Tag Archives: Fred Bockmiller

Mesa Water Directors Fail to Censure Trudy Ohlig-Hall

By John Earl
Surf City Voice

The Nov. 13 episode of the Mesa Consolidated Water District Board of Directors should make the public citizen wonder if that body is capable to handle the challenges of water management in the 21st Century when it barely knows how to run a board meeting.

The issue before the board was whether to censure fellow director Trudy Ohlig-Hall or not, but some of its members seemed to be confused by the process.

Ohlig-Hall, who had just been trounced by election opponent Ethan Temianka 58.5 percent to 41.5 percent on Nov. 6, was absent.

For another month she will continue to represent Division Three of Mesa Water’s service area, which includes parts of Costa Mesa and Newport Beach. She was up for reelection having served on the five-member board since 1987.

Ohlig-Hall has been absent from duty since she walked out of the Oct. 23 board meeting just after directors James Fisler and Shawn Dewane, who campaigned for Temianka, introduced a motion to censure her for being rude toward staff.

The motion was ruled out of order at that time by board president Fred Bockmiller because no resolution for censure had been written or legally placed on the meeting agenda.

Instead, the board voted 3 – 1 (Director Ohlig-Hall was absent, James Atkinson voted no) to direct staff to draw up a resolution of censure against Ohlig-Hall for consideration at the Nov. 13 board meeting.

Trudy Ohlig-Hall, James Atkinson. Photo: Surf City Voice

Fisler and Dewane repeatedly denounced Ohlig-Hall for being “rude and aberrant” not only to two staff members who cried and sobbed as a result on Aug. 20, the incident that sparked two investigations, but to other directors and their wives for the past 25 years.

At the Nov. 13 board meeting Fisler and Dewane were eager to pass the completed resolution. Bockmiller and Atkinson, however, said it was a moot point since Ohlig-Hall would soon be replaced by Tamianka anyway. So, they introduced a motion to table the resolution.

But Dewane and Fisler still wanted to draw Ohlig-Hall’s blood.

“Can I make a substitute motion not to table it,” Fisler asked.

It was a redundant gesture because a no vote on Bockmiller’s motion to table would accomplish same thing. Of course, Bockmiller’s original motion was pointless too because the vote was certain to end at 2 -2 and a tie loses by default.

Fisler argued that it was important to “show our staff that the board of directors basically has their back” when they are mistreated by a board member.

Dewane agreed. “To do anything less than to follow through with what we voted on is the abdication of the responsibility of the board of directors.”

Bockmiller disagreed. “To say that a director voting against this (motion not to table the resolution) is voting against staff is a falsehood. In the strongest terms, it is not true.”

Censuring another board member would be “unprecedented in California water politics history,” he emphasized, “And there have been directors’ behaviors far more ludicrous than Director Ohlig-Hall’s behaviors.”

To censure Ohlig-Hall would be an “empty gesture,” would require reading it aloud at the board meeting and transmitting a copy to the Orange County Board of Supervisors, “all of which would waste time, money and effort over somebody who will no longer be an elected official within a few days.”

Atkinson agreed, adding that the resolution’s reference to a third-party “independent” investigator’s report, which relied on hearsay—statements attributed to Ohlig-Hall by Mesa’s in-house (and potentially biased) investigator the day after the alleged incident—was unfair to her.

Predictably, the vote on the motion not to table the resolution failed by a tie vote—Dewane and Fisler for vs. Atkinson and Bockmiller against.

Then on to Bockmiller’s motion to table, which, after comment by one public citizen, also failed 2 -2.

Then it was back to the resolution to censure that remained on the agenda, after all.

James Fisler and Shawn Dewane. Photo: Surf City Voice

Bockmiller, who as the board’s president runs its meetings, admonished that “We are simply speaking about this resolution which is before us tonight” and nothing else.

But Dewane ignored Bockmiller’s instructions, saying that he wanted to make sure that the investigator’s report, a public document, is posted to Mesa’s website. Then he presumed that Ohlig-Hall did not consent to be interviewed by the outside investigator because “she felt that there was nothing else to add to the report…” It [including hearsay testimony about Ohlig-Hall] is the most objective information available, he said, and the public has a right to know about it.

