“Democracy must be built through open societies that share information. When there is information, there is enlightenment. When there is debate, there are solutions. When there is no sharing of power, no rule of law, no accountability, there is abuse, corruption, subjugation and indignation.”
We have citizens seeking more information on law enforcement officers because of police abuse. They are seeking more transparency from our technology businesses like Facebook and Twitter because of bullying and hate speech on the internet; more information from our banks because of fraudulent fees being charged to customers; more information from the American president because of private meetings with dictators; and more information from local governments who make private deals with developers.
The thirst of local citizens for transparency however, does not end there. Citizens want and are entitled to more information from our own water district for hiring employees without posting the jobs, giving out bids to friends and for charging alcoholic beverages on their expense reports.
If that was not enough, the West Valley Water District Board of Directors (WVWD BOD) also changes meeting times frequently. They delay the preparation and publication of meeting minutes or record no minutes at all of committee meetings. They give out reports of agenda items only at the meetings with little or no discussion of business during the meetings, that tend to last an average of about twenty minutes.
In addition, the WVWD BOD gave a verbal report on only half the information related to board compensation, but nothing related to retirement benefits for health care and Long-Term Care for board members which many believe amounts to a gift of public funds to the board and its family members after serving only 12 years as an elected official.
Members of the public have been berated when they speak. Once, a board went so far as to claim a member of the public had entered his neighborhood and started a fire.
The board appears to make up rules as it goes along. For example, there was a move to take five million dollars to cover the costs of employee insurance when it was not on the public agenda. This was a clear violation of the Brown Act.
The BOD has even called the police and claimed those in attendance at a meeting were behaving “unruly.” This was an obvious attempt to intimidate and bully the public.
In addition, employees appear to be fired for unjust reasons only to have their cases against the WVWD settled for thousands of dollars plus attorney fees. These costs, in addition to the fees accrued by the BOD’S outside legal counsel are all paid at the expense of the ratepayers. To avoid transparency, the names of individuals involved in these cases are purposely removed from closed session agendas, so the public will not know who had or has a claim against the district.
The WVWD has done all these things and more in the past seven months and yet, it still wants the public to trust it. This kind of behavior from our public officials, makes trusting hard to do.