By Karen Brainard
A director of the Ramona Municipal Water District walked out during the Feb. 25 board meeting after disagreements with two other board members regarding district policy.
“Good luck,” Director Rex Schildhouse said as he got up from his chair after the other directors voted to have
legal counsel check if action taken by Schildhouse was a violation of district code.
The squabble began at the board’s Feb. 11 meeting when Schildhouse expressed dissatisfaction that his agenda request was not listed on the agenda, and he asked legal counsel to prepare a presentation on a number of board-related items, including previous grand jury rulings and findings, board policies, directors’ duties, agenda memos, compensation for additional meetings, and legal definition of a quorum.
Instead of a presentation at the Feb. 25 meeting, district General Manager David Barnum quickly reviewed elements of Policy 1, the section of the district’s code that covers board duties and meeting procedures, and asked the directors if they wanted a workshop on Policy 1.
Darrell Beck, board president, then read a statement about the water district’s days from the late 1970s to 1992, when the district was investigated twice by the county grand jury: in 1986-87 and 1990-91.
“Bickering and hostility between board members in open public meetings led the district to a period of instability, confusion and a great amount of litigation,” Beck stated. “Individual board members were violating the Brown Act and other statutes. Board members were harassing employees, interfering with the day-to -day operations of the district.”
According to Beck, there were major conflicts of interest and ethics violations among some board members, resulting in a huge turnover of district management.
“District morale was low and distrust was high,” he said.
The first grand jury report was the catalyst for RMWD Policy 1, adopted in 1987, he said.
Beck said he believes it is the individual board member’s responsibility to become familiar with Policy 1 and other policies such as the California Brown Act, the open meeting law.
Director Joe Zenovic followed, referring to Schildhouse’s requests for information and his actions as “a cry for help.” He noted that directors were given an informational packet on Policy 1 when taking office and suggested Schildhouse, who was elected in November 2012, didn’t read it or understand it.
Schildhouse countered that he read the informational packet, made notes, and followed up with specific questions, but he said there have been inconsistencies and contradictions in the answers.
“So we have some issues about what’s being said to who, when, why, where,” he said, adding that the items should be addressed at a public forum.
A motion by Zenovic to present Schildhouse with another information packet, provide a tutor for 15 hours on a one-to-one basis to review the documents, and accomplish that before the next board meeting failed with Zenovic and Beck voting yes, Director George Foote abstaining, and Schildhouse opposing. Director Kit Kesinger, who has not attended a meeting since April 2013, was absent.
Beck took issue with a letter he said Schildhouse drafted to legal counsel, represented by Ron Ball of Best, Best & Krieger, requesting clarification on board policy items. Beck called the letter “secret,” saying it was dated Feb. 11 and the board did not see it beforehand.
Schildhouse argued that the letter was presented to the board.
“It’s not secret, it was made public,” he said.
Beck made a motion to seek an opinion from legal counsel as to whether the action taken by an individual board member was a violation of RMWD Code “and if so, what is the remedy?”
“This is going to cost you money,” Schildhouse said.
“Yup, you’re right. It also might solve the problem, too,” responded Beck.
The motion was seconded by Zenovic and passed 3-1 with Schildhouse opposing.
As Schildhouse prepared to leave the meeting, he addressed an earlier allegation by Zenovic. Schildhouse often wears a sling on his right arm, the result of an injury suffered in a May 2013 accident of which he was not at fault. Zenovic said, “Director Schildhouse stated he’s on many medications,” a comment that Schildhouse said was false.
After Schildhouse left, the next agenda item was his request to consider changing the meeting time from 2 p.m. to later in the day so more members of the public could attend. The remainder of the board voted 3-0 to retain the 2 p.m. start time.