There will always be rocks in the road ahead of us. They will be stumbling blocks or stepping stones; it all depends on how you use them.
I presented myself at the NYWD office for the meeting I had requested with the General Manager. I had prepared a list of questions: Could you tell me a bit about yourself? Where did you go to college? What is your vision for NYWD? What is your biggest challenge as General Manager for NYWD? What do you want to achieve in 2019? and so on.
I received few direct answers, and oddly, he stated that he did not have a resume when I asked for a copy and refused to disclose where he went to college claiming that was private information. It was quite a puzzling reply to a perfectly normal employment question.
Fact: General Managers (GMs) are employees of any public agency and its Board (California Water Code §30575). GMs serve at the pleasure of the Board that hires them (California Water Code §30542). This means that I am now effectively one of the GMs bosses as he is accountable to the entire Board
When I ran my consulting company, my employees’ education was one of the reasons they were qualified for the jobs they were hired to do. I could recite where all of my employees went to school and what degrees they’d earned – if they had earned degrees – some were still-in-progress). So the non-answers provided by the GM had me scratching my head and I departed that meeting with more questions than I had arrived with…..
My company handed two manuals immediately to new employees at hiring. The manuals covered all the company policies and all the safety policies. Employees were required to sign acknowledgements that they had read, understood, and agreed to abide by all the policies. I had thought there would be a manual of NYWD policies that would be provided to a newly-elected Director. I was wrong.
At the meeting with the GM, I was handed two policies.
Two. One policy on NYWD Rules For the of Conduct of Its Meetings and one for Setting Agendas. The Setting Agendas policy was a single page. Clearly, I would easily be up-to-speed as a fully informed Director in no time at all!
At this same meeting, I was given paperwork to fill out. Directors receive a stipend and this is, in fact, covered in the California Water Code. I didn’t feel it right to be paid to do Public Service, particularly given that this is a very small agency. I told the GM I was refusing my salary and that the money should stay with the District. He said I needed to write a letter stating so.
I dutifully came back the following week, letter in hand. I handed my letter to the office staff. Somehow in the intervening week, I had misplaced my one–page “Setting the Agenda” Policy. I asked the office professionals if they could give me a new copy of the one-page policy. They did so. They asked if I wanted the Vision Insurance or the embroidered NYWD shirt? No thank you. Although, if they had magic shirts that make me skinny – I confess I would sign up for one of those. We all have our lines….
The next day, I received an email from the GM with a new Policy. This one was titled “Use of District Resources”. His email stated that only he can direct office staff in the use of their time and only he can direct them to do work. Apparently, my request for another copy of the one–page Setting the Agenda policy had put him off kilter. Or maybe I am not allowed to speak to office staff without permission from the GM? Maybe I am not supposed to bring paperwork back in person but am supposed to mail it in? It is unclear.
On the other hand at the November 30 meeting (subject of my previous blog post), the now former Director in his seven minute tirade, declared the office staff as “top notch!” saying “anything we (the Board) wanted, you got it for us“. Clearly, the previous Board was able to talk to office staff and ask for things.
The email from the GM contained Policy #3. I realized that my homework was far from complete, as there clearly were more than two polices in existence. Actually, I had suspected this would be the case since you can see on the NYWD website that there is at least an Irrigation Policy and a Vehicle Replacement Policy which hadn’t been sent to me. I composed an email and sent it along politely requesting ALL NYWD policies be sent to me at the same time so I could be ready for the Board meeting on January 31. I said please.
I received an email on January 4 with three policies, two of which had previously been sent. After much persistence on my end I finally received four more policies, four days later. I requested a copy of the Vehicle Use Policy and was told there is no policy for that.
During my initial (December 11) meeting with the GM, I requested a copy of the Personnel Policy. I never received it. On January 4, I requested the Personnel Policy again. I received no response, so I sent an email letting the GM know that I would be coming down in person to collect the policy. I also indicated – as I have each time – that I would run the copy machine myself thus requiring virtually no work on the part of office staff to make the copy.
So once again I sallied forth down to the District office on January 16 and was informed the GM was not in. I was given the message that the Personnel Policy was in the process of revision. There is a current policy in effect right now – today. Could I get a copy please? No. An email from the GM awaited my return home informing me the policy is under revision. That is not a reason to refuse to provide the current policy to me or any Director.
