Thanks for joining me!
Good company in a journey makes the way seem shorter. — Izaak Walton
When I first arrived in Oregon House in 2017, I was drawn into the irrigation water world when, for no reason, North Yuba Water District (NYWD) refused to release irrigation water in the 2018 irrigation season. My education in all things NYWD began through acquaintanceship with long-time residents in the community including customers, annexed taxpayers, and former directors of the NYWD, and through my own extensive research. As a research scientist – research is what I do and it is second nature to me. Therefore, I read and researched everything I could find regarding the formation of NYWD, its assets, relationships, and most importantly – its permits.
I made use of the EWRIMS reporting system and downloaded copies of the NYWD permits and reports on water usage. I also read and researched the 1959 and 2005 agreements that NYWD maintained with South Feather Water and Power Agency (SFWPA) – NYWD’s partner in revenues from hydropower generation. I was astonished to learn that SFWPA and NYWD share the main water conveyance for our local area – the Forbestown Ditch (FTD).
Over the ensuing months a story formed – that was oft repeated in board meetings that I attended as a member of the public and later as a Director on the board. This story went something like this and should be very familiar:
THE THREE TIERS
If NYWD wishes to use any of the “Tier 2 or Tier 3” water – NYWD has to compensate SFWPA for the loss of hydropower generation revenues. Tier 1 – the 3,700 AF – is “free” in that we do not have to pay SFWPA for using that water.
However, I did not have a thorough understanding of the permits and the consequences of the 2005 agreement until I went in person to Sacramento and met with California State Water Resources Control Board (WRCB). It was an eye-opener to say the least. Here is what I learned:
(SF14 is the diversion point where water is diverted into either the FTD or the penstock of the Woodleaf Power Tunnel. To view the maps of the NYWD and [part of the] SFWPA systems you can go here:).
We are authorized to take 23,700 AF – for free – as granted by the State of California. Currently, as a result of the 2005 agreement, we are only allowed 3,700 AF of “free” water – the rest of the water (20,000 AF) is used for hydropower generation and a water sale to Yuba City. After our remaining 20,000 AF of water goes through the hydropower system to generate hydropower (and thus revenues), NYWD sells between 4,500 – 10,000 AF of our water to Yuba City. The profits from the water sale are split with SFWPA as we are using their conveyances to get the water to Lake Oroville for the sale.
None of the water used for hydropower generation or for the Yuba City water sale is considered beneficial use by the WRCB. As a result, NYWD stands to lose that 20,000 AF of water permanently.
So in essence, when NYWD entered into the 2005 agreement, they gave away our most valuable asset – our water.
The officials who agreed to the 2005 agreement, were blinded by the short-term dollar signs dancing in front of their eyes – NYWD receives approximately $190,000.00 per year for the water sale to Yuba City. Per the 2005 agreement – NYWD also receives 50% of the revenues from hydropower generation after expenses. I am sure that looked like a bunch of money. However, what this really was – was short-sightedness and throwing out the baby with the bath water.
WHY? Because water sales and hydropower generation are not beneficial uses. Over the last (approximately) 10 years, 20,000 AF of the 23,700 AF that NYWD is entitled to use, has not gone to beneficial use. This means that we have a record of not using our water as dictated by the State of California and therefore NYWD stands to lose the entire 20,000 acre feet when the State examines our reports at the end of the licensing process – which will occur no later than 2040.
NYWD did NOT place their most important duty as their highest priority: safeguarding NYWD’s primary asset – (the true gold treasure NYWD possesses) – our water rights to 23,700 AF. Instead, NYWD placed short-term financial gain as their highest priority and did not look forward to the consequences that decision would have on the future of NYWD’s water rights and the fate of NYWD’s customers, rate payers, and tax payers.
One very unpleasant surprise I learned, was that NYWD received no monies from hydropower generation in 2019 and that NYWD would receive no revenues from power generation in 2020 either. This is largely due to the power outages that are now routine in our area, as well as the increase in solar and wind energy production. SFWPA is uncertain whether enough hydropower revenues will be generated in the future to provide any profits to both agencies.
Despite the fact that the NYWD General Manager was informed that NYWD would not receive any revenues in 2019 or 2020 when he “prepared” the 2019-2020 “budget” – he withheld this information from both the public and this Director. (I do not know if he informed the other Four Directors).
The trade of water rights for financial gains would not last more than a few years, as no revenues are coming in from hydropower generation at this time. Thus, NYWD traded their water rights for short-term financial gains. NYWD traded their real gold treasure for lead.
NYWD has ensured that we will lose our rights to at least 20,000 AF of water by 2040 by selling it to make money from non-beneficial uses. By 2040, NYWD will not have any water to sell to Yuba City, nor will we have any water to generate revenues through hydropower generation. NYWD made a trade – short-term financial gain in exchange for the permanent loss of our water to future generations.
SFWPA has attempted to invite NYWD to the table to talk. However, the NYWD GM has not brought the invitations to the Board and the Four Directors are not interested in meeting with SFWPA. I AM. I am very interested in sitting down with SFWPA. Our two agencies have a great deal to discuss and SFWPA is open to having those discussions. Director Gary Hawthorne does not want to sit down with SFWPA. In his words: “We will lose – what do we want to lose?”