Bockmiller then revealed that Ohlig-Hall had claimed to him that her invitation to be interviewed by the outside investigator came late one afternoon and she was unable on short notice to have her attorney present. “And so she was unable to participate in the interview and no other opportunities were provided,” Bockmiller said.

Then Dewane, who had just based his call for censure on hearsay testimony, blew a fuse—because Bockmiller used hearsay.

“If it’s her statement—you making her statement is hearsay,” Dewane complained. “I believe that’s inappropriate to put words in her mouth or take her statement and read it into the record.”

Ohlig-Hall could have defended herself, he said, and her attorney, former Costa Mesa city council member Katrina Foley, is “notorious in the city for representing usually staff members in situations like this rather than board members.”

Ohlig-Hall chose not to defend herself, “So, I would just suggest that your comments, Director Bockmiller, be stricken from the record. It’s inappropriate to make statements on her behalf,” he fumed.

“Director Dewane,” Bockmiller called out.

“Yes?”

“Your comments are ruled out of order. And it’s perfectly permissible for me to speak as to what has been communicated to me. This is not a court of law. This is a board meeting.”

More discussion followed from Fisler.

Then, off topic again, Dewane said he wanted to be clear whether the investigator’s report would be made available to the public on the Internet or not.

Bockmiller, oblivious to his own instructions (and the Brown Act, which says a government body can’t vote on an item not on the agenda) asked if there has been a motion to put the report on Mesa Water’s website.

There had not been a motion so Dewane made one: all documents related to the case should be placed online.

But Mesa’s legal counsel quickly pointed out that the board can’t legally vote on something that isn’t on the agenda. Only the resolution itself was on the agenda.

Then Bockmiller instructed that the board would not vote on Dewane’s [illegal] motion unless it wants to unanimously pass an emergency action to put the issue (of placing investigator’s documents online) on the agenda right then.

Dewane quickly made a motion to do just that.

No need for that, legal counsel said. Any director can simply ask staff to have the matter put on a [future] agenda.

But Dewane wanted to vote then and there—no more waiting.

Bockmiller worried that Dewane’s motion might be illegal, after all, and legal counsel emphatically warned that it would be.  “I would urge the board not to put this on as an emergency item. There is not a legal precedent to support it,” he warned.

Dewane then instructed General Manager Paul Shoenberger to place the item on the next meeting’s agenda.

Getting back to the resolution, Dewane said that Ohlig-Hall is not off the hook just because she lost the election. Anyway, he claimed wishfully, the board had already voted in favor of the resolution at the Oct. 23 meeting. By bringing it up at yet another meeting the board was belaboring the issue, he said.

Fisler confirmed that he too thought a motion of censure had passed at the previous meeting. “I don’t know why you went on for ten minutes about what a tough decision it was if it wasn’t a motion for censure,” he complained to Bockmiller.

But Bockmiller pointed out that there was no such resolution on the agenda to adopt at that time.

“That would be a Pelosiesk move to adopt the resolution without reading it, and we know how that has gone with the health care bill,” he quipped.

Bockmiller regretted that Ohlig-Hall did not make the public apology that he says she promised him she would make. In retrospect, he believes that the board jumped the gun by going toward censure—a formal letter from the board to Ohlig-Hall should have come first.

“Something happened,” he said, but adding that the resolution was probably written too harshly.

The vote was as predicted, Bockmiller and Atkinson against, Dewane and Fisler for.

After four committee meetings, two board meetings and two investigations, the motion to censure failed.

A simpler action would have been for General Manager Paul Shoenberger, who is the sole boss of Mesa’s employees, to instruct Director Ohlig-Hall that staff were off limits to her from now on, a policy that he could have enforced with the rest of the board’s support if necessary.

Next up on the board’s agenda that night: Branding Campaign Wrap Up, or how Mesa Consolidated Water spent thousands of dollars to change its name and logos in order to promote greater public awareness.

More on that, soon.

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Election Sob Story: Mesa Water Directors Plot to Remove Trudy Ohlig-Hall from Office

By John Earl
Surf City Voice

Mesa Consolidated Water District board members Shawn Dewane and James Fisler are hoping for a knock-out punch against fellow board member Trudy Ohlig-Hall in tomorrow’s election (Nov. 6) on behalf of her challenger, Ethan Temianka, who they have both endorsed.

