Along with Town Crier (TC) Editor Melissa Diaz Hernandez, I attended the June 10 meeting of the board of Pine Cove Water District (PCWD), one of the seven local public agencies the Idyllwild Town Crier monitors to keep the public informed. A major subject — seemingly THE major subject — of discussion was an article written by Diaz Hernandez appearing in the June 4 issue.

In that piece, TC’s editor had reported that, utilizing the California Public Records Act, she had requested documents relating to any bids the district had received for “Repairs to Heater and new duct work in shop” and for “Install new filter rack with upgraded filter” at PCWD. The district responded, “There are no documents responsive to your request.” So, PCWD did not send that work out for bids. Instead, the work was simply given to Idyllwild Heating and Air Conditioning, which is owned by the brother of PCWD General Manager Jerry Holldber. Diaz Hernandez pointed out this fraternal connection in the June 4 issue.

Now, California law does not require that a public district’s maintenance and repair work amounting to less than $15,000 in parts and labor be sent out to bid, and Diaz Hernandez did not say it did. But nothing prevents a public district like PCWD from sending lesser jobs out for bidding or, at least, spreading its work around local businesses. Holldber’s brother’s company is not the only heating and air conditioning company on the Hill. Mountain Mechanical on Upper Pine Crest also does such work. 

In a previous story and mentioned again in the June 4 story, Diaz Hernandez reported that PCWD Director Vicki Jakubac had voted to approve an expenditure to SoCal Propane, of which her husband is a part-owner, instead of recusing herself from that vote. 

California Government Code section 87100, the very first section in Chapter 7, which is entitled “Conflicts of Interests,” provides: “No public official at any level of state or local government shall make, participate in making or in any way attempt to use his official position to influence a governmental decision in which he knows or has reason to know he has a financial interest.” And section 87103 provides: “A public official has a financial interest in a decision within the meaning of Section 87100 if it is reasonably foreseeable that the decision will have a material financial effect, distinguishable from its effect on the public generally, on the official, [or] a member of his or her immediate family …”

Yet — at least according to PCWD President Robert Hewitt — PCWD’s attorney, Brad Neufeld, opined that Jakubac’s vote constituted no conflict of interest? Neufeld once was an instructor at a class attended by both Holldber and my co-publisher that addressed the very topic of conflicts of interest. Attorney Neufeld must be aware of the above two Government Code sections. It is further notable that Jakubac says in the future she will not be voting on any matters involving her husband’s company.

Also, in the June 4 article, Diaz Hernandez reported that she had sought receipts for expenses under an $18,000 PCWD allocation for “transportation and travel,” since she had noticed Fern Valley Water District allocates only $1,500 under such a category. At the meeting, Holldber explained that PCWD includes diesel fuel for its heavy equipment under “transportation and travel.” Since Fern Valley lists its corresponding fuel under “operating expenses,” is anybody surprised that Diaz Hernandez would inquire about this obvious disparity in allocated transportation and travel amounts between the two water districts? Yet Holldber criticized Diaz Hernandez’s article as if inquiring into this under the California Public Records Act were something only an unworthy newspaper would do. 

At the June 10 PCWD meeting, Holldber attacked the Town Crier, saying he wanted and expected, but apparently does not feel he is getting “accuracy” in the TC’s news coverage of PCWD.

Yet, neither Holldber nor anyone else has yet pointed out a single instance of factual inaccuracy in Diaz Hernandez’s June 4 piece. I’ll say it again: Neither Holldber nor anyone else has yet pointed out a single instance of factual inaccuracy in Diaz Hernandez’s June 4 piece.

It seems the Town Crier editor is being excoriated by PCWD for legally and appropriately making press inquiries.

PCWD certainly does not like to see it printed in the Town Crier that PCWD sent work to GM Holldber’s brother, that a PCWD director voted to approve an expenditure to her husband’s company, and that the Town Crier editor investigated the 12-fold disparity between the budget monies two local water districts had allocated for transportation and travel. 

Well, since PCWD doesn’t like to see that in print, why did they do it? Why simply award jobs to Holldber’s brother? Why accept Jakubac’s vote regarding her husband’s company without someone speaking up? Why list your heavy equipment diesel fuel under “transportation and travel” instead of “operating expenses” and then climb all over Diaz Hernandez when she inquired into the oddly disparate transportation and travel allocations between the two districts?

That is what PCWD did, and Diaz Hernandez pointed that out to the public. 

Here’s a big hint to all of our public agencies: If you won’t like it in print for the public to see, don’t do it.

Well, PCWD did do it, and the TC owed a duty to the public to report all of that.

In a closing remark at the PCWD meeting, Holldber emphatically stated he believes this community sorely misses former Town Crier News Editor JP Crumrine. To me, it appeared clear that Holldber was drawing a contrast between JP Crumrine, whom he admires, and Melissa Diaz Hernandez, whom he clearly does not. Was Holldber really suggesting that he believes JP would not have reported the work sent to Holldber’s brother’s business as Melissa did, would not have reported Jakubac’s vote authorizing expenditure to her husband’s company as Melissa did, would not have investigated a “transportation and travel” allocation that was 12 times that of a neighboring water district as Melissa did? Is that what Holldber was suggesting? If so, that would discredit JP’s reporting acumen, which I doubt JP would appreciate.