I disagree – contracts are meant to be re-negotiated – and they can be – if the right people are at the table. You don’t walk into a negotiation pre-determining that you will lose. In addition, from having attended multiple SFWPA board meetings, I am aware that SFWPA is looking to make some big changes that fully align with the goals of the NYWD customers, taxpayers, and rate payers.
One thing I do know – SFWPA takes very good care of their customers – and treat their customers with the utmost respect and care. The GM, SFWPA management staff, attorney, and the SFWPA board directors answer any and all questions from the public at board meetings – even public that are not part of SFWPA! and they actually listen to the public and honor their requests.
You can watch a video and listen to an audio of the February 2020 NYWD Board meeting. The video ran out at approximately 1.5 hours in; so to hear the entire discussion (it is a long one) you need to watch the video and listen to the audio. You can advance the audio to the point where the video quit. You may use the links at the end of this blog post.
In the meantime, in the words of Director Doug Neilson at the February 27, 2020 NYWD Board Meeting: “I am fine with the 2005 agreement” (aka. 3,700 AF). WHY? Why is he fine with permanently losing 20,000 AF of water?
Listen to it with your own ears:
Since being elected on Nov. 6, 2018, the Four Male Directors and the GM have made it clear that they have no intention of working with me. Further, it has become clear over the ensuing months, that the GM and the Four Culpable Directors have withheld a great deal of information from me and continue to do so. When outgoing Board President, Donald Forguson exclaimed “We have things in the works” during the November 30, 2018 meeting, many of us in the public were puzzled by the vague, nuanced comment. What was he talking about?
I have chronicled many of my difficulties in getting information from the GM in my blog and on posts through social media. GM Maupin does not respond to my emails and has not since February 2019. He refuses to answer questions during Board meetings and the Four Directors back up his refusal to answer questions in a public setting. In fact, the GM states emphatically that no one is allowed to ask questions and that the Directors are not allowed to answer questions either.
In fact, the only method by which I can obtain information is through filing a California Public Records Act (CRPA) request. Filing a CPRA is the only route to potentially getting answers to my questions and those answers are prepared and delivered by the NYWD attorney. I assume GM Maupin is feeding the “answers” to Churchwell White’s Barbara Brenner.
Rarely, do I actually receive information. The typical response to my CPRAs is: 1. Stall the request for 14 days; 2. Deliberately misunderstand my request and respond to a request I did not actually make; 3. Stall for an additional 30 days; 4. Finally, convey that the District does not retain the requested records. This is the typical order of responses; although in one case a response was stalled repeatedly for six months.
I obtain more information about NYWD and the agency’s “things in the works” from other agencies.
Here is an example: I made an identical request of Yuba Water Agency (YWA) and NYWD on June 6, 2019. I requested: ” Please provide me access to and copies of all communications and notes regarding communications between YWA and NYWD, relative to funding or potential funding for the Forbestown Ditch project planned to be undertaken by NYWD. This includes all communications whether that communication occurred via telephone, email or snail mail and meeting notes taken during communications. I am requesting this to cover April 2016 up to the present day. This would include any and all communications (including written letters delivered as either attachments to emails or via snail mail) signed by Donald Forguson, Eric Hansard and/or Jeff Maupin or anyone else representing or saying they represent NYWD and/or its board of directors.“
I received a response from YWA consisting of 55 pages of records. I should have received identical records from NYWD as it was an identical request and both parties should have identical records regarding their mutual communications. I did not. I received 29 pages of records from NYWD, much of which was redacted and none of which matched what YWA provided. (None of YWA’s records contained redactions).
In April 2019, one topic Former Director Ferguson must have been alluding to at the Nov. 30, 2018 board meeting (“we have things in the works“) was finally made public. I learned that GM Maupin had demanded an audit of South Feather Water and Power Agency’s (SFWPA) books. I also learned that YWA was somehow connected to it. The big questions were HOW? and WHY?
On April 8, 2019, Rath Moseley, GM of SFWPA wrote to GM Maupin and the entire NYWD board asking for verification that a Dr. Lon House had been hired by NYWD to conduct an audit of SFWPA finances. Mr. Moseley had received an email from Dr. House demanding certain records including copies of all timesheets from SFWPA containing time billed to the Joint Facilities Operation Fund (JFOF) from which our two agencies’ mutual costs were paid.
I was astonished. How could a GM unilaterally and without direction from the Board, simply demand an audit of our business partner’s financial records? AND WHY would he do this? I immediately sent an email to GM Maupin and the NYWD attorney demanding an explanation for this action.
Receiving no response as usual, I filed a CPRA and demanded, among other things:
I also conducted a search to determine who Dr. Lon House is and what his qualifications were to conduct an audit. Dr. House is not qualified to conduct an audit. He is not an accountant nor a CPA. Dr. House is a corporate lobbyist specializing in Water and Energy. He primarily works for the California Rural Water Association and Yuba Water Agency and has a degree in water and energy. https://www.waterandenergyconsulting.com/
On a side note: SFWPA did as requested and made copies of all timesheets going back to 2010 – almost 10 years’ worth of timesheets. SFWPA had those ready within three weeks of the request that had been sent in early April 2019 by Dr. House. NYWD paid for this to the tune of $2,025.00 (it is in the bills-paid board packet dated October 24, 2019). Mysteriously, those copied timesheets sat in the SFWPA office for four months and were never picked up by Dr. Lon House. Apparently GM Maupin finally picked them up but those timesheets were never examined by Dr. House.