At the August 2018 NYWD board meeting, the GM publicly announced that the engineering plans for the Forbestown Ditch were complete. Meeting minutes reported and approved on September 27, 2018 read as follows (this is an exact copy of the minutes including the typos):
“Regarding the Forbestown pipeline project, the engineering plans and specks are completed. There has been discussion with the Yuba County Water Agency to provide funding for the project. The Agency has hired Sage Engineering to review the plans on their behalf. General Manager Maupin reported that he had talked to the State today and they are excited that we are ahead of schedule. It was recommended that we move ahead for a Construction Grant.” (you can download the Meeting Minutes here: https://docs.wixstatic.com/ugd/ce9012_b91f8cacad174dae90911e860b3b83d7.pdf)
During my December 11, 2018 in-person meeting with the GM, I requested a copy of those engineering plans. He responded by saying that Yuba County Water Agency (YCWA) – who he identified as a potential funding partner – had the plans and they had hired Sage Engineering to review the plans. This was also stated four months earlier in the August 2018 meeting.
As a consultant who deals with engineering plans frequently, I am aware that there is never a single copy of those plans; further, in today’s world, the plans are not hard copy. Engineering plans are digital and typically done in AUTOCAD and then converted to a PDF. They of course, can be printed out.
I reiterated this to the GM and he told me he had no copies of the plan to give me.
The Board has not seen the plans and has certainly not approved the plans. Why would those plans be sent to a potential funding partner, before the Board has even seen them? If the Board and the public want revisions to those plans – and a potential funding partner has already agreed to fund based on the un-seen, unapproved plans – the funding partner could back out of funding the project. Further, the amount of time and money wasted by putting the cart before the horse means that NYWD will spend even more money. Lastly, the Forbestown Ditch affects SFWP as much as it does NYWD – they haven’t seen the plans either.
I left that meeting without the plans that I had requested. I indicated that I would review draft plans and was refused those as well. I wrote again to request the engineering plans twice more over the last month and have been refused those plans each time. So, despite the fact that the plans were publicly announced as complete in August 2018, and my multiple requests to review those plans since December 2018, the GM has steadfastly refused to provide those plans as well as other District policies to this new Director.
Have I mentioned that with working full time and raising three kids it took me 22 years to complete my college education? I am patient. I am persistent. I was elected. I will be a Voice for the People. This is my journey so far.
Hello? tap tap tap-is this thing on?
According to the Brown Act (§ 54952.1): ” Any person elected to serve as a member of a legislative body who has not yet assumed the duties of office shall conform his or her conduct to the requirements of this chapter and shall be treated for purposes of enforcement of this chapter as if he or she has already assumed office.” Based on case law: “When is a candidate declared elected? … when election results are known”.
This would mean that a newly-elected Board member should be treated as a member of the Board once the election is certified, even if the Board member may not have been sworn into office yet.
No Board meeting had been planned for November; however, the Board convened a meeting on November 30, 2018. The notice for that meeting did not appear on the website until the day of the meeting which is probably why few people were present. I was not notified, which I am sure everyone would agree, was not purposeful, but was merely an oversight. They probably just forgot that there was a new Board member?
One Board member greeted me on entering the room. The usual brief 20 minutes of meeting proceeded. Then came a final seven minutes by the outgoing Board member whose seat I had won through the Will and Voice of the People.
He welcomed me to the Board and wished me all the best….Not so much..
What proceeded over the next seven minutes was a vitriolic, bitter tirade ending with an exhortation to the Board to “stay strong” and reminding them that “you are four and “the cancer (he was calling me that) is one”. He also indicated that he would be in the audience to ask “the right questions that the Board wanted asked”. Those are only a couple of the highlights-no point in beating that dead horse.
I didn’t actually hear all of it at the time, because I chuckled at one of his claims. The claim was ludicrous and hit my funny bone. What can I say? Things that strike me as ludicrous can sometimes make me chuckle. He ordered me out of the meeting for “disturbing” the meeting with my chuckle and warned me to take my purse so “they wouldn’t have to steal it”. I am nothing if not cautious! I took my purse with me.
I was told by people in the audience that evening, that three people clapped at the end of this tirade. The tirade was enjoyed by some people! On the opposite end, no one stopped the show. Lest you think this must be a work of fiction in an otherwise autobiographical blog – I have the audio file of the meeting and could transcribe it word for word if I have nothing better to do. But there is enough unpleasantness in the world already-why go seeking it out?
So I would venture to say that it would be of little surprise to anyone (myself included) that when I was sworn in on December 3 and sent an e-mail notifying all the Board members that I was duly sworn in, I didn’t get a single purposeful reply (I did receive one “out of office” auto reply). I guess if you can’t (or refuse to) hear someone, they don’t exist?
When I called the General Manager to request a meeting, his response was “why do you want to meet?” Because it might be a good idea to get to know each other? It was very strange.