Onlig-Hall represents Division Three of Mesa Water’s service area, which includes parts of Costa Mesa and Newport Beach. She is up for reelection having served since 1987 on the five-member board, three terms as its president.

The punch was officially thrown at the Oct. 23 Mesa Water board meeting when Dewane moved that staff return with a resolution censuring Ohlig-Hall “for her inappropriate behavior” toward two female employees and stripping her of her committee assignments, including her position on the Finance Committee where she regularly nit-picks and badgers about wasteful spending supported by the other board members.

Until the allegations surfaced, the most substantive campaign issue Temianka had—one commonly used by novices trying to make politics their career—was that his opponent is a “career politician,” an unintended reference to her superior resume (25 years in water management) versus Temianka’s resume—he sits on Costa Mesa’s recreation commission but has no water management experience.

Dewane applied the “broken window policy of governance” to explain his motion.

“If you tolerate the small things, the big things tend to take root,” he said.

Ohlig-Hall’s “hostile, rude aberrant” behavior has been ongoing “since the day I was on the board” nine years ago, he alleged, and it would reflect poorly on the district not to protect the staff “who have no power (a tacit acknowledgement of their non-union status).”

Fisler softened Dewane’s motion to allow Ohlig-Hall to keep her committee assignments, but censure is the single strongest action the board could take against her, especially at reelection time.

L – R: Ohlig-Hall, Atkinson, Bockmiller, Fisler, Dewane. Photo: Surf City Voice

The allegations against Ohlig-Hall first became public when the Voice reported them Aug. 29. The incident that led to the censure attempt took place on the morning of Aug. 20 when she spoke to two Mesa Water employees to check travel arrangements to a San Diego water conference. In the course of her conversations with the two workers she was (allegedly) verbally abusive, causing one to cry and the other to sob.

The next day the incident was reported by General Manager Paul Shoenberger to a special meeting of the Executive Committee, which is chaired by Director (and board president) Fred Bockmiller. Fisler is the committee’s other member.

After an initial in-house investigation, the committee opted to hire an outside firm to do an “independent” investigation. The committee would then make recommendations on the matter to the full board based on that investigation. Instead, the committee simply placed the matter on the Oct. 23 agenda of the full board.

The underlying premise of going after Ohlig-Hall is Mesa Water’s strategic plan, which strives to “attract and retain skilled employees.” In order to do that, according to a staff memo that accompanied the agenda, “Mesa Water ensures a professional work environment with written policies that apply to the entire organization on proper conduct in performing the work of the District.”

In an interview last August, Director James Atkinson, who chairs the Finance committee, told the Voice that since Shoenberger took over as general manager three years ago employee morale has been high. But that claim is contradicted by three facts that also provide greater context for the attempt to censure and oust Ohlig-Hall from the board:

1) It took General Manager Paul Shoenberger (who has been in charge of administration for three years and was a board member for nine years prior to that) and the board years to act decisively on an issue that is alleged to have been going on for decades;

2) Mesa Water’s Senior Financial Analyst, Glynis Litvak, has filed a worker’s grievance against Shoenberger—a sure sign of low employee morale, and;

3) Mesa Water’s former Chief Financial Officer Victoria Beatley abruptly resigned last June and now works as the treasurer for the city of Seal Beach. A knowledgeable source told the Voice that Beatley was escorted out of the door on the day that she left. Contacted by the Voice, Beatley would only say that “I left voluntarily” – another sign of an unhappy employment experience by high-level staff at Mesa Water.

The investigator’s report evokes sympathy for staff members who allegedly had to put up with Ohlig-Hall’s behavior for years. But it also evokes sympathy for the director herself—she may have troubles of her own but is far from the wicked witch that Dewane and Fisler depict her as.

The report shows that Ohlig-Hall has a history of inappropriate behavior toward various Mesa Water staff: being moody on the phone and then calling later apologetically; taking up excessive staff time to make travel arrangements; talking about her disagreements with the general manager and other directors; repeatedly criticizing one employee about her clothing and hair style and telling her that she couldn’t do anything right; and, in the latest incident, referring to her as “stupid” and telling the other employee (who sobbed) that “I’m fucking sick and tired of people apologizing to me. You don’t understand. I’m alone here and (name of other employee) was rude to me. I can’t take another damn thing today.”

