An angry e-mail exchange spilled over to the board meeting of the Georgetown Divide Public Utilities District May 8.
Staff, residents, and board members squared off over access to public records and the “stealth” contacts initiated by a board member with the state agency that has oversight authority of the district.
Most of the e-mails were sent between Directors Kathy Otermat and Norm Krizl, although district staff and some board members were copied on them.
At issue were requests for information by Otermat to the California Department of Public Health. District staff were notified in February that Otermat was making the requests.
In his e-mail to Otermat, Krizl demanded to know “why are you working behind the board and staff at GDPUD with a state agency that has regulatory and compliance oversight for the district.” Krizl also wanted to know who was the “stealth” contact Otermat was using to obtain the information and why she was not copying staff and the board president on her e-mail inquiries.
Otermat responded by saying, “I believe the board is fully aware that I have CA Public Records Act Requests to both CDPH and GDPUD regarding permits and correspondence files for the last 10 years.”
She went on to say that there was no policy “which states any contact a director makes with CDPH needs to be copied to the general manager and the board president of GDPUD.”
In her e-mails, Otermat also accused the district of misusing public funds, of committing multiple violations of the Brown Act, and of failing to ensure that the general manager complied with the Public Records Act.
Previously the general manager had met with Otermat so she could inspect various district records, but apparently Otermat wanted more time than was available.
Krizl responded in his e-mail by saying, “The issue is that you are having secretive, and in your own words — stealth, communications between a state agency (CDPH) and yourself without any notification to the board and staff at GDPUD. CDPH has regulatory authority over GDPUD and you are compromising that relationship. Any contact you make with CDPH needs to be copied to the general manager and the board president of GDPUD. Whether you have a public records act request doesn’t concern me. You so often speak of your concern for transparency, however you disregard the concept when it applies to you. I continue to expect you to explain your actions to the board and the community at the next opportunity. I also expect that your ‘stealth’ contact be disclosed, friend or not, so that the public and the board can make up its own mind.”
At the district board meeting, Krizl read into the record his e-mail to Otermat and then asked, “Where do you get the authority to work behind staff and the board’s back to work with a regulatory agency … This undermines our relationship between staff and the agency. It is very damaging and very wrong. I want to know the name of the ‘stealth’ person in the agency and receive copies of all your exchanges with that person. And if Kathy won’t do it, we’ll go after it using a public records request.”
These remarks drew a reaction from those in the audience who supported or opposed the actions of the two board members. Some offered support to Otermat, saying they also had had trouble gaining access to district records. Dale Miller complained that he wasn’t “getting everything asked for and in some cases the material was redacted.”
Other residents criticized both Otermat and Krizl. One thought Otermat should be censured for her behavior while others said they were tired of the bickering and personal attacks.
Director Bonnie Neeley reminded the audience that the workload in the office was making it difficult to accommodate people’s requests for information. “We’re short-staffed right now,” she said.
Concluding the discussion, Otermat reported that the only information she had received so far from CDPH was confirmation of the policy governing access to public records.