I do not support an audit of SFWPA. I do not support hiring a lobbyist to do the work of a CPA. I do not support taking such a hostile stand with our business partner. I support none of this and am shocked, dismayed, and troubled by this entire charade.
Of particular note: Within the records YWA sent me on June 6, 2019 (provided above in this blog) was an agenda containing mention of an April 2, 2018 meeting between YWA and NYWD wherein YWA and NYWD discussed a demand to audit SFWPA books as YWA committed to providing: “funding or an auditor for NYWD to audit the South Feather payment to NYWD.”
This communication and notes of this discussion were not provided by NYWD.
You can read through the chronology I have provided above as a flipbook or you can download the public records using the link I have also provided.
I will summarize the documents here: the NYWD attorney was unable to provide records of any board discussion or decision to direct GM Maupin to demand an audit of SFWPA, despite Director Gary Hawthorn informing me that “we approved this prior to your arrival on the board“. Nor did she produce the document provided by YWA wherein an audit was apparently discussed between YWA and at least the NYWD GM in April 2018.
There is no public record of any discussion of an audit, the need for an audit, who originated the idea of an audit, nor any resolution conceived of, passed and/or signed by any NYWD board directing GM Maupin to demand an audit. The public was not made aware of nor involved in any aspect of this action.
According to NYWD attorney, Barbara Brenner: “..the District has determined that it has no records responsive …. Contracting an auditor is a discretionary decision within the General Manager’s authority“. I filed a new CPRA requesting all resolutions and discussions that gave GM Maupin the “discretionary authority” to contract an auditor without the Boards’ direction and involvement. Ms. Brenner ultimately sent me two documents that had nothing whatsoever to do with what I requested. She sent me her legal firm’s contract with NYWD and a copy of the 2005 agreement between NYWD and SFWPA. Neither document has any bearing on the GM’s authority to hire an auditor and demand an audit of our business partner without the involvement and direction of the NYWD board.
The only way that Numbers 1 and 2 above can both be true, is if the current Four Culpable Directors and the GM are conducting the Board’s business behind closed doors.
What else is happening behind closed doors? What else do I not know about?
Budget: an estimate of income and expenditure for a set period of time. To my way of thinking, a budget is established and maintained by first determining how much money you know you will have, allocating that known quantity of money to various categories, and then tracking to ensure that your expenditures stay within those limits.
In my view – and admittedly – I am somewhat fiscally conservative – you do not go outside the budget once you have established the categories and the amounts allocated to each. You always allocate an “emergency” fund category for when things don’t go as planned – but that is part of your budget.
The very definition of fiduciary irresponsibility – is setting a budget based on:
1. How much you spent last year; or
2. How much you think (hope, pray, imagine, etc.) you will get this year.
The June 2019 NYWD board packet was sent to me via email on June 24, 2019 in anticipation of the June 27, 2019 NYWD Board Meeting. The agenda contained an item to approve the budget for the fiscal year 2019-2020. Apparently the expectation was that the board had three and a half days to review the document and were to then vote on approving it.
This was sent seven days before the end of the fiscal year. Why was this being introduced so late in the fiscal year which starts July 1 and ends June 30?
Where was the opportunity for revising this proposed budget?
The budget had never been discussed previously. The budget sent to me June 24, 2019 was not made available to the public via the website as I have repeatedly requested. The budget needed to be printed out on 11 X 17 size paper in order to even make it legible.
I reviewed the budget and came to the June 27, 2019 meeting prepared with questions. I also printed a number of copies for the public who would most likely be seeing this budget for the first time.
NYWD funds belong to the People and as a Director, one of my primary responsibilities is fiduciary responsibility.
The video above is 18 minutes long – that is exactly the length of time the Board took to “review”, “evaluate” and vote to approve this almost $2M budget. I voted “No”.
Questions I was able to ask:
Responses I received:
Most disturbing to me, is the absence of reasonable precautions. Here is the approximate amount of money NYWD KNOWS it will have each year:
Grand Total NYWD Can Count on Each Year = $1,209,000.00
Total Budget Approved by the Four Culpable Directors for 2091/2020: $1.74M.
Total Potential Deficit: $531,000.00
NYWD is counting on money from Power Revenues from SFWPA. There is NO WAY to know there will actually be any revenues.
October 24, 2019: NYWD Board of Four Culpable Directors votes to award $40,000.00 to a PR firm. This was not in the budget. When I objected, GM Maupin exclaimed: “We have $5M in the bank!“
Time flies- no joke there. The difficulty? writing blogs that are not Debbie-downers. How do you put positive spins on things over and over again? I’ll cogitate on that and let you know if I have an epiphany.
Thus far, I have attended seven NYWD Board meetings. There was no meeting in May – allegedly because there wasn’t a quorum of directors – although, we don’t know that for sure as the meeting was cancelled and apparently we just have to take the GM’s word for it. Normally, you meet, take roll call, and when it is apparent there is no quorum, the meeting is dismissed. That way the public gets to assure themselves that there was no quorum. That is called “being transparent”. Transparency is not what NYWD is about.