Ohlig-Hall was unique among the five directors, the rest always being polite and easy to deal with, according to staff interviewed by the investigator.

“Different times of the month, it just depends, she just gets lonely,” said the employee who sobbed. Her (Ohlig-Hall’s) children live far from her. She would call and say she had just been upset about somebody else, trying to check her own behavior. But she became worse after her husband died several years ago. “And I think that was the difference completely in this incident. That was just directly toward us.”

Ohlig-Hall refused to be interviewed by the hired investigator on advice from her attorney, but she had already been interviewed by Mesa Water’s Human Resources Analyst, Shelly Cisneros. The director told her that although she often spoke loudly to staff she wasn’t yelling. She denied calling any worker stupid or using foul language toward any of them.

“I love those kids,” she said, now sobbing herself. “Shit, I would never hurt them.”

Ohlig-Hall complained that Shoenberger would not let the issue go and was making a “big deal” about it. She didn’t want it to go to the board for its judgement. “If I get reelected,” she warned, “I am going to be spending the next four years with him and I think he should leave it alone.”

The day after the incident, Ohlig-Hall, whose first language is German and who struggles with English, sent an apologetic e-mail to the employee who had sobbed, describing the incident as a big misunderstanding. “I like to say I AM SORRY from the bottom of my hart (sic).  Never would I hurt you intangibly (sic) you mean a lot to me.”

The board could have directed staff to prepare a resolution demanding that Ohlig-Hall publicly apologize to the two employees and prohibiting her from contacting staff without going through the general manager first. But in the eyes of board president Fred Bockmiller, who had handled the affair with balance throughout, she lost her chance for that option when she walked out of the meeting after Dewane’s motion for a resolution of censure.

Atkinson was more sympathetic toward Ohil-Hall and gave her the benefit of doubt. He agreed that “a change of behavior is necessary.” But the issue could have been handled differently, he said. The other board members were “politicizing the problem much more than it needs to be,” which he thought was probably why Ohlig-Hall left the meeting, not because she didn’t want to apologize.

But long-time Ohlig-Hall friend and supporter Ernie Feene, speaking during public comments at the meeting, was more direct, calling the string of events leading up to the present “ludicrous” and slamming Dewane and Fisler for political bias. “For the two of you to bring up things that she has supposedly done for 25 years [that] is not on tonight’s agenda—it’s absolutely out of order,” she protested.

But Dewane dug in deeper. Ohlig-Hall has become a financial liability due to potential lawsuits, he said, while ignoring the board’s own neglect of the issue for years. And each director has been exposed to her “cannon” and their wives have refused to sit with her ever again after having dinner with her at gatherings. “It’s intolerable. I will not stand for it”, he proclaimed.

In the past two years that I have sat in on countless water board meetings, mostly at the Municipal Water District of Orange County, but also at other water agencies, I have never noticed any rude behavior from Director Ohlig-Hall nor received any reports of rude behavior, save for one time when I was told that during a private conversation she had referred to a friend of mine, Debbie Cook, as a “bitch.”

But only recently both Debbie and I have received far worse treatment from Ohlig-Hall’s accusers at Mesa Water, which I have written about in detail (see “Does Mesa Take Your Comments Seriously”). And one of the key witnesses against her, Coleen Monteleone, Mesa Water’s Administrative Manager, was also mixed up in that sordid affair which showed the public agency’s contempt for public opinion.

Add to that Fisler’s remarks posted under an assumed identity on the Orange Juice blog, insulting my hygiene, eating habits and patriotism—laughable but also unbecoming (not to mention cowardly) of a public official.

And Bockmiller has a reputation even among those voters I have spoken to who greatly prefer him over his election opponent, Costa Mesa’s mayor Eric Bever, as being generally arrogant at public meetings.

There has not been nor is there likely to be a public apology from Bockmiller, Fisler or the staff for their rude and abusive behavior toward the public. Nor will they censure themselves, of course. But they have had no problem judging Ohlig-Hall, so far.

