In February 2014, when Tom Lynch was hired to be general manager of Idyllwild Water District, he was required by the district to obtain a California Water Treatment Grade II Operator Certificate (“T2” certification) from the State Water Resources Control Board within six months as a condition of his employment. This was one of several conditions included in a Feb. 5, 2014, letter from outgoing GM Terry Lyons to Lynch. The IWD board made the letter available to the public as part of its agenda packet for an IWD board meeting.
At the IWD board meeting of July 20, 2016, Lynch was pressed by members of the public about the status of his certificate. It was asserted that the online records of the SWRCB did not show that he has yet obtained T2 certification. Lynch responded that the issue was “pending.” When asked what “pending” meant, he replied, “‘Pending’ means ... ‘pending.’” When further pressed, Lynch responded, “I have taken the exam, and the issue is pending. And that’s all I’m going to say about that; it’s a personnel issue.”
On Aug. 1, the Town Crier served the SWRCB with an emailed California Public Records Act request for evidence of Lynch’s certification application.
On Aug. 2, the Town Crier personally delivered to the IWD office a CPRA request for the same information, which included the following paragraph: “This requested information is not protected from disclosure under the ‘personnel exemption’ of Government Code section 6254, subdivision (c), which protects from disclosure ‘[p]ersonnel, medical, or similar files, the disclosure of which would constitute an unwarranted invasion of personal privacy,’ because ‘[t]his “personnel exemption” was “ ‘ “developed to protect intimate details of personal and family life, not business judgment and relationships.” ’ ” (Braun v. City of Taft (1984) 154 Cal.App.3d 332, 343-344. ... .)’ (Bakersfield City School Dist. v. Superior Court (2004) 118 Cal.App.4th 1041, 1045.)”
On Aug. 3, the Town Crier received a response from the SWRCB to its CPRA request. The SWRCB response included documents showing: Lynch had taken the T2 examination on Nov. 15, 2014, again on May 16, 2015, and again on Nov. 21, 2015. Each time he had failed the exam. He registered for a fourth exam on May 16, 2016, but five days before that date, he arranged to postpone his taking of the exam until the next exam date of Nov. 16, 2016. The SWRCB response affirmatively stated, “Mr. Lynch to date has not passed the T2 exam.”
On Aug. 8, Town Crier News Editor JP Crumrine contacted IWD Director John Cook to ask about a comment Cook had made at the Aug. 3 board meeting, which seemed to suggest that the board might no longer be requiring Lynch to obtain a T2 certification. Crumrine inquired as to whether the board actually had made that decision, and, if so, when. Cook responded, “My position is that Tom is making satisfactory progress towards the goal. Sorry for any confusion that caused you to believe it is no longer a goal.”
On Aug. 12, Lynch responded to the Town Crier’s CPRA request for his T2 application and testing records: “This is to advise you that the district has no such documents in its possession.”
The Town Crier then reached Lynch by telephone and reminded him that our CPRA request covered documents in his own possession as well as in the possession of the district. Lynch replied, “I am aware of your request and I have nothing to give you.”
At that point, the Town Crier informed Lynch that we were going with this story, that he had taken the T2 exam three times and had failed it each time, and that he was now scheduled to retake the exam in November. We offered him an opportunity to comment. Lynch replied, “You have erroneous information.”
When asked which part of our information was erroneous, — that he failed the exam three times or that he was retaking it in November — Lynch replied, “All your information is erroneous.”
When the Town Crier informed Lynch that our information came directly, in writing, from the SWRCB, the state testing agency, in response to a CPRA request we had sent them, Lynch replied that he was standing by his response.
Jack Clark can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.