In the last seven months, I have done the following, although this is only a partial list:
The response by the Four Male Directors to each request or suggestion, was to stare at the ceiling or the conference table as I made these suggestions and/or requests and sit mute. They said not one word. As a unit – they have agreed to pretend I do not exist and to ignore everything I say, or suggest. As Director Gary Hawthorne stated to me on the phone when I called him after winning the election: ” I will NEVER align with you – I will never be seen to be aligned with you. Do not call me.”
Not one item on that list was acted on and little to none of the information I have requested has been provided.
The Four Directors and their Dear Leader, GM Maupin, have formed a more perfect union and now simply steamroll through whatever the GM puts on the table. For example, at the March 2019 board meeting, I requested to have the “Setting the Agenda Policy” on the agenda for the next month’s meeting. I hoped that we could revise the policy to ensure the public and the board members had an opportunity to get items on an agenda.
Currently, there is no way for a member of the public to get an item on the agenda and it is even difficult for a board member to get an item on the agenda. The GM sets the agenda and freely places items on the agenda that HE wants to be taken up by the Board. So for all intents and purposes, the agenda is set by the GM with little to no oversight or input from the board. (In fact, after Maupin had created and placed two resolutions on the agenda for a VOTE – not a discussion item – I wrote and presented a resolution to prohibit the GM from doing this and restricting the conception and direction of writing up resolutions to the authority of the Board. Of course- my presentation and request was ignored.)
The Four Directors ignored and rejected my request to put the “Setting the Agenda” policy on the next month’s agenda. It was therefore quite striking when – not five minutes after rejecting my proposal – Director Doug Neilson proposed to put the “Setting the Agenda” policy on the April agenda to incorporate a revision that would restrict Director’s input to three minutes only and would prohibit a Board Director from handing out any written materials. You can check this out for yourself by watching Minutes 43:05 through 55:00 on the video of the NYWD Board Meeting for March 28, 2019. https://she-persisted.life/critics-corner-you-are-invited-to-view-the-board-meeting-videos-for-yourself/
This was their answer to putting a muzzle on me and to prevent me from handing out written materials – which I had been doing. I had been providing information to the public at the meetings, as well as to the board. So now, I hand out my information before the meetings, along with the board packets I print and provide to the public. I don’t give the information to the Board.
UPDATE: (September 26, 2019). Having decided that restricting directors to three minutes during Director’s Input wasn’t enough of a restriction – during the September meeting, at Terry Brown’s suggestion, the Board voted to restrict Director’s comments, discussion and questions on everything to three minutes. See the video here: https://she-persisted.life/critics-corner-you-are-invited-to-view-the-board-meeting-videos-for-yourself/
That brings us loosely up to the present. Last week, Yuba Water Agency (YWA) put out an agenda for a committee meeting that included discussion of approving a grant for NYWD for almost a quarter of a million dollars for the the engineering plans for the Forbestown Ditch.
I knew nothing of this and wrote a letter to YWA and NYWD asking what this was all about. NYWD already has a $500,000 grant to pay for these so far- imaginary engineering plans. How could they need MORE money? Why wasn’t this presented to the Board and the public first?
This an overstep of the GM’s authority, going around the board and behind the public’s back. My letter and a social media blitz resulted in the withdrawal of the item from YWA’s agenda. But then yesterday morning (August 12, 2019) I received an email from NYWD announcing a “Special Meeting” for this morning. The subject? Yet another self-authored resolution by the GM to give himself complete authority with no oversight from the board to pursue whatever financing he wishes using whatever means he wishes.
This was an admission of guilt and a frantic CYA effort on his behalf and – predictably – a CYA effort that the Four Directors would enthusiastically approve.
This GM is currently under investigation by the California Water Resources Board for potential fraud in the application relative to the $500,000.00 grant NYWD received in 2017. Why would any board decide at this time, to give the GM carte blanche?
Further, this urgency by the GM to write this resolution and call a special meeting (which should be reserved for urgent matters) to get it approved- only proves that what he did was likely illegal. His action- and the action of the Four Directors today- are an admission of guilt. This is what people do when they are trying to cover their a#! after the fact.
I spoke out against yet another resolution authored by the GM (not the board), his calling a Special Meeting that was not ugent, and the subject of the resolution.
The Four Directors waxed fondly about what a great job the GM is doing, thanked him for all that he has done for NYWD, and of course approved the resolution.
Sexual discrimination is alive and well.
I spoke at the end of the meeting and brought up three items. First, I presented the summary results of the informal survey I ran on social media (https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/D55JYX6) that showed two things: 1) to achieve greater public participation in surveys, multiple methods of outreach are needed (relying solely on social media will not work) and 2) the public (78%) is extremely unhappy and dissatisfied with NYWD on all counts (transparency, accountability, performance, communication, service, and respect). Again, I suggested an ad hoc committee to work on concrete approaches to these problems, to no avail.
Secondly, I presented snowpack data obtained from a 30-year resident of Challenge who has made a lifelong hobby of recording all data every day for the last 30 years. She has also tracked the release of irrigation water daily. According to her meticulously documented data, there has never been a substantial snowpack in Challenge in the last 30 years and – with the exception of the two drought years – irrigation water was always provided – except in 2018 which was not a drought year.