Dewane’s motion passed 3 -1, Atkinson voting no and Ohlig-Hall long gone from the room. General Manager Paul Shoenberger will draw up a resolution censuring her and the board will vote on it at the next meeting in November, after the election.

But Temianka’s supporters jumped the gun, sending out fliers by email falsely stating that the Mesa Water board had already voted to censure his election opponent, Trudy Ohlig-Hall, whose inept social skills and tendency to nit-pick about budget items have finally annoyed too many people too much.

Photo top right: James Fisler and Shawn Dewane

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Does Mesa Water Take Your Comments Seriously? Yes, to Your Face – No, Behind Your Back

By John Earl
Surf City Voice

Photo top right: Fred R. Bockmiller, President of the board, Mesa Consolidated Water District.

Fred R. Bockmiller, president of the Board of Directors for the Mesa Consolidated Water District headquartered in Costa Mesa, had listened to the public speak its mind at the board’s July 24 meeting.

Former Huntington Beach mayor Debbie Cook and I were the only unofficial witnesses in attendance except for Joan Finnegan, who serves on the board of directors for the Municipal Water District of Orange County.

Cook and I had come to speak about Mesa Water’s policy for disclosing public records. Proposed revisions to that policy were on the meeting agenda.

“With that, we’ve had public input,” declared Bockmiller, who took command of the meeting in his deep and officious voice. “And I do take public input very seriously because it’s rare that people de-stir themselves and take time to come down here.”

Bockmiller was right about one thing—public citizens, including journalists, are a rare sight at Mesa Water meetings, which, with the exception of the twice-monthly regular board meetings, are held during the morning or afternoon hours when most people are working.

Mesa Water’s board and its General Manager Paul Shoenberger (absent from the July 24 meeting) like to brag about their commitment to transparency. But, like other Orange County California water districts, Mesa’s public meetings are not televised or video and audio streamed online—by comparison, most city council meetings are.

Mesa Water Board
L – R: Trudy Ohlig-Hall, James Atkinson, Fred R. Bockmiller, James Fisler, Shawn Dewane make up the Mesa Consolidated Water District’s Board of Directors. Photo: Surf City Voice

Nor is there a monthly calendar online—public meetings are announced on the agency’s website only a few days before they occur.

A bi-monthly newsletter sent to the households of Mesa Water rate payers and available online (with some difficulty finding it) announces that the full board meets twice a month, but doesn’t mention the three other monthly committee meetings during which a lot of Mesa’s real work gets done.

For my own records, I preserved portions of the meeting in video and audio format, but the night’s most interesting revelations were captured – after Cook and I left – by Mesa Water’s own mp3 (audio) recording system that, untold to the public, is hooked up to the microphones of the agency’s directors and administrative staff and records everything said at each board meeting.

Also untold by Mesa Water (unless you know to ask), anybody can acquire a copy of those recordings through the Public Records Act, the topic that brought Cook and I to the meeting.

Cook is an environmental attorney and served two terms as mayor of Huntington Beach. As a long-time public official, she knows something about how local government works. For the past year she has been applying that experience to her efforts to monitor transparency issues at Orange County water districts.

Based on Cook’s knowledge of how the city of Huntington Beach deals with public records disclosures as well as my own experience obtaining public records from Mesa Water, we offered our comments. Whereas the Public Records Act intends to empower the public in its search for public records, we found Mesa Water’s policy at times to be intimidating and inconsistent with state law.

Cook compared the State Attorney General’s “clear and concise” PRA summary that “makes you feel like, yes, indeed, these are your documents, and we are here to help you” to Mesa Water’s policy, which, she said, didn’t always conform to the law and “discourages people from requesting documents.”

Bockmiller Interrupts Speaker
Like many government bodies, Mesa Water’s board allows three minutes per speaker, precious little time to make an important point. So interruptions of public speakers by officials are not only rude but can lead to legal consequences as well.

But Bockmiller abruptly cut Cook off in the middle of her speech, and admonished, “I’m going to have to stop you there and ask—you’re making an accusation that we’re not conforming with state law. So, if you are” –

“Sir,” Cook protested back.

“If you have specific information, I would like to hear it. Thank you,” Bockmiller concluded.

“But you really should not interrupt the public speakers,” Cook shot back. “After the fact, it’s clear you can ask questions. But when you interrupt a speaker, then you really do cross another legal line.”