One Board member did call to congratulate me and kindly met me for coffee so we could get to know each other. A big shoutout to that Board member and I am very appreciative of his kindness and thoughtfulness. I am very aware of the pitfalls of the Brown Act (I have taken two seminars on the topic since being elected) – but this law is certainly not intended to be a barrier to members of a Board merely getting acquainted (as in what do you do? How many kids/grandkids do you have? etc.). Of course, the Brown Act also says that newly-elected Board members are to be treated as Board members….so there’s that.
The Brown Act affects the Board of any agency, but it also affects the public which that agency serves. Getting involved as a member of the public is a great thing and when you do, it is a very good idea to know the Brown Act. I have provided information on that below.
Here is the Official Brown Act- a more readable guide follows:
A more readable version is here:
I was all set to get to work on my first post – and promptly got stuck. Where do I start? After mulling this over for at least a week, I never could figure it out as I am new to this whole blog thing, so I dismissed the question and decided to just hold my nose and jump right in.
One of the first things I learned on this journey is that an election isn’t decided for some time after the polling places close – not even in a small community or in an even smaller election. I ran for Director of Division 4 of the North Yuba Water District.
There are five divisions in the NYWD service territory which consists of domestic and irrigation customers, as well as citizens annexed by NYWD who receive no water at all (You read that right – true that and a topic for a later time). Each division has a director and the term of office for a director is four years. There are two ways to become a director: you run a campaign and are elected by the People; OR you are appointed by the Board or a departing Director when a Director must leave before their term of office is up.
In 2018, two director’s seats were up for re-election: Division 4 held by Donald Forguson who was never elected and Division 5 held by Eric Hansard, who was also not actually elected. Forguson had been appointed when someone on the Board unexpectedly left office two terms back. When that term was up, no one opposed him, and so he was appointed for a second term (2014-2018). In 2018, Eric Hansard was unopposed and thus was simply re-appointed to the post.
[I haven’t touched on the campaign itself here, and will likely touch on it in later posts; but I called this “She Persisted – The Journey of Newbie Elected Official” and so I thought the blog should start where I became an official elected into public service.]
I remain astonished that so many directors run for office unopposed. Water Districts make decisions that affect entire communities – we all have a vested interest in what the Boards of our Water Districts are doing and who is on the Board. However, after running a campaign and only one month in as a Director, I understand why there are few contenders.
Between the time when mail-in ballots were sent out and up til November 6 (voting day), I kept receiving e-mails and phone calls: “I can’t find your name on my ballot.” People who were not in my Division wanted to vote for me – but you can only vote for Director of your own division. Many folks were unsure what Division they reside in. I get it, I can’t make heads or tails out of NYWD maps either….and I began trying to figure out those maps starting last April…. Oh and did I tell you I am a scientist? That I do this for a living? There is no reason that a Water District cannot have easy-to-read georeferenced maps and, in this day and age, they should. FYI – most Water Districts do because that best serves the People in a multitude of ways.
There were also issues with the voter data provided to me by the Elections Office; the voter data are prepared using the division boundary maps provided to the Elections Office by NYWD. Apparently, problems with NYWD and their voter map are long-standing issues, causing no end of headaches to the Elections Office over the years. This year was no different.
NYWD (and any special district) can revise the boundaries of their service territory divisions. This is supposed to be done only to ensure equal numbers of voters in each division. Local and state agencies have a limited period of time prior to an election to revise and submit the voter boundary maps to the Elections Office (in Yuba County, I believe they must be submitted 90 days prior, although I have also heard 180 days bandied about….hard to get a clear answer on this). The maps and boundaries determine whose division each voter is in, which can change if the boundaries have been re-drawn.
Here’s the problem: NYWD submits hand-drawn paper maps. These are not digitized, georeferenced maps; so, the Elections Office must painstakingly visually compare the hand drawn paper map submitted by NYWD to their maps and – by hand – draw in the boundaries on the Elections Office map and then try to figure out which division each house or residence is located in. A painstaking, tedious, costly, highly inaccurate procedure and wholly unnecessary in today’s digital world.
At the risk of my repeating myself: There is no reason that a Water District cannot have easy-to-read georeferenced maps and, in this day and age, they should. FYI – most Water Districts use Geographic Information Systems (GIS) maps because that best serves the People in a multitude of ways. Remember that little thing? Serving the People?
Well, after all was said and done – I won the election. I ran for Division 4 and the election results were certified November 26, 2018 after all the mail-in and absentee ballots had been counted. I won the election 152 to 92 and received a letter from the Yuba County Elections Office congratulating me on my win. I was sworn in at the Yuba County Elections Office on December 3, 2018. And I was off and running…………………………………not so much.
Thanks for joining me!
Good company in a journey makes the way seem shorter. — Izaak Walton