Third, I presented information on a rogue website that had appropriated NYWD web pages as their own and was presenting NYWD as if it is part of the rogue operation. In particular, NYWD directors appear on their page as Directors, as though we are Directors of that rogue organization.
Further and much more disturbing, this same rogue organization sent out a letter the first week of January 2019 to domestic customers only. How did this rogue organization obtain this confidential information? Only three people have access to that information – the GM and the two folks who work in the office. This letter was extremely divisive and filled with untruths. Could the sending of such a letter using illegally obtained confidential customer information be a federal crime? The letters were sent via the USPS – a federal agency – which could potentially place that under federal jurisdiction. Certainly the leaking of confidential customer data is of utmost concern.
Also disturbing was the lack of concern over the potential crimes that had been committed – not even NYWD legal counsel appeared concerned and did not ask for details which I had to give her. Someone leaked highly confidential customer data. Someone is fraudulently misrepresenting NYWD directors. No concern was expressed and no action was proposed. Meh?
In fact, one director used my brief report to state that they (NYWD) often had people going around misrepresenting the District. To my knowledge that is not true and further, the issue at hand is potential fraud and a potential crime that may veer off into federal territory. Meh.
Northstar, a consultant previously hired to apply for granting opportunities (in addition to other services) on behalf of NYWD spoke briefly giving the Board kudos for the recently-awarded $75,000.00 grant. This grant was actually not the result of solo efforts on the part of either the consultant or NYWD. This grant was the result of joint efforts by NYWD AND a group of private citizens who took it upon themselves to meet with Congressman John Garamendi to ask for his help when he gave a townhall in Marysville.
Congressman Garamendi responded to the request by the citizens’ group by directing his staff in Washington to reach out to the citizens group, which the (Garrick) did. The citizens group then put this representative in touch with the GM of NYWD. I was one of those private citizens. What is puzzling is NYWD’s continuing refusal to acknowledge the efforts of the grass roots citizens’ group that started the ball rolling on this.
NYWD would have gained far more positive public relation points had the press release, and subsequent newspaper articles, told the more powerful, complete story of partnering with the public and how it all got the job done. Instead, NYWD choose to pat themselves on the back, not acknowledging the community’s effort, and may have created more ill will in the long run. NYWD needs to step back and look at positive image-making activities under new optics and new perspectives. We need to show more often how we partner with and serve the public, instead of being perceived as at odds with them.
Following the consultant came the GM’s report which was very brief. According to the GM, Sections 1, 2, and 3 of the Oregon House Dobbins Canal (OHDC) had been groomed in anticipation of the start of irrigation season. From the GM: “Start the season and run it until it runs out.”
The question in my mind was – “until what runs dry?” Recall – we have two different sources for our irrigation water – French Dry Creek during the early part of the season and then we have our water from Little Grass Valley Reservoir delivered via the Forbestown Ditch. See: https://she-persisted.life/nywd-irrigation-water/
Director Hawthorne spoke and made the following suggestions:
I had heard some of these suggestions at the Nov. 30, 2018 meeting and had been heartened by them – these were pretty much my campaign talking points! I had asked for a copy of the list he had handed out at the Nov. 30th meeting and so far, my request had been ignored. Here was the list again! I spoke up and requested that we have an ad hoc committee composed of Director Hawthorn and myself to work on producing recommendations for approaches pursuant to these suggestions.
Director Hawthorn responded by refusing the idea of any committees at all. He went even further, stating that directors did not even telephone each other, so as to avoid potential violations of the Brown Act. Ad hoc and standing committees are completely legal in terms of the Brown Act.
Brown Act §54952(b): Advisory committee comprised of two city council members for the purpose of producing a report in six months on downtown traffic congestion: This committee is an exempt advisory committee because it is comprised solely of less than a quorum of the members of the city council. It is not a standing committee because it is charged with accomplishing a specific task in a short period of time, i.e., it is a limited term ad hoc committee.
In fact, how can any agency get anything done without committees? For example, other water agencies have a Bill-paying Committee composed of Board members and the public, which ensures that the agency is meeting their fiduciary responsibilities and that the agency is transparent and accountable to the public particularly with regards to the public’s money.
NYWD Board meetings average 27 minutes in duration. One of the ways they have achieved short meetings is by lumping together “routine” items that need Board approval. The items that are routinely lumped together for a mass Board approval under the Approval of Consent Items are the bills, payroll, and minutes for the previous meetings. The actual items and the details of those items are not reviewed during the meeting – the assumption being that all of those details should have been reviewed by all concerned parties prior to coming to the meeting.
The sequence of events literally follows this pattern: Board President: “Can I have a motion to approve Consent Items 1 – 4 (or however many items there are)?” A Board member will then make that motion, another will second it, and the Board President calls for a vote. As long as three of the board vote “Yay” all items are concurrently approved. Done.
On January 31, 2019, the public was sent from the room at approximately 4:15 pm due to the closed session the GM had scheduled smack in the middle of the meeting.
One oddity, I would like to note here: as the public was leaving the room and before the Closed Session was called to order, the GM demanded each board member’s cell phone citing them as possible “recording devices”. This has never been done previously and To my knowledge, there is no written, codified policy requiring board members to hand over cell phone devices prior to closed sessions.
