Opinion » Shredder

Watching the watchdogs



At the risk of oversimplifying a super not-simple issue, peeps over the Paso groundwater basin are hosed.

They've got reports from all directions with bad news, years of not-great policies, the prospect of different fees coming down the pike, and some elected officials crying fowl about other elected officials trying to undo those not-great policies. Ahem, 5th District Supervisor Debbie Arnold.


Most recently, the SLO County grand jury said basin wells could dry up, there's been a failure to equally regulate pumping restrictions and fees, and public outreach was inadequate.

The Board of Supervisors now has to respond to those findings and the jury's suggestions, which is what they were trying to do during a recent meeting when Arnold went on the offensive.

"I am concerned ... that this report is very misleading," Arnold said at the meeting. "The grand jury is kind of a watchdog, [and] ... they may not have had the full information."

I get it. You have all the information. But you and fellow North County Supervisor John Peschong, of the 1st District, are no longer on the subcommittee in charge. So it's. All. Their. Fault.

"Peshong and I were pulled off of this water board against our will," she said, and 2nd District Supervisor Bruce Gibson was selected to take their place. "He has changed the policies of that board."

Arnold stated that Gibson is the wrong guy to be looking out for the people of the Paso basin, and "suddenly with a change of leadership—to someone who doesn't represent the area—we have these problems."

Like trying to figure out how basin users should pay their fair share.

Gibson wasn't taking it. He told Arnold that he was fairly elected and has gotten up to speed on basin history and issues.

"I agree with [Gibson] that he studied hard because he couldn't have torn down 10 years of work without studying hard," Arnold said.

Way to snap at the watchdogs and everyone else, Debbie. Could you maybe cry over the basin so your tears could recharge the groundwater a bit?

Speaking of watchdogs in the county, we've got Julie Tacker unleashed in Pismo Beach, digging up dirt on local government bodies for the SLO County DA's Office.

Because of "an idea" Tacker had that the Pismo Beach City Council would be discussing the appointment of and salary increase for the interim city manager during a closed session meeting back in May, the DA ended up in some heated back-and-forth with Pismo officials about whether council members violated the Brown Act.

A civics aside: The Ralph M. Brown Act is a California law that gives you, John and Jane Q. Public, the right to attend and participate in local legislative body meetings and hear what's really going on. Members of said bodies must discuss issues—like interim city managers' salaries—openly.

But under that law, if confidentiality outweighs your public interest, some things can be discussed in a members-only meeting. Got it? Good.

Tacker is like a Brown Act brownnoser, so when she got the idea that a contract for interim City Manager Jorge Garcia might be on the table, literally, during a May 10 closed session meeting and that some new salary details might be inside that contract that might be on the table (a Brown Act no-no, remember?), she texted a City Council member a heads-up. Don't go to the dark side, she said.

That council member, who has not been named, got back to Tacker saying that there was a contract in closed session, and they were told not to discuss it.

When City Attorney David Fleishman and Deputy DA Ken Jorgensen debated the reported presence of said alleged draft employment contract, the city attorney replied that Tacker either speculated about what happened in closed session or someone at the meeting unlawfully informed her what happened, which would violate confidentiality.

But when it comes to laws possibly being broken: confidentiality schmonfidentiality! That's what Jorgensen said. Well, it was more lawyer-y than that: There won't be any reprisal for anyone who witnessed a law being broken at a closed meeting if they report the incident to the proper authorities.

"Therefore," Deputy DA Jorgensen wrote to the city attorney on July 20, "it would be in the interest of the agency and its legal counsel to act in accordance with the law and cooperate in good faith rather than 'stonewall' a legitimate informal investigative inquiry by the DA."

But without the City Council's go-ahead to release the information in question, the city attorney said no dice. No one got thrown under the bus, so the DA's Office has to just keep driving. And Julie Tacker has to just keep driving ... to those meetings, amirite?

Going forward, Pismo Beach showed some contrition. Officials and employees who attend closed session meetings must now get Brown Act training.

City staff and council members need to get their policy ducks in a row to ensure items and documents closed session are permitted under the Brown Act.

And finally, City Council members are now supposed to publish Deputy DA Jorgensen's letter as a public business item for the next open meeting.

They apparently didn't do it at their Aug. 15 or Sept. 5 council meetings. Will that letter never see the light of day? Δ

The Shredder is its own watchdog. Send bones to [email protected].


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