« Some More IR Photos | Main | Shot in the Coachella Valley: "They Made Me A Criminal" »

March 9, 2020

MSWD Board Meetings February 13 & 18, 2020

Director Grasha was absent from the meeting on Thursday, February 13. No reason for his absence was given during the roll call. During Director's comments, Director Martin asked if anyone had heard from him with a reason for his absence. No one on the board had, but Attorney Pinkney said he had talked to Director Grasha who told him privately why he would be absent. He went on to say that nothing in the communication indicated this would be an excused absence.

After the meeting I saw that Director Grasha had been posting on Facebook, so, since he seemed to be well enough to deal with a keyboard I asked him via Facebook why he had been absent. His response:

I’m not sure I can adequately explain this to meet your expectations but it’s my belief that senior staff at the district including certain members of the board need to be allowed the breathing room necessary so that they can consider the trajectory they are on by removing my presence In hopes that it will relieve the pressure that they must feel by my presents for a few days. I hope this action will help facilitate them having the emotional space needed to adequately address the obvious personnel issues at the district.
WhyGrashaDidNotAttendBoardMeeting

At the meeting on Tuesday, February 18, an email from Mr. Grasha was read out. The message said that he would be absent from this meeting because he would be working with the Trump visit to the valley. However, Mr. Grasha showed up at the board meeting just a few minutes later.

Also at the Tuesday meeting, President Wright announced that Richard Cromwell had passed away the day before. Rather than the usual prayer, she called for a moment of silence for Richard.


Public Input

Russell Betts lectured the board on the purpose of public comments. He said they are for "business before the board, not for people's personal squabbles." He said it was the board's responsibility to police the comments of the public so that only those that deal with water district business are presented. They should not permit political squabbles to be expressed during public comments, he said. He also suggested the board meetings be scheduled at 6 PM rather than 3 PM.

Well, of course, Mr. Betts is waaaaaay off base in his remarks about public comments. For the edification of those who need it, here is the text of the first amendment of the Constitution.

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.

It is not in the government's power nor is it the government's responsibility to tell the public what they may or may not say in their remarks to public officials. Public Comments is the time for elected representatives to Shut Up And Listen for three minutes. It is the public that decides what is said during public comments, not the government. Mr. Betts should know this well because any time the subject comes up at City Council meetings the attorney makes it very clear that the City Council cannot censor what the public says. The Mayor may request a respectful tone, he may ask that no individual council member be the focus of criticism, he may tell the speaker to address him directly rather than the crowd in the room, but those are all mere requests that the members of the public are free to observe or ignore as they see fit.

As requested by Director Martin, Attorney Pinkney had his say on the issue later in the meeting (Mr. Betts didn't wait around to hear this). The Brown Act restricts the board to discussing only the items on the agenda. Members of the public are NOT restricted by the Brown Act. They can raise any issue. The board cannot regulate the content of what the public says. He cited Reed v. Town of Gilbert (a Supreme Court decision from 2014) which had to do with a sign code that had content-based restrictions. That is, sign regulations varied depending on what someone was trying to communicate via the sign. "Almost all the time, the effort by the government to regulate the content is going to be struck down." He also cited a section of the Brown Act: "The legislative body of a local agency shall not prohibit public criticism of the policies, procedures, programs or services of the agency or the acts or omissions of the legislative body." He added that it's most important to protect the public's right to free speech when they are being critical of government. Director Martin brought up the "rules" the city attempts to apply to public comment. I think if he asks he city's attorney about that, she will confirm the rules are mere requests, regardless of what any members of the City Council may think. Attorney Pinkney said that the city of DHS is not alone in what it does, but he considers it a risky path to attempt. President Wright asked if they had to tolerate profanities. The answer was "that's debatable." There is no clear, objective definition of what is profanity.

Anyone who has followed the City Council for a few years will recall that there have been several chronic commenters who criticized individual city council members, and the occasional attempts to rein them in were fruitless.

Members of the public, however, are not permitted to interfere with the progress of the meeting. They can say their three minutes worth, but after that they have to sit down and be quiet.

Philip Bettencourt spoke next. He owns 21 acres at the intersection of Dillon Road and Highway 62. He has been preparing for some development and now he is prepared to deal with MSWD.