The public was allowed back into the board room following the Closed Session. Next on the agenda was the Approval of Consent Items. One of the Board members requested that approval of the minutes of the previous meeting be held out separate as he had to abstain on voting due to his absence at the previous meeting. So there was a separate vote for that one item.
I voted nay on approving the minutes because the meeting minutes relative to the seven-minute harangue against me delivered by former President Ferguson was simply reported as ” Director Forguson addressed the Board with his fairwell comments” (typo is not mine).
The Financial Reports were briefly reviewed and then came the second oddity on the agenda: Resolution 19-729. For a Resolution to even be placed on an agenda, the Board must have previously met and discussed such a Resolution and the public would have to be given an opportunity for input. The Board would then make the motions and approve the writing of a resolution which would be reviewed at a later date and placed on an agenda for a vote.
The results of the election were not certified until November 28th; therefore, there would have been no reason to “express appreciation” to Former Director Forguson prior to Nov. 28th. I attended the Board meeting of Nov 30th. (see https://she-persisted.life/2019/01/15/radio-silence/
There was no discussion of a possible resolution at the Nov. 30th meeting and there was no board meeting in December. Therefore – who wrote this Resolution and who ensured that it was placed on the agenda?
Donna Corson spoke up when the resolution was brought up. She stated that this resolution had not been introduced in accordance with the Brown Act. Before any further discussion occurred, VP Brown spoke. The gist of his message was that he felt all previous directors should be shown appreciation and that any expressions of such appreciation should be made retroactive to past Board members. The resolution on the agenda was tabled. The Board passed a motion to create a Resolution to express appreciation to all previously serving Directors which I wholeheartedly supported.
Stay tuned for Part III!
No meeting was scheduled for December, but in late December the NYWD website advertised that the next board meeting would be held January 31, 2019. I received no email notification or phone call – I – like the public – found out by checking the website which I do on a daily basis.
I and some constituents noted that the date was not the fourth Thursday of the month which is the established date for board meetings, it was set for the fifth Thursday of the month. (We don’t often have five Thursdays in a month – so it was a standout.) It didn’t matter – the date was advertised in late December providing plenty of time for Board Directors and the public to make their plans and prepare.
Throughout the entire month of January, the date advertised on the website never changed and I even received an email from the GM stating that the Personnel Policy he had so far been refusing to provide to me, would be included in my board packet to be delivered January 25th in preparation for the January 31st meeting. I received this email from the GM on the 16th of January.
It was therefore odd that two days later on January 18th, I received an email announcing that the January 24th meeting had been cancelled. How can a meeting be cancelled for a date that had never been calendared? Further, the Regular Board Meeting that had been scheduled for January 31 since late December had been re-christened a “Special Meeting”.
The real life consequence of calling a meeting a “Special Meeting” is that the agenda and board packets are not required to be made public until 24 hours prior to the meeting. Regular meetings require a 72-hour advance notification. When I received the agenda, I observed that a Closed Session had been scheduled smack in the middle of the meeting. That made no sense to me; it is winter – why would a Closed Session be scheduled requiring the public to stay outside in the cold to wait for the meeting to resume?
I wrote to the GM and requested an explanation for the odd email and the change from a regular meeting to a “Special” meeting. I never received a response.
I arrived early for the meeting on January 31st and sat in my car for most of that time. Per the Brown Act – a gathering of a quorum (three or more) of the Directors is a violation of the Brown Act. Likewise, if Directors were to go in to confer with the GM prior to the meeting, that would also be a Brown Act violation as it would constitute a “Serial Meeting”, even if directors go in one or two at a time. I ensured that I did not conduct myself this way.
The meeting got under way at 4:02 pm. In my own experience attending these meetings for the last nine months – the average duration of each meeting was 27 minutes. If you ever attend other water districts’ meetings you would have a very different experience – for example, the last meeting I attended at South Feather Water and Power Agency lasted five hours. Granted, they are a much larger agency with much more business to attend to, but it is clear that they take the business seriously and also provide open opportunities for public input throughout every aspect of their meeting.
The Pledge of Allegiance was called followed by the Public Input session. This is where the public can speak on unagendized items that are of concern to them. Clarence Weckman spoke, going over his allotted three minutes, and seemed to be angry about a grass roots organization that had been instrumental in preventing a previous rate hike. I was unclear of the relevance of his comments.
Donna Corson spoke providing copies of four letters to the board and asking that the letters be entered into the minutes. The letters and points she brought up: 1. Thanking Congressman John Garamendi for being instrumental in getting our district a $75K grant; 2. Filing a formal complaint about Former Director Forguson’s behavior at the Nov. 30th meeting, noting that the Board did not stop it, and asking what actions are being taken to discipline and/or correct this? She further pointed out the inappropriateness of a Resolution to thank a Director who had behaved in such a manner and called for a public apology within 30 days; 3. Requested that all NYWD board packets be provided electronically to the public and/or placed on the website for downloading; 4. Requested that the public and Board personally review the engineering plans before they are sent to other agencies and requested an answer as to why the Board has not seen the engineering plans at all.
