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EQSD board addresses new director’s potential conflicts

Dan McDonald
Staff Writer
11/30/2011

The East Quincy Services District’s board of directors said it wants to make sure a newly elected member doesn’t have a conflict of interest.

Mike Green, who ousted incumbent Steve Grant in the Nov. 8 election, lives in the East Quincy district. However, he works as a water/wastewater operator for the Quincy Community Services District.

The East Quincy board called a special meeting Monday, Nov. 21, to talk about Green’s election and potential conflicts.

After East Quincy’s board chairman, Howard Hughes, outlined his board’s concerns, Green insisted he knew what he was getting into when he ran for the seat.

“I looked into it, like you guys did. I actually did talk to the attorney general’s office,” Green said. “Basically I’m not able to vote on anything that I can gain monetarily, or somebody I am related to or friends with, or what have you. It’s pretty well cut and dried.”

Hughes said the special meeting’s purpose was not to keep Green, who has been openly critical of the EQSD directors, off the board.

“This meeting was called to determine what Mr. Green can or cannot legally vote on. That’s all it’s about,” Hughes said.

But many of the dozen public members at the meeting, including Green, said they felt there was more to it than that.

“It seems to me like somebody is severely threatened by the fact that I am going to be on this board,” said Green, who is scheduled to be seated Dec. 2. “I haven’t made any gestures or complaints. I haven’t made any threats. I just ran for the board.”

However Green, who regularly attended East Quincy board meetings, has been openly critical of the board’s decision to end a 16-year consolidation effort with the Quincy district.

Green has acknowledged that his job at the Quincy district could prohibit him from taking part in any consolidation vote.

“It seems that for whatever reason, it wasn’t just the vote you were concerned about. It was (Green’s) opinions or what he was going to bring to the table that concerned you. And that concerns me,” an East Quincy resident told the board members. “I think, hopefully, we are all working for the same thing. And I’m just a little confused and concerned about what this all looks like.”

When no board member addressed the statement after several seconds, another audience member added, “It doesn’t look good.”

 

Consolidation

The topic of the districts’ failing consolidation effort drew as much debate at the meeting as Green’s election.

The East Quincy board voted 3-2 last spring to end the consolidation.

But the Local Agency Formation Commission (LAFCo) ordered the districts Nov. 14 to set aside their differences and seek mediation, if necessary, by Jan. 9.

Some audience members asked why the mediation issue wasn’t on the special meeting agenda.

“Don’t you think mediation was more of a time-sensitive subject than this?” County Supervisor Jon Kennedy asked the board.

Green asked the same question.

“It sure seems like you guys (the board) have put a lot of time into (conflict of interest). It seems kind of funny to me that we’ve got a special meeting spelled out right here and it seems to surround me being elected to the board,” Green said. “LAFCo made a comment and basically told you to talk to the boards and see about mediation. … It’s not even mentioned on this (agenda).

“It just seems that I’m more important than what LAFCo directs. … Why am I so special?”

East Quincy’s attorney, Robert Zernich, said the LAFCo board couldn’t tell the districts what to do.

“LAFCo has no authority over us, or Quincy,” Zernich said. “They can suggest mediation, but they can’t make you do it. It’s as simple as that.”

Supervisor Lori Simpson said she was getting tired of the EQSD’s defiance regarding consolidation.

“The LAFCo director (John Benoit) said this is the first time in the state of California that a special district has gone through consolidation and then tried to stop it,” Simpson said. “If we want to add Plumas County to the chart of embarrassment in the state of California, I guess we are going to go that way. I’m getting sort of tired of it myself.”

Several residents at the meeting echoed Simpson’s frustration.

“This valley isn’t big enough or densely populated enough to have to have two service districts,” a man said. “I would really, really like to see people get around the table and talk. And if mediation is the way, mediation is the way. Once you stop talking, everybody loses.”

 

Conflict of interest

Simpson and Kennedy explained to the EQSD board that it is Green’s responsibility to decide when he has a conflict of interest, not the board’s responsibility.

“The (EQSD) board is determining what can and can’t be talked about and voted on. … I don’t think it’s the business of the board to worry about that. That’s (Green’s) risk,” Kennedy said.

Simpson said the county supervisors sometimes rely on county counsel’s opinion if they think there is a perceived conflict.

“That’s what we pay him for,” Simpson said. “If we have any suspect, we leave the room or recuse ourselves.”

Green questioned board chairman Hughes about his own potential conflicts. Hughes is also chairman of the county fair board.

“You sit on two boards. Those boards work together,” Green said to Hughes. “Is that not a direct conflict of interest?”

“I abstain from them,” Hughes said, referring to votes where he could have a conflict of interest. “It makes it pretty easy. Pretty clean.”

However, EQSD board records show Hughes has taken part in discussion and several votes concerning a recent EQSD improvement project at the fairgrounds.

“That is directly one of the (conflicts) we are talking about,” Green said of Hughes’ involvement in the fairgrounds project. “You are not allowed to discuss any part of that contract or even be involved in it.”

“Duly noted,” Hughes responded. “That is a good point.”

But, according to conflict of interest law, Hughes was only required to recuse himself if he had something personally or monetarily to gain in the EQSD project at the fairgrounds.

Zernich went on to clarify a board member’s responsibilities for the audience.

“When you get elected to a board — whether it’s the board of supervisors or the state assembly or this board or any board — you are required by law to give your undivided loyalty to that board and its constituents.”

In regard to Green’s situation, Zernich added, “I think Mike understands that. Because he has researched it and looked into it and understands what the situation might be by the fact that he’s an employee of the Quincy Services District.”

 

Closed session

Public members in attendance objected when Hughes mentioned the topic of Green’s potential conflict of interest would be discussed during the meeting’s closed session.

“That’s what part of the closed session was going to be about,” Hughes said. “To get some guidance from counsel.”

The special meeting’s agenda stated the closed session was for “Conference with Legal Counsel: Significant exposure to litigation pursuant to Subdivision (b) of Government Code Section 54956.9.”

Neither EQSD nor Green has publicly threatened a lawsuit regarding the matter.

If the board discussed Green’s situation in that particular closed session, it could have violated the state’s Brown Act public meeting law.

As of this newspaper’s deadline, it was unknown if the matter was addressed during the closed session.

 


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