To the Editor: Challenges city attorney on GA

The article entitled “What’s the big hurry?” in the March 3 Daily Independent containing the Ridgecrest city attorney’s opinion regarding the proposed Groundwater Sustainability Agency bylaws should have been in the opinion section of the paper. The city attorney is certainly entitled to his opinion, but the DI should not print opinion as fact. Mr. Lemieux claims that quick passage of the bylaws would 1) allow for greater public input, and 2) obtain funding to prepare and implement a plan.

Let’s look at the facts. The original schedule had the bylaws being approved in October 2016. Initially there was little open discussion of the bylaws. There was no open discussion regarding agency -driven PAC or TAC requirements. Initial draft bylaws were presented at the November 2016 board meeting.

Also at the November 2016 meeting, an ad hoc committee was formed to resolve issues and expedite the bylaws. Specific issues needing resolution were never specified. Feedback from the attorneys supporting the ad hoc committee simply indicated that they were negotiating and making necessary concessions between the member Aagencies. In short, only the insiders knew what went on.

The city of Ridgecrest, during its second-quarter financial review, announced a legal expenditure variance of $180 thousand. The city’s January and February legal expenditures are unknown, and the city has yet to discuss how to get legal expenses under control.

OK, now comes either a giant figure riding a big white stallion or possibly a small, meek-looking man barely able to carry a stone tablet presenting the best and final document to the board. The document is now back out from the dark side and into the light of day.

The PAC structure is different from the original draft, and the TAC membership information is deleted. The purpose for the PAC and TAC changes, what agency drove what changes, or what agency made what concessions are not revealed.

The new bylaws indicate that one or two member agencies of the GSA are demanding seats on the PAC. The PAC is the advisory group to the board. Any practice of board members on the PAC influencing or manipulating the PAC on how the PAC should advise the board is convoluted at best and really just plain nonsense.

Also the bylaws indicate that the most childish offenders appear to be the IWV Water District with the county being a close second. Unfortunately, the remaining agencies’ attempts to be above the fray are not beneficial for the public. Their concessions could hurt us all. It is now becoming painfully obvious that the ad hoc committee was nothing more that a ruse to get the discussion behind closed doors to avoid public exposure and ridicule.

Now let’s get back to Lemieux’s claims. If the board were honestly interested in public input, the members would not have put the discussion behind closed doors in the first place. If they were honestly interested in saving time or money, they would not have three attorneys arguing behind closed doors. The attorneys may be the only beneficiaries of the ad hoc committee.

Water district or county membership on the PAC will continue to cause Brown Act and ethical issues. The simple solution is to get all board members and their staff entirely off the PAC. If the board had forced the various agencies to negotiate in front of the public, we would be far ahead in time saved and money saved.

The business of the people should be performed in front of the people. In fact, that is the whole purpose of the Ralph M. Brown Act. What the board has done may not technically be a violation of the Brown Act, but it certainly accomplished exactly what the Brown Act tries to guard against. The board needs to be reminded from time to time whom they represent.

I do want to thank Councilmembers Martin, Stephens and Thomas for providing a voice for the people and providing some sanity into an otherwise out-of-control process. Their efforts will greatly aid our valley in establishing a fair and equitable implementation of SGMA law.

Stan Rajtora

Story First Published: 2017-03-10