Another member of the public wished to speak and was told that they could not speak unless they had filled out a Speaker Request Form. Public Input lasted less than seven minutes as no other people were allowed to speak as they hadn’t previously filled out Speaker Request Forms.
Apparently – there is a policy around this which is now electronically available on the NYWD website and which I have provided below. On Page 5 Section 6.9 Public Participation: “Any person desiring to address the Board should present a Request to Speak Card to the Secretary prior to the agenda item on which the person wishes to speak.”
This language is unclear and confusing; based on my interpretation, each person would have to fill out a form for each agenda item for which they wish to speak. So assuming there are 10 items on the agenda, I believe that would mean each person who wished to speak on all 10 items, would have to fill out 10 different forms? Further, the language implies, that as long as you fill it out before an agenda item comes up, you are good to go? So it wouldn’t have to be filled out before the meeting started? Not to mention, that if 10 people filled out 10 forms, that would be 100 forms…..I have other questions about this requirement but I’ll leave it there for now…
Following Public Input came election of Board officers. Eric Hansard, last term’s VP, was elected President and I nominated Terry Brown as VP. Both persons were elected to those positions. Following the elections the Board called the Closed Session and the public was told to wait outside.
Stay tuned for Part II!
Upon my election as Director of Division 4, I set up a new email account from which I could conduct my official correspondence as a public servant. All communications between elected officials of a public agency and the public are part of the public record. I didn’t want cross over between my personal and public service email accounts.
In the meantime, the General Manager set up an email address for me using the NYWD.org Godaddy domain. I wrote to him and requested that he delete that address and use my new public service email address. I requested that he place my new public service email address on the website. I forwarded the few emails that had come in to the NYWD email address to my new public service address.
The GM responded to my request in an email: ” To avoid any intrusion into your personal email account as a consequence of the San Jose case, the District follows legal counsel’s recommended best practice and issues District email addresses to our Directors. Additionally, using a District-issued email address avoids unnecessary costs and delay if the District receives a PRA request for Director communications and it avoids any question regarding email communications among Directors becoming serial discussions and inadvertently violating the Brown Act.”
I responded back: “I created a new professional email account specifically for my NYWD role as director. If the requirement for a director to have an NYWD e-mail is codified in writing as either a resolution, by-law, or policy – please send that to me. The idea that having an NYWD e-mail address somehow prevents Brown Act violations via serial meetings has no merit. People can create a serial e-mail meeting merely by hitting “Reply All” which can be done through the NYWD email system as easily as through any system.”
Following receipt of the above email and sending my response, I attempted to forward both to my new public service email which I had easily accomplished the previous day. They bounced back immediately prompting me to look more closely. What I saw was this;
Subject: Message Delivery Failure
Date: Fri, January 11, 2019 11:59 am
This is an automatically generated Delivery Status Notification.
Delivery to the following recipients failed permanently:
Someone had inserted a macro into the “To” cell for outgoing email. The macro recognized my new public service email address and automatically changed the @yahoo.com to .firstname.lastname@example.org thus rendering a nonexistent email address. Any email that I tried to forward “to” my new email account would therefore bounce back. Clearly, someone had gone into the NYWD GOdaddy system as administrator and placed the macro. I wrote to the GM to request the identity of the NYWD IT person.
He responded with the following on January 8, 2019:
“You also asked me for the contact information for the District’s IT vendor. As previously stated in my January 3, 2019, email to you, Resolution 13-701 states that work for the District shall not be performed without the approval of the General Manager. Any time the District’s IT vendor is contacted, the District is invoiced. Additionally, I am the only one who can direct the IT vendor to perform work for the District, based on the direction from the majority of the Board. If the majority of the Board would like for me to direct the IT vendor to perform a task, and the Board approves the charges, I will then direct the IT vendor to do such a task.”
I responded back the same day: “I did not ask for the contact information of the IT entity. I asked for the entity or individual’s identity (their name or the company name). Identity and contact information are two different things, as I am sure you are well aware. A Director is entitled to know the names and identities of subcontractors to NYWD and in what capacity they serve the District. Please provide that identity forthwith. “
On January 18, 2019 (10 days later), I finally received this response to my questions: “In response to your question. The District does not have in its employment a person hired with the title of IT. The District also does not employ or have a contract with any consultant that performs IT functions. If however, you are asking who updates our web page, then that would be Leona and myself.”
In September 2017, I and my family moved to Oregon House. My husband and I were ready for a new chapter and a return to the country roots we established as newlyweds in rural Virginia in 1980. I had long dreamed of a huge vegetable garden, a milk cow, and maybe a few sheep or goats – exactly what we had in Virginia minus the milk cow. We wanted an independent, self-sustaining lifestyle in our golden years. After a long search, we settled on a home and property in Oregon House. One of the reasons we chose the property was the access to irrigation water, which was a very high priority.
I spent the Fall of 2017 and early Winter of 2018, logging and readying our 3-acre meadow to become the new family organic farm and livestock pasture. At the end of March 2018, we received a letter from NYWD telling us the agency would not be releasing irrigation water that year. I had just spent thousands of dollars and untold hours readying my meadow. Now I would have no water. I was stunned and outraged – how can an agency simply refuse to do the very thing the agency was created to do? Historically, NYWD is an irrigation agency as domestic water service came in later.