Debbie Cook
Former Huntington Beach mayor Debbie Cook speaks to the Mesa Water board about the Public Records Act. Photo: Surf City Voice

Cook continued, citing a passage in Mesa Water’s policy that exempts from disclosure “Purely personal information contained in a correspondence, e-mail or in a Mesa water computer which is unrelated to the conduct of Mesa Water’s business (i.e. which is totally void of reference to governmental activities).”

That passage is unlawful, Cook said.

“Any e-mail that is sent using your district’s e-mail server—it doesn’t matter whether it talks about your dogs and your kids or whatever, that is all subject to a Public Records Act request, all of it open to public inspection.”

Cook went on to explain “in a nice way” how the City of Huntington Beach had gone to great lengths to place public documents online, including meeting agendas and minutes going all the way back to 1909 (by contrast, Mesa Water’s websites contains minutes and board agenda packets for 2011 and 2012 only).

Huntington Beach doesn’t have a written Public Records Act policy other than to follow the law, Cook added.

“You can save yourselves the attorneys’ fees,” she explained, by just placing helpful guidelines already published by other organizations like the California League of Cities or the state attorney general.

“I would suggest that perhaps you rethink having a stated policy because it really does just open you up to legal challenges,” Cook concluded.

Still stung by Cook’s rebuke of his rude interruption, Bockmiller quipped, sarcastically, “Thank you very much, Ms. Cook, and I appreciate the lesson in conducting a proper board meeting. Thank you very much.”

Jail Time for CalDesal Secrets?
When I spoke to the board, I pointed out that California’s Government Code requires public documents be kept for a minimum of two years, but that Mesa didn’t seem to have a retention policy (there is a retention policy, but it was not attached to the text being updated that night, nor was it available on Mesa Water’s website).

On two occasions, I added, I had been refused public documents on the grounds that they had been transferred to a private non-profit agency and were no longer in Mesa’s hands.

The documents concerned CalDesal, a secretive 501 (c) 6 non-profit organization that lobbies for desalination projects and deregulation on behalf of public water agencies and private industry.

CalDesal was officially formed by Mesa Water’s general manager, Paul Shoenberger, with the informal approval of the board. Director Shawn Dewane is the president of CalDesal and votes on its board as a representative of Mesa Water.

Speaking to the board, I referred to sections 6200 and 6201 of the Govt. Code and section 1170 of the Penal Code, both of which warn of jail or prison sentences ranging up to four years for the destruction of public records.

“There are apparently some people here who may be eligible for a jail sentence,” I cautioned.

I wondered how Dewane could serve as CalDesal’s president and never bring back any documents to Mesa Water’s office, which would have put them in the public domain.

Concluding my comments, I officially renewed my request for CalDesal related documents and asked for Mesa Water to retrieve the documents that it had previously handed over to CalDesal, at the Mesa Water’s expense, not mine.

That ended public comments.

“Mr. Attorney,” asked Bockmiller, of Mesa’s legal counsel, “does this policy conform in all respects with state law?”

“Yes, it does. It was reviewed by our office and prepared in accordance to the Public Records Act,” the attorney answered.

Mesa Water’s PRA policy is not required by statute, he added, in response to further questions from Bockmiller, but it’s not unusual for public agencies to have one, although he could not say how many do.

As for redacting incidental personal information from e-mails, the attorney was less certain.

“I would have to go back and review with them (other legal staff at his firm who approved the policy language) the specific source of this language,” he said.

That’s about when Bockmiller said that he took public comments “very seriously,” recalling that when he campaigned to for election to the board he spoke out often at board meetings and “always hoped that the district took my comments, which I made a lot of, seriously at the time.”

Mesa Water rarely hears public comments, he acknowledged, “but when we do, as Mesa Water always does, we take them seriously.”

In that context, he wanted to see legal citations for my claim that some Mesa officials might be eligible for jail sentences (those citations were provided to all board members the next day by e-mail).

By mistake, Bockmiller and Director James Fisler thought that I had singled out members of the board.

“It’s the general broad immunities that you have when you are serving on a board,” he said, explaining his view of government accountability. “[It] seems highly unlikely that we would be held responsible for that. But that’s ok. It’s always good to hear,” he said.

