It was fairly obvious that something was afoot at the June 25 Chester Public Utility District meeting. The first clue: there were members of the public present. As a rule, no one other than the district’s engineer, attorney or the press is in attendance.
However, it was also evident that the board of directors had some expectations going into the meeting because the agenda contained, for the first time, printed rules for public comment.
The rules, as read by board president Tonu Plakk, allowed a total of 15 minutes or three minutes per speaker, whichever was less.
The meeting was called to order and then the board recessed to closed session. Directors reconvened at 4:54 p.m. and Plakk announced that among the personnel issues discussed, the board had received and accepted a “letter of retirement” from Bill Turner.
“The retirement date is open-ended until such time as board hires a qualified replacement,” Plakk said.
Turner is the general manager of the consolidated district that provides water, sewer, sewer treatment, streetlight and fire and ambulance services to the community of Chester. In this position he also serves as the fire chief.
Plakk then opened the public comment period and inquired if any members of the public wanted to address the board.
Resident Wayne Lichti walked forward to the director’s table and said, “This is notice that the public is going to recall the board.”
All five members of the board were present. Receiving Notices of Intent to Circulate Recall Petition were Tonu Plakk, Dick Withrow, Ben Thompson, John Knopp and Gregg Scott.
“What’s the basis for the recall?” Plakk asked.
“It is contained within the document served,” Lichti replied.
The grounds for the stated recall were addressed to each director by name and listed as:
“The directors, including yourself, have failed to properly oversee the district and protect the ratepayers, taxpayers and employees of the district.
“The board, including yourself, also showed a lack of independence from and oversight of the manager.
“The district has claimed that the fire department is in financial trouble yet during the last two years major spending has occurred including a new ambulance and a significantly upgraded retirement plan, costing thousands, and borrowing from CPUD to cover some of these purchases.”
Plumas County Clerk Kathy Williams offered information about the notice and the recall process June 27.
The document served to the board members by Lichti is the first step in the recall process and mandated by California Elections Code (CEC) Section 11006.
This is the document completed by the proponents (those seeking to recall) and served on the recallees (the elected officials they want to remove from office).
The ECE also requires the number of signers on the intent to recall “shall be 10 or equal to the number of signatures required to be filed on the nomination papers of the elected official sought to be recalled, whichever is greater.”
These signers, according to the notice, are listed as the proponents creating the recall effort.
The notice contained the 12 signatures of Chester residents David and Laurie Anne Shawles, Richard E. Lore, Janice Nelson, Fred and Pam Biscotti, Joseph and Chelsea Cummings, Ed and Lynn Wistos, William Ashbury and Dave Harris.
The recall process
As outlined in the handbook published by the California Secretary of State, many steps and time frames are mandated with a recall effort.
The proponents’ first step was to make the formal delivery of the Notice of Intention to Circulate the Recall Petition.
The next step requires the notice and an affidavit attesting to the time and manner of service to be filed with the Plumas County clerk within seven days.
Following this, the proponents must publish the notice, at their own expense, in the newspaper. They must then file a proof of publication with the clerk’s office.
At this point the recallees may submit to the clerk’s office an “answer” to the filed notice.
From that point, the clerk’s office has seven days to serve a copy of the answer to one of the proponents on the list.
In the next phase, the original grounds and the answers from the recallees would go on the formal petition to be circulated among the community’s registered voters.
“They (proponents) will have to get over 401 valid signatures,” Williams said.
She also said the number was based on 30 percent of the total number of voters in the district, which is 1,338, and that the proponents must gather all signatures within 50 days of the petition being approved for circulation. They are then required to turn in all the circulated petitions at one time for an official filing.
From that point the clerk’s office has 30 days to verify the signatures and addresses from the voter registration cards they maintain.
Upon competing the examination of the petition, the clerk’s office will attach a mandatory certificate showing the result of the examination and then will notify the proponents of either the sufficiency or insufficiency of the petition.
“Upon the petition being certified as sufficient, I would go to the Plumas County Board of Supervisors for authorization to conduct a special election, spend funds and create ballots,” she said.
If the clerk’s office finds the petition to be insufficient, no further action will be taken. The petition would remain on file in the clerk’s office.
As to the time frame for the potential election, Williams said, “We don’t know if the election will go forward until we certify the signatures. If they are certified, the estimated date of the special recall election would be Jan. 8, 2013.”
The cost of the election is billed to the district.
When asked for an estimate of the cost to hold the election Williams said, “Because it is a small district, and based on previous elections, I would estimate the cost range at between $2,000 and 4,000.”
More public comment
“I live here in the forest and want to know if the fire department is doing anything about pine needle debris and trash piling up around about town,” resident Steve DeWitt asked.
Director Scott inquired what he was speaking about, a public campaign for cleanup or the writing of citations.
DeWitt said he was concerned about fire danger and just wanted to know if the department was going to put the issue on their priority list.
Turner said the department does send out letters advising property owners that they have 30 days to clean up their lots. He then said the fire department does follow up on the letters.
“For my next question, a couple of years ago the fire department painted a number of fire hydrants in the community. The rest were left, snow poles are bent and many of the hydrants are being covered by shrubs and trees,” DeWitt said.
DeWitt also questioned why there was no state and U.S. flag in the public meeting and why the meeting didn’t open with the flag salute.
Scott responded and told DeWitt that it was basically overlooked due to the fact that members of the public seldom attended district meetings.
The only two action items on the agenda were the results of the annual audit and a bid to construct a building around Well No. 5 and build a concrete wall to surround a propane tank.
“As usual it came out to my satisfaction and I would like to make a motion to accept it,” Dick Withrow said about the audit. All members voted to accept the audit.
The district publicized the bid for the well projects for one month and only received one bid, in the amount of $104,952.
Plakk said the bid would go to district engineer Ed Anderson for review to ensure the bid is an appropriate cost for the project.
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