I set about trying to get answers. First I attended the Board meeting in April 2018. That was an eye opener for many reasons. I witnessed as the Board shut down the public, refused to answer questions, and ignored the public’s multiple requests for a Special Meeting to discuss the withholding of irrigation water. The decision to withhold water was made unilaterally by the General Manager; there had been no vote by the NYWD Board. Despite what the public wanted, and the demand for accountability and transparency, the NYWD Board, remained mute and impotent and did not stand up for the public.
NYWD General Manager gave five reasons over the next few months for why water would not be delivered. Reason #1: Water supply was marginal in 2018. Reason #2: Not all customers would get water, so we shouldn’t deliver any water at all. Reason #3: NYWD doesn’t have the means to deliver irrigation water. Reason #4: NYWD was working on the ditches. Reason #5: No snowpack.
I set about investigating those reasons – I am a scientist – that is what I do. Here is what I found:
I drove up to Little Grass Valley Reservoir to see for myself how much water was there – it was as full as it could be. Dry Creek – our source of irrigation water for at least the first portion of the season – is what fills Lake Mildred further downstream. Lake Mildred was spilling over, around, and under the dam. Therefore, Reason #1 was not true – water supply was not marginal.
Further, all other irrigation districts began delivering water on time and delivered water for their full season. SFWPA uses the very same watershed NYWD does. BVID in fact, extended their season so customers could wet down their property during the high fire risk season of early and late Fall. No pun intended – but Reason #1 didn’t hold water. It was blatantly false – water was in good supply.
This has recently been further borne out as SFWPA released their annual report (January 2019) and provided data on water use by NYWD. NYWD only used 2,779 acre feet of the 3,700 acre feet of water that is solely for our use from Little Grass Valley Reservoir. We had 1,000 acre feet of water that we could have been using in 2018. That water is gone – you cannot get a rain check on that water. Even more disturbing – if water is available and is not taken – California Department of Water Resources can re-write the water permit to reduce the amount of water we are permitted to take to the amount used. WE CAN LOSE THAT 1,000 ACRE FEET PERMANENTLY.
I also looked at Reason #2: If everyone doesn’t get water, we shouldn’t deliver any water. This would apply if the community had been polled to query whether people wanted the irrigation water to be all or nothing. We weren’t. Therefore, Reason #2 did not hold up under scrutiny.
Reason #3: NYWD doesn’t have the means to deliver irrigation water. The GM claimed that SFWPA was using all the room in the Forbestown Ditch and there was no room left to convey irrigation water to NYWD customers. I requested all of the data from SFWPA from 2010 to 2018. (If SFWPA is using 11 cfs in the Forbestown Ditch, there is no room left for NYWD irrigation water.) A summary of the raw data showed that SFWPA had only ever used all the room in the ditch (their 11 cfs) in 2015 and then only for 16 days of a 180-day season. In 2018, SFWPA began using 11 cfs in the Forbestown Ditch in mid-August meaning that NYWD irrigation customers could have been receiving irrigation via the Forbestown Ditch up until August. Reason #3 does not hold up to scrutiny either.
Reason #4: NYWD was working on the ditches. First, let me begin by saying that I reached out to GMs of other water districts and asked them when they conduct planned work on their ditches – the answer was the same across the board: they conduct planned work during the off-season. Further, no water district deliberately dries out their ditches as it becomes an open invitation to burrowing animals to infest earthen berms and levees, further weakening and compromising the integrity of the ditches. Work on the Oregon House-Dobbins Canal did not start until September – thus; Reason #4 was also not correct. The community could have been receiving irrigation water from April through August – which would have been a huge benefit during the high fire season by keeping our lands green and our ponds full.
Reason #5: No snowpack in Challenge. This brings up two mysteries: #1 – There has been no substantive snowpack in Challenge in decades, so how did this mythical “snowpack” even get into the conversation around water for Dry Creek? #2 – where and by whom was the myth propagated that this non-existent snowpack is the source of the water filling Dry Creek? It isn’t. Dry Creek continues to run as it always has, despite no substantive snowpack in Challenge. There has never been a hydrologic study to determine the various sources of water that fill Dry Creek; however, it clearly isn’t snowpack. It may be a combination of precipitation, runoff, subterranean streams, seeps or springs and/or an aquifer. The only way to know with certainty is to have a hydrologic study conducted. Reason #5 was also not true – Dry Creek is not filled with snowmelt from the mythical Challenge snowpack.
After all my investigations, none of the stated reasons could be true, so what was the real purpose behind denying NYWD irrigation customers their water? Why deny a small community – many of whom have livelihoods dependent on their irrigation water – and who live in one of the most high risk fire areas in the Foothills – their water? The truth has not come out and I (and the entire community) are left with the question of WHY? and if it happened once – would NYWD do this again?
I am but one, but as a Director I will never sit idly by while the GM makes unilateral decisions about our water. I will never vote to refuse the release of irrigation water unless we are in a severe drought situation as happened in 2015. I am but one of five. Water must be released beginning April 15th and once the Dry Creek supply is gone, we must implement the water we are entitled to from Little Grass Valley Reservoir. I never again want to be stuck with an unanswered WHY? The people of this community deserve better than that.