District Elections - Public Hearing #2

No member of the public had any comments to make. The board had the demographer come up and repeat his presentation from January. If the process can be completed before June 1 or thereabouts, then it will be in effect for the November 2020 elections. At the next public hearing on this matter we should see proposed maps.


Retaining A Sacramento Lobbyist

General Manager Wallum said that historically the district has not had any representation or involvement in the political process in Sacramento. This statement seems to me to contradict some of what I've learned in MSWD board meetings over the years. I believe MSWD has been involved in Sacramento politics sometimes. For a water district to have NO lobbyist or political involvement in the state capital seems woefully naive to me. Nevertheless, that's what the GM says. But the staff report in the agenda packet says that the contract with Brownstein Hyatt Farber Schreck for governmental services expired in January 2020. This item before the board was to authorize a month-by-month relationship with BHFS at $10,000/month, expiring July 2020.

Approved 4-1, with Director Grasha voting no.


Repair Of The Administration Building Roof

The bid for just roof repair (not repair of any damage to the interior, just strictly the roof) came in at only $72,480 which is considerably less than some of the numbers that had been guesstimated. This item before the board was to augment the capital budget by $105,000 and authorize $91,050 ($72,480 plus a 25% contingency amount) for the roof repair. Staff had requested bids from six different companies. Only two companies submitted bids. The others said the job was too small or they were "just too busy." R & R Roofing & Waterproofing was the low bidder. The other bidder, PuroClean Services, bid $130,682.53.

A bid of less than $60,000 to do interior repairs has been received, but not yet accepted. If the work were to include renovation of a restroom, that bid would rise to a little more than $70,000.

Approved 5-0.


Drywells For Wells 27 And 31

Currently, at wells 27 and 31 any wastewater drains into a detention basin which does not have adequate capacity now. One result of using a detention basin is that vegetation will grow there and that means MSWD has to spend money to control the vegetation. In the long run, drywells make more sense. The low bid for this project came from Weka, Inc., in the amount of $239,891.

Approved 5-0.


District Counsel Comments

The attorney had some reminders based on the recently approved Board Handbook. The meetings are conducted according to Robert's Rules of Order as a guideline. At the Tuesday meeting, a different attorney (I don't know her name) said that the board uses Rosenberg's Rules of Order. The President of the board decides all points of order and is responsible for maintaining order and decorum. No one is allowed to speak who has not first been recognized by the President.

Director Sewell asked about Director Grasha's reference at the prior month's meeting to some litigation concerning the Board Handbook. the attorney said there is no such litigation.


Directors' Comments

Director Martin responded to Mr. Betts' suggestion that board meetings be held at 6 PM. He said the district has had a number of meeting at night and there was "no appreciable difference" in the number of people that came out. There his memory is just wrong. The only evening meetings of the MSWD board that I can recall were public hearings for setting rates and they were very well attended. The usual public attendance at the 3 PM meetings is just one or two people. Sometimes as many as half a dozen might show up for a Monday business meeting. In addition, Mr. Martin cited the cost of overtime for having the staff stick around late into the evening, calling it a waste of money and resources. Somehow that expense was never a consideration at the city which has not until recently been as financially secure as the water district. And the city pays staff overtime not just for the city council meeting, but also for the meetings of its three commissions.

Vice President Duncan asked about the final page of the Board Handbook, where each director was to sign. When was that going to be made available for signatures? The reply was that the handbook, having been approved by the board, is in full effect whether they do the signature page or not.

Filed under Coachella Valley,Desert Hot Springs,Politics | permalink | March 9, 2020 at 06:59 PM

Comments

And, as the attorney explained, it is not within the power of the board to restrict what the public says during public input. The public is free to carry on personal squabbles or to speak on items that are not strictly "business before the board" without enduring correction, interruption or harassment from the board. Your opinion is not consistent with the law.

Posted by: Ron Gilbert at Mar 23, 2020 7:48:37 PM

Ron, That is not a fair or accurate representation of what I said during my public comments. I said the public speaker podium is for business before the Board and not the place carry on personal public squabbles. I encouraged the Board to say when someone steps up to the podium it is for district business and not some past or present personal political squabble.

You are really good at transcribing. It would be wonderful if you would post an exact transcript of my public comment.

Posted by: Russ Betts at Mar 12, 2020 7:25:50 PM

Post a comment

If you have a TypeKey or TypePad account, please Sign In