SEELEY — The Seeley County Water District met Tuesday evening to discuss water issues and the censureship of board member Director Patrick Harris. The small room had standing room only as residents and county officials filled the available seats while extra folding chairs were brought in to accommodate the overflow.
On the agenda were the board’s two resolutions of censureship against Harris. The first censure resolved that Harris’ conduct at meetings was unacceptable, while the board’s second censureship listed Harris’s continued attempts to contact fellow directors Alberto Aguilar and Manuel Robles as harassment.
Before the censure vote, Jack Holt of the Holt group reported on the completion of a project to remedy a water quality violation issued from the state.
Director Harris questioned why the work orders were not presented to the board first for approval and asked why the consultant, John Kemp, had the authority to spend approximately $23,000 without the board’s approval.
Board President Beatrice Scroggins responded to Harris explaining that the state’s mandated deadline for completion was fast approaching, which if not met would add additional fines and penalties to the cost, so repairs had to be handled outside normal operating procedures.
But Harris countered, saying the state gave sufficient time to remedy the issue, and claimed Scroggin’s inaction and the board having quorum problems resulted in the consultant having to order work without bids and without the board’s official approval of the expense.
Consultant John Kemp agreed Harris was correct and said it would have been better to go through official channels if possible.
Prior to the censureship vote, the board approved minutes from the ten past meetings beginning May 10 and ending July 21, 2016. President Scroggins said no minutes had been completed because there was no board secretary present and some of the directors missed four meetings in a row, resulting in no quorum, therefore there had not been any official meetings to approve the minutes.
The board’s legal council, Dennis Morita, spoke on the resolution of censure saying it was only a symbolic gesture as no penalty was involved, and Director Harris would continue having a vote and it would not remove him from office.
Morita added that as a public official, one has to “expect to handle more and to put up with a lot” if holding office.
“There is a lot of acrimony between the board, but to remove a board member, I don’t think the disruption has gotten to that point yet,” Morita said the following day in an interview. “You can Google what it takes to remove a board member. It is basically disrupting a meeting so it cannot continue. There is one standard for people at the meeting, but it is something else to remove an elected official.”
Morita added that the lack of quorum was never because of Harris, as he was always present at the meetings.
After the censure resolution had a motion and a second, Harris read a prepared statement in his defense. Click here to see his statement http://www.thedesertreview.com/seeley-water-district/
Several Seeley residents stood up angrily to challenge the censure, saying other members had used profanity and been rude, whereas Harris always spoke in a regular tone and never used inappropriate language. Many mentioned President Scroggin’s prolific use of the gavel and pounding while others tried to speak, was unacceptable.
No one in the audience spoke against Harris, but an employee of the water district did stand to defend his boss, Kemp, after Harris claimed his work was substandard.
When Director Robles was questioned about his censureship of Harris, he said Harris had knocked on his door and Robles did not want anyone knocking on his door. Robles said the knocking scared his grandchildren who play next to the door.
The only other contact Robles had with Harris came during a cancelled meeting due to no quorum, and Harris spoke to Robles in front of legal counsel, Morita. Harris said he never asked how Robles intended to vote or violated the Brown Act in any way during the contact.
According to Harris, he ran into Aguilar at the post office and greeted him.
Aloma Harris, Harris’ wife, who went several times to the podium to question the board’s statements, and asked how her husband could have had much of a conversation with Aguilar as he only speaks Spanish and Harris only knows English.
Board member Jason Grima was absent from the meeting. Scroggins, Aguilar, and Robles all voted to censure Harris, with Harris abstaining.
The censure resolution states Harris is not to directly contact Robles or Aguilar other than at duly convened meetings of the board. Harris may not visit their home, or place of work, or telephone either one. Fax, email, text and the like are permissible if all board members are included in the communication and the communication otherwise complies with district policy. Communication by board member Harris to board members Aguilar and Robles may also be made by him through the secretary of the board.