It is the job of working journalists to ask questions – especially from public officials – and what we call “follow-up” questions, and more questions.
Then it is the job of working journalists to report the answers to these questions so the public can be better informed than if it had only read carefully crafted statements by spin doctors or sparse one-way social media posts.
Rarely do readers ever get the opportunity to know the questions that were never answered, the questions that were sent to a public body, sometimes again and again, with no response.
Today, I have listed below most of the questions sent in writing by the Press Banner to representatives of the San Lorenzo Valley Water District over the past six months that, sadly, remain unanswered.
Most of these weren’t just unanswered, they were completely ignored. Some were sent to each member of the elected Board of Directors. With the exception of Director Bill Smallman, the individual directors ignored all of our questions.
Most were sent to Board President Gene Ratcliffe and General Manager Brian Lee, as well as to the district’s Santa Cruz public relations firm, Miller Maxfield. Ratcliffe sent in a 500-word opinion piece, which was published in full. Miller Maxfield, acting on behalf of the district, responded positively to another two dozen questions in the past six months.
1. Did the San Lorenzo Valley Water District board take a vote to reject Bruce Holloway’s request that Terry Vierra be asked to resign? If so, when, and what was the wording of the resolution? Was the vote unanimous?
2. Do you believe any directors can continue to legally vote and participate in the discussion of issues or decisions in which they have a financial interest or from which they would stand to receive money – as the district is arguing in its case on appeal?
3. Were there any subsequent votes by the Board of Directors to reject a settlement in the Vierra case, and proceed to trial?
4. Should the Board of Directors vote in public whether to appeal court decisions?
5. Do you believe the board has the right to take action on a matter in which one of its member directors may have violated state conflict-of-interest or other lawss?
6. I could not attend the Feb. 24 meeting. When will draft minutes be posted?
7. Is there a publicly posted video of the public portion(s) of the Feb. 24 meeting?
8. Who attended the meeting?
9. What was/were the names of the lawyers with whom you met in the closed session?
10. Were there any action items from the meeting? If so, what were they? What were the votes?
11. Who decided to call this special meeting?
12. Why was the special meeting called? Why did it have to occur at this time?
13. Did you know ahead of time whether all directors could attend?
14. Is there a staff report on the storm damage to the water treatment plant? Is it available online or for public inspection? Was it presented to the directors today?
15. Did the storm damage have any temporary or continuing impact on water quality or delivery? If so, for how many customers and for how long?
16. When did the board ask its administrative committee to seek RFPs for new legal counsel, and who requested this?
17. Are Brian Lee’s email responses and explanations about the Tierra Vierra case to ratepayers, and the paperwork he filed in the case the result of a directive from the board?
18. Do Lee’s written and oral comments represent the board position?
19. Is Lee acting as a spokesman for the district or the board in these instances?
20. Do his opinions on the Vierra case reflect the unanimous opinion of the board?
If yes, was there ever a vote taken that gave this authority, or that outlined his talking points?
21. Do you still plan on refraining from commenting, individually, or as a board on the Vierra case, even the district is no longer a defendant?
22. How many of you will be attending the March 17 hearing?
23. Will you be commenting at the hearing? If so, will you be available for public comment after the decision?
April 3 and April 4
24. Since each of you is no longer constrained from making any comments on any ongoing legal issues in the Terry Vierra case, I would like to give each of you another opportunity to share any thoughts (or second thoughts?) you might have about the case. If you send me a comment under 200 words by 9 a.m. Tuesday, I will print it in this Friday’s paper.
25. Does your decision tonight in any way affect the board’s payment of legal bills incurred through April 2?
26. I would like a copy of the letter(s) or email(s) from Terry Vierra requesting that the board pay his legal fees, which President Ratcliffe referenced in her statement.
27. “Pulling out mature plants destroys the habitat of the federally-protected Mount Hermon June beetle and is prohibited by the US Fish & Wildlife Service.” This statement reads that the US F&W prohibits the district from pulling out mature plants in the watershed, yet this is not the case. Can you clarify this?
28. The water district’s press release from Brian Lee posted on its site about the board’s decision on Monday, May 8, excluded any reference to two of the five points voted on by the board, including the one about spending up to $25,000 for immediate “cutting only.” Do you have any comment on this?
29. When will the FAQs about the Holloway and deBert cases that were distributed by the district at the May 25 board meeting be posted on the district’s web site?
30. Who wrote those FAQs?
31. Were the FAQs approved by the board? If not, were they written based on some directive by the board or the board president?
32. Were the FAQs ever discussed by the board?
33. Were texts of the FAQs distributed by the district at the May 25 board meeting ever reviewed and/or approved by individual board members? If so, when, and by what mechanism? Email? Executive session?
34. Was there ever a vote to approve and distribute the FAQs?
35. When will the “immediate” hand-cutting eradication begin, as directed by the board? Will there be a solicitation of volunteers for this effort?
36. Could you email me, or send me a link to the minutes of the April 3, 2017 board meeting?
37. Was the “cutting only” effort for French Broom ever done? If Yes, how much (number of plants, and/or how much acreage)?
38. If not, why not? Will this work begin at any time this summer, now that the plants have gone to seed?
39. How much money was set aside for this effort in the 2017-18 budget approved this week?
40. I’m renewing my request for the opportunity to to sit down with Brian Lee, Bill Maxfield, or some other designees, and walk through the water rate request, so I could explain it clearly to your ratepayers.
41. Has a contract been signed with the new law firm, which becomes your counsel as of tomorrow [July 1]? If so, I would like to request a copy of that contract (or, will it be posted on the district website?).
42. I understand the water district last month hired a contractor who began some cutting and dabbing with the herbicide glyphosate in the Olympia Well Field. Did this person do any cutting that was “cutting only” or was it all to be “cut-and-dab?”
43. Please email me a copy of the contract.
44. Will the district be informing or working with Fish and Wildlife with regard to this effort?
If you would like to know the answers to any of these questions, I encourage you to give it a try. Maybe a ratepayer or two will have better luck than this working journalist. Let me know how you make out. I’ll report your results. firstname.lastname@example.org