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Shredder is mean

As the cause of 'good trouble,' I'm also getting blamed for dysfunction at the OCSD

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I used to enjoy reading the Shredder when it focused on intelligent satire and muckraking. More and more it has slipped into the morass of cheap shots, meanness, hype, and—of deepest concern—a lack of respect for facts. I want to respond to what I consider inaccurate and intemperate remarks made about me in the Nov 2. column ("Learn by don'ting").

First, the notion that I am the source of Oceano Community Services District's (OCSD) dysfunction is outlandish. Anyone with a historical perspective on this organization knows it has had many, many issues over the years—numerous embezzlements, internal conflicts, and public catfights. More directors over the years have resigned than have been elected. My election as a director and the appointments of directors Allene Villa and Beverly Joyce-Suneson created a new moderately liberal majority, maybe for the first time ever. The MAGA mad locals who make up Director Linda Austin's bully posse and Vitality Advisory Council directors were mobilized to disrupt public meetings with shouted insults and profanities, refusing to behave civilly, character assassination, and intimidate directors within and outside of meetings (on social media, in the parking lot, etc.).

Using the Shredder's dysfunctional metaphor, it is clear that what the OCSD "family" does when its dysfunctional norms, values, and processes are challenged. It labels, attacks, and rejects the person who is speaking the truth, pulling the covers off, or otherwise exposing the family secrets. Kill the messenger.

The general manager and Linda Austin's narrative that the law firm quit because I and Director Joyce-Suneson violated the Brown Act is simply a distraction from the truth of the law firm's major errors in dealing with the facts of corruption. Remember this fact: The law firm works for the board of directors and is responsible for informing and protecting the directors and district from doing the wrong thing. The law firm does not represent the general manager. And finally, the Brown Act cannot be used to cover up criminal activity. My reporting the criminal behavior to the SLO County District Attorney's Office certainly pissed off some people. Linda Austin called Director Joyce-Suneson and me "tattletales." So I ask you Shredder, who is the "problem"? The people keeping government agency embezzlement a secret, or the persons making it public?

When our law firm was given notice, we were scheduling a "performance review," they chose to quit rather than face it. Why? Because they have a huge vulnerability by implicitly or explicitly participating in an active suppression of information related to internal fraud and embezzlement at the OCSD. When I first attempted to bring this out in a public OCSD meeting, our attorney sought to shut me up by saying I was violating the Brown Act by sharing secrets from closed session meetings. Forgive me for raising my voice and challenging him. You cannot use the Brown Act to cover up criminal behavior, and I was out of patience.

The Shredder refers to a "whiny letter" I wrote to supervisors and the sheriff about the Oct. 25 OCSD meeting. Here is an excerpt:

"We had prepared for an uncivil and disruptive OCSD meeting since it involved a public performance review of the general manager. He and Linda Austin made it known there would be a large crowd. Our attorney had notified the sheriff of fears of disruption or possible violence (I was not privy to these conversations with our attorney Daniel Cheung). The room was packed with the usual bully posse of rude, loud, interruptive, aggressive, and mean-spirited zealots. We know them well from previous meetings and they answer to the dog whistle of Linda Austin and VACO. They began to disrupt the meeting early on and escalated through the evening. This bully posse was verbally attacking and threatening other people in the audience. President Villa, despite her efforts, was unable to establish and maintain civility or order. Around 6:43 p.m. a male speaker approached the podium and began to berate and threaten me in an aggressive manner. President Villa called a recess to the meeting at which point the male rapidly walked towards me and confronted me in my seat by walking behind the dais. I stood and told him to back off. He refused. I told him I was calling the sheriff and to back off. He walked past and behind me. I called 911 at 6:45 p.m. and requested immediate assistance for the threat made to me and to help restore public order. This was the most aggressive, mean-spirited, and threatening meeting of OCSD I had ever seen. No sheriff ever arrived even though, as I learned later, other persons had also called for assistance, fearful at what was taking place."

I went on to report what I had learned about why the sheriff never responded to my 911 call, which was well described in a Tribune front page headline story. The editors there didn't think the issue was a "whiny" one or that I was being a troublemaker.

The bully posse likes to dogpile on their target. They throw mud ball after mud ball. I guess some of it stuck in the Shredder's hair since they ended their OCSD diatribe with "... (Varni is) demanding accountability ... for everyone but himself. Dude, maybe you're the problem."

I am not accountable for the cover-up of an embezzlement at OCSD; nor the actions of Austin's bully posse; nor the egregious actions of the Oceano sheriff. Dismissing my letter as "whiny" and blaming the "victim" is a classic way to distract from the true facts, which I laid out to the best of my ability. I am accountable for making, in the words of John Lewis, "good trouble." Since all of my public actions regarding OCSD are on television and in social media I am very accountable and have never avoided taking responsibility for my own poor behavior when it happens. So here's a call out for you Shredder, show me an action or something I wrote that you think I should be held "accountable" for. Δ

Charles Varni is an Oceano Community Services District director. Send comments for publication to [email protected].

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