, which works to protect ocean resources. He made these comments at the May 15 meeting of the Board of Directors of the Municipal Water District of Orange County. Originally, the directors had planned to go into closed session to discuss pricing arrangements for water to be delivered from an as yet unpermitted and unfinanced ocean desalination plant proposed by Poseidon Resources Inc. to be built in Huntington Beach, California. The meeting was criticized as a violation of California’s open meetings law, the Brown Act, and postponed until September.

My name is Joe Geever and I’m with the Surf Rider Foundation.

I don’t know if all the board members remember – the staff certainly does – that we actively supported your  desal pilot plant in Doheny. And we did that for two reasons. One, because we thought that research needed to be done to identify what the best intake for minimizing marine life mortality was. But also because of the assurances that staff gave us that this would be a completely open, transparent, public process in everything that went on with that project. And they have kept to that promise.

Now what I read is that this process [for the closed Poseidon meeting] is quite different. It feels as if you’re trying to find what the legal limits are for avoiding public transparency.

I guess I would urge you to lean in the other direction, to be as open and transparent and involve the public as much as possible from the beginning.

In my mind, it’s kind of ironic that you’re waiting to see how things play out with San Diego Count with the water purchase agreement from there because I think that’s the model for how not to do it.

The project proponent [Poseidon Resources] would like to blame all the delays on regulatory processes, when actually that project has been stalled because of information withheld or information that was submitted to regulatory agencies that was later discovered to be false. And all of this was happening behind closed doors. It hasn’t helped them move the project forward and it hasn’t engendered any kinfo of public confidence in the project at all.

You can get attorneys together and argue for minimal transparency and public participation and probably have a lot of legal battles over that. Or, you can lean the other way, toward as much transparency and public participation as possible, like you have in Dana Point, and see where the chips fall. So, I would urge you to lean that way.

 

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Posted in Environment, Headlines, MWDOC, Poseidon, Water, Water BoardingComments (1)

Comment: Former Surf City Mayor says Closed Water Agency Meeting Violates the Brown Act


By Debbie Cook

Environmental attorney Debbie Cook is a former Huntington Beach City Council member and two-term mayor of that city. She served on California’s State Desalination Task Force and as a city official voted against the ocean desalination plant proposed by Poseidon Resources Inc. Cook has been monitoring government transparency at local water districts. She made these public comments at a special meeting held by the Board of Directors of the Municipal Water District of Orange County (MWDOC), May 15, 2012, in the penthouse floor that lodges the offices of MWDOC’s legal counsel, Best Best & Krieger. She addressed the board’s postponement of a closed session item concerning water rate negotiations between MWDOC and Posedion Inc. after receiving protests. Cook explains why that meeting would violate the Brown Act, which requires government agencies to hold meetings open to the public.

There has been an unsettling trend among water agencies to conduct more and more of the people’s business in closed session under the guise of the “real estate negotiations” exception. While you can always pay an attorney to argue any absurd position, I urge you to reconsider such a course.

The Brown Act allows very narrow exceptions to conducting the public’s business in public and the real estate exception is perhaps the most narrowly drawn of all of them.

Poseidon is not selling, nor are you buying, real estate or real property within the meaning of the legislature’s intent. It is a contorted analysis that says otherwise.

Real Property is land and whatever is erected or growing on or affixed to it. But once severed from the land, things that are growing or attached to it are considered “goods.”

There is no “goods” exception to the Brown Act. The legislature never intended for water or mineral rights or crops to be bootstrapped onto the real estate exception. Any contrary interpretation of their intent would swallow the exception. Read the full story

Posted in Environment, Headlines, MWDOC, Poseidon, Water, Water BoardingComments (1)

GM Nixes Secret Desal Talks with Poseidon After Brown Act Complaints


By John Earl
Surf City Voice

Confronted by complaints of illegality, the Municipal Water District of Orange County (MWDOC) dropped a scheduled closed session section of a meeting of its board of directors scheduled for today (May 15) at 11 a.m.

General Manager Kevin Hunt had scheduled the closed session in order to meet with officials of Poseidon Resources Inc., the company that proposes to build the as yet unfinanced and unpermitted $750 million ocean desalination plant that would convert about 100 million gallons of ocean water into 50 million gallons of drinking water every day.

The public meeting will go ahead minus the Poseidon item, but instead of holding session at MWDOC’s regular location in Fountain Valley, the seven board members will meet at the offices of the agency’s new legal team, Best, Best & Krieger (BKK).

Lunch will be served, according to the agenda.

The topic of discussion for the now deleted closed session item, according to the original agenda, was “price and terms of payment” for the water that Poseidon would produce.

California’s open meetings law, the Brown Act, requires that all legislative meetings be open to the public, with certain exceptions like negotiations for the sale or lease of real property. Water rights are treated as real property and Hunt, under advice from BKK, assumes that Poseidon holds water rights for the drinking water it will presumably produce, according to Hunt, a view that is disputed. Read the full story

Posted in Environment, Headlines, MWDOC, Poseidon, Water, Water BoardingComments (4)


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