The Aug. 14 meeting of the Templeton Community Services District kicked off not with a bang, but a whimper.
“Hello?” a floating voice crackled out of a desktop speaker phone.
“Greg?” said Laurie Ion, the CSD assistant to the general manager and board secretary. “It’s the board meeting.”
It was the type of awkward, shuffling kickoff you’d expect at the first meeting since Director Greg O’Sullivan was publicly scolded during the board’s July 24 special meeting. At the time, O’Sullivan called the situation a “witch hunt,” and Director Kevin Hunt asked, “Is this just supposed to embarrass Greg right now?”
On the other side of the table were three district directors—John Gannon, Robert Bergman, and Judith Dietch—who are perceived by some as the old-school board majority, in which O’Sullivan is anything but welcome.
The situation stemmed from a July 10 CSD meeting during which O’Sullivan was accused of berating two district employees over a proposed district contract. The employees later sent a letter to the district, complaining not about O’Sullivan’s specific questions, but “the manner in which it was expressed.” In response, district officials scheduled a special meeting, beginning at 3:30 p.m., to effectively do nothing. No action was taken on the item, though some members of the public were allowed to voice their opinions.
In fact, public participation has become a bit of an issue for the district, which hasn’t held a regularly scheduled meeting for about two months. Many expect the district will continue to cancel regular meetings and replace them with “special” meetings through September.
O’Sullivan has been particularly critical of the board’s recent practice of kicking out meetings from week to week and rescheduling special meetings. In a July 31 e-mail to his fellow district officials, O’Sullivan asked that the district not reschedule “at least one of” its meetings in August.
“The public’s opportunity to be involved in district meetings should also be considered when changing dates,” O’Sullivan said, adding that most people expect and plan for meetings on the first and third Tuesdays of the month.
Despite his request, the district’s most recent regular meeting was once again canceled and rescheduled for an Aug. 14 special meeting, during which O’Sullivan was only able to participate via speaker phone while he was on a planned trip out of town.
At the meeting, several residents continued to raise concerns over the way O’Sullivan was treated at the July 24 meeting. Residents said they’d reviewed audio recordings of the meeting that sparked the controversy, and they didn’t believe O’Sullivan had acted out of turn.
“The subsequent special hearing was troubling … it had wasted time and unnecessary costs in attorney fees,” one resident said.
Gannon, the board’s president, told New Times in an e-mail that he “was advised by legal counsel that there was a potential liability and as such brought it to the full board. The board chose not to pursue the censure option [against O’Sullivan].”
Both Gannon and District General Manager Jeff Hodge defended the district’s recent chaotic meeting schedule. Gannon said the district changes meeting schedules to ensure a full agenda on the board’s plate. Hodge said in an e-mail that the board “may choose to reschedule meetings due to board member and/or staff schedules, holidays, training conflicts, etc.”
Outside of district officials, community members remain worried about the constantly shuffling schedule. On Aug. 14, several members asked that the board specifically schedule public comment during special meetings, worried that without an item on the agenda, they might be barred from speaking at special meetings (Hodge told New Times every special meeting will still include public comment).
Dorothy Jennings is a member of the Templeton Area Advisory Group who doesn’t live within the CSD boundaries, but she keeps tabs on district issues. She, too, is worried about the sheer volume of special meetings replacing regularly scheduled district meetings.
“Substituting special meetings for regularly scheduled board meetings has the appearance, as I see it, of chilling community participation,” she said in an e-mail.
O’Sullivan, on the other hand, feels he’s been singled out after he upset the district’s status quo. The freshman director and former Templeton fire chief is just two years into his first four-year term, but said he feels that his proclivity for asking lots of questions has upset the board majority.
“In the past, board meetings have lasted 20/25 minutes, because all they did was rubber stamp everything staff told them to do,” he said.
O’Sullivan added that he was sorry if anyone was upset by his tone, but after reviewing the audio himself, he doesn’t feel he was too harsh in questioning staffers at the July 10 meeting. In fact, during the Aug. 14 meeting, O’Sullivan said pointedly, “I make no apologies … I was just doing what I feel was responsible.”
As for the district’s scheduled Aug. 21 meeting, it too was canceled and rescheduled for Aug. 28.
News Editor Colin Rigley can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.