Director Jim Fisler, who I had not asked for records, took offence and proclaimed that “This board doesn’t provide records to Mr. Earl. This board has not been asked for records by Mr. Earl.”

Secret Records
Lacking the urgency to vote on the matter, the board decided unanimously to take the matter back to its legal counsel for review. It would be discussed at the next meeting of the executive committee, Aug. 21 at 2 p.m. and brought back later to the full board for consideration.

“With that,” Bockmiller declared, hammering his gavel, “we will adjourn for a brief recess.”

Despite Bockmiller’s rude and blustering manner, the board’s vote seemed to prove that our comments would be taken seriously, just as he promised.

But within seconds after Cook and I left the board room, Bockmiller and Administrative Service Manager Coleen Monteleone expressed their real feelings of contempt for the public.

And it was all captured on Mesa Water’s MP3 (audio) recorder.

Coleen Monteleone, left, and Denise Garcia at the July 24 meeting of the Mesa Water District. Photo: Surf City Voice

Monteleone, who had been present as acting general manager in the absence of Paul Shoenberger, speaking to Bockmiller, started the embarrassing conversation with a sarcastic broadside at Cook.

“I don’t care what the city of Huntington Beach does, but thanks for letting us know,” she said, sarcastically.

Bockmiller, laughing, also mockingly addressing Cook, cracked, “What they did when you were on the board, which you are no longer.”

Monteleone: “Right, she is not on the council anymore.”

Bockmiller: “No, she’s not on the council.”

Monteleone: (pretending to speak to Cook) “Beat it!”

Then Denise Garcia, Executive Assistant to the General Manager, entered the conversation.

“I have an experience I would love to share with you about finding records for the city of Huntington Beach.”

Bockmiller: “Yes, that would be good, to find your own records.”

Bockmiller, still feeling contemptuous, then informs Director Dewane, CalDesal’s president, that he has asked legal counsel to look into a “potential legal issues,” such as “that somehow by your touching any CalDesal document it mysteriously turns into a public record.”

“No issue,” Dewane replies.

Director Trudy Ohlig-Hall, seemingly questioning the motives of Cook and myself for our interest in public documents, offers her opinion that, “There’s something more behind it too.”

“Oh, I’m sure there is,” Bockmiller agrees.

Fisler suggests it has something to do with opposition to two ocean desalination plants, one proposed for the city of Carlsbad and the other for Huntington Beach.

Then the conversation turns back to the legal issues.

Dewane: “I would appreciate being included in that conversation.”

Bockmiller: “Yeah, we’ll get that legal opinion, since it involves you.”

Dewane: (jokingly) “I don’t want to go to jail.”

Bockmiller, more seriously, acknowledges that nobody at Mesa wants to go to jail and attempts again to reassure everyone present that nobody is going to jail.

“Yeah, I can’t think of any time when any person in the state of California, under any circumstances, was sent to jail for public records issues,” Bockmiller is heard saying.

“Most likely they might have been fined or, you know, the public records had to be produced or whatever. But it seems unlikely that anyone actually went to jail for a Public Records Act thing.”

Then director Ohlig-Hall comes up with what might be the best bit of advice offered to the public officials at Mesa Water or anywhere.

“Just keep your pants on, that’s all. Then you don’t have to go to jail.”

Postscript: On Aug. 28 the Mesa Water Board of Directors voted to accept the revised Public Records Act policy but with some additional changes. After consultation with legal counsel, it was acknowledged, contrary to the board’s previous assumption, that Mesa cannot require PRA requests to be in writing, although the agency may reduce such requests to writing for clarity. The exemption for “purely personal information” was “clarified” but not dropped.

In response to Director Fisler’s previous belief that board members did not have to act on PRA requests made of them by the public, legal counsel advised that “pursuant to both State law and the policy, Public Records Act requests made to Mesa Water, or its Directors or employees, should be directed to the District Secretary.” At the Aug 21 Executive Committee meeting It was also noted by legal counsel that materials brought back to and stored at Mesa Water are public documents.

Finally, legal costs to Mesa Water’s ratepayers for the latest revision of its PRA policy—when other much better written summaries already exist for free—is unknown at this time.

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