The war over access to files erupted once again at the monthly board meeting of the Georgetown Divide Public Utility District.
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Supplying fresh ammunition was board member Kathy Otermat who asked the board to approve a request that staff at the agency comply with the California Public Records Act.
Otermat said she had previously sent out two public record requests. One went to Hank White, general manager of GDPUD and one to the California Department of Public Health (CDPH), which is the state agency that oversees GDPUD.
“At the state agency, I scanned documents for three hours and was left alone,” she said. “But when I asked for access to district records, Hank (White) said he had to be with me. I just want GDPUD to comply with the same rules as the CDPH.”
In response, Board President Ray Griffiths said, “I find it ironic that we are discussing the number of employees we can’t employ and yet you want to employ someone to take care of your needs for these records. To comply with your request we’d have to hire more people.”
Otermat responded that she had been allowed to review some of the files requested “but I was told I had to leave at 4:30 — banker’s hours. But the files I wanted to review were already in Hank’s office.”
Board member Bonnie Neeley said she was offended by Oterman’s behavior. “Why do you need 10 years’ worth of files? Why should Hank be wasting his time on this? Why are you cc-ing everybody in the state?”
“I wanted to educate myself on the 218 process,” said Otermat. “If the state can pull files as needed why can’t we be more organized? White just wanted to supervise me.”
Neeley said one reason for White being present while Otermat looked through the files was to make sure all the documents stay in the same order they were in originally.
But Otermat claimed the files were out-of-order when she got them. “I want the same compliance from this agency as the state provides. I was voted to do this job. I want compliance for myself as well as any Joe Public who comes in.”
Neeley then asked, “Can you make any compromise or will you continue treating us as an adversary?”
White complained that Otermat had requested hundreds and hundreds of files. “Other times you requested to come in, didn’t come in or call and in the meantime we were handling emergencies,” he said. “The State of California is responsible for their files. Why do you need to be alone with these files? The state doesn’t allow her access to files when she’s alone. The files are available but you’ve refused to come in and haven’t called after making an appointment to come in.”
Board member Norm Krizl noted that, “This is about reasonable accommodation. But just dropping by is not reasonable. I don’t understand the need to drop everything to accommodate you. This is not a state agency with people sitting around twiddling their thumbs.”
“My intent is not to disrupt,” replied Otermat.
“Staff have more important things to do,” said Krizl. “Why can’t you be more reasonable instead of using a hammer?”
For responsibility’s sake
William Wright, general counsel for the district, suggested that perhaps White could choose to sit in while Otermat reviews the files or a different person could do it. But Neeley said that White was most familiar with what was in the files and he was responsible for them.
Meanwhile members of the public and staff of GDPUD entered the fray.
Stephanie Beck, who is an employee with the district, said she was speaking on her own time. “I have been taken off task to pull files which you (Otermat) never came to look at until two months later. Then you ask for files that have to be pulled from the archives. We spend hours pulling documents and then we don’t get the courtesy of a call saying you’re not coming in to see them. A lot of the things you say are lies.”
Another resident, Jack Podsedly, countered by saying, “This whole thing is a question of control. Can’t anyone else pull the files? Why can’t she be allowed to put the files back the way they were? She’s trying to get to the bottom of things and you’re making it seem she’s wasting everybody’s time. Are you afraid she’ll find a $400 dinner? You’re whining that he can’t get his job done. There’s unreasonableness on the part of staff as far as reasonable accommodation.”
In the meantime, Otermat made a motion to require GDPUD to comply with the California Records Act which resulted in Wright pointing out that a “no” vote on the motion would imply the agency was not complying with Public Records Act.
In response, Krizl said, “I believe we’re in compliance and this motion is a loaded gun. It’s not reasonable to just drop by and ask to see certain files. Some consideration has to be given to the work people have to do.”
Resident Steve Miller then asked Otermat to retract the motion and define what is reasonable.
Sensing a compromise was at hand, Wright suggested that Otermat withdraw her motion and in return White make available this week the five files she wanted to review.
With that agreed upon, Otermat redacted her motion and the board agreed to discuss the matter further at their next meeting.
In a separate action, Krizl asked the board to consider replacing Otermat as an alternate to the El Dorado County Water Agency Board of Directors because of her failure to attend their meetings on a regular basis.
“We need to be represented,” he said. “Do you plan to participate?”
Otermat responded by saying that she had missed some meetings due to her mother passing away and because of other obligations. “But I do plan on attending,” she said.
The vote to replace her then failed on a 3-2 vote with Otermat, McLane and Griffiths voting against it.
Contact Dawn Hodson at 530-344-5071 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow @DHodsonMtDemo on Twitter.