IT

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
From: mailer-daemon@secureserver.net
Date: Fri, January 11, 2019 11:59 am
To: gflohr@nywd.org

This is an automatically generated Delivery Status Notification.

Delivery to the following recipients failed permanently:

* dirdiv4nywd.yahoo.com@nywd.org

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 .yahoo.com@nywd.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.”

My email address shown on the website is still not the one I have requested be shown. I have never been provided an approved, codified NYWD policy or resolution that states I must use an NYWD email address. There is no provision of the Brown Act or California Water Code that requires I use an NYWD.org email account. Clearly, I do not have to use NYWD.org for email.

Why?

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.

Little Grass Valley Reservoir, May 2018. Chock full.
Lake Mildred May 2018. Also chock full.

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?

All public agencies must be transparent and accountable.

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.

Rocks in the Road

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.
Friedrich Nietzsche

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 onepage “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 onepage 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.

Radio Silence

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?

La, la, la, la, la … I can’t hear you!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

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:

Brown Act

A more readable version is here:

Brown Act Explained

The Beginning – or Maybe the Middle?

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.


Sums it up so far…….

The Journey Begins

Thanks for joining me!

Good company in a journey makes the way seem shorter. — Izaak Walton

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