In last week’s paper, I wrote that at the June 10 Pine Cove Water District (PCWD) board meeting PCWD General Manager Jerry Holldber had excoriated Town Crier’s Editor Melissa Diaz Hernandez’s June 4 article claiming it contained inaccuracies. I did not mention that at the meeting Pine Cove resident Nancy Borchers had read her written denunciation of Diaz Hernandez’s June 4 article to the point of withdrawing her Town Crier membership.

I did point out last week that neither Holldber nor anyone else had identified a single instance of factual inaccuracy in Diaz Hernandez’s June 4 piece. Borchers’ letter to the editor, which we publish today, still does not do so. Nor has anyone to date. 

Yet both Holldber and Borchers accuse the TC of wrongdoing by publishing (1) that Holldber sends PCWD heating and air conditioning work to his brother’s business without offering work to any other locally-servicing heating and air conditioning firm; (2) that PCWD board member Vicki Jakubac, instead of recusing herself, voted to approve an expenditure to a company that is part-owned by her husband; and (3) that the amount of money PCWD allocates for “transportation and travel” is 12 times what neighboring Fern Valley Water District allocates in its corresponding category, and that the Town Crier would investigate into this.

The first two of the above appear contrary to California Law. Specifically, Government Code section 87100, under 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.” Section 87103 elaborates: “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 …” Both Jakubac and Holldber are public officials under Government Code Section 82048, subdivision (a), which reads: “‘Public official’ means every member, officer, employee or consultant of a state or local government agency,” so both Jakubac and Holldber are bound by those conflicts of interest state laws.

Remarkably, these two matters also appear contrary to PCWD board’s own Resolution #487 entitled “Resolution setting Conflict of Interest Policy,” particularly: “Conflicts of interest may arise in the relations of directors, officers, and management employees with any of the following third parties: 1. Persons and firms supplying goods and services to Pine Cove Water District.” This currently is published on PCWD’s website under “Transparency Portal” for all to read. Further, Section 5 of PCWD’s “Conflict of Interest Policy” states: “It shall be the continuing responsibility of the board, officers, and management employees to scrutinize their transactions and outside business interests and relationships for potential conflicts and to immediately make such disclosures.” Perhaps it is time for PCWD directors to do some scrutinizing.

In her letter this week, Borchers asserts that I had agreed in my editorial last week that nothing Holldber did was “illegal or wrong.” Not true. Read it again. I wrote that he was not required by law to send jobs under $15,000 out to bid, although he certainly could do so, if he chose (TC’s editor inquired as to whether he had), or he could simply send PCWD’s smaller heating and air conditioning jobs to more than just one outside firm. I certainly did not write that, by sending PCWD work to his brother’s company, Holldber was in compliance with California’s conflicts of interest laws or PCWD board’s own conflicts of interests policies, or that nothing he did was “illegal or wrong.”

Regarding the third inquiry: In her June 4 article, Diaz Hernandez did not charge that PCWD’s “transportation and travel” allocations were wrong. Rather, she related that she was investigating those allocations because they appeared high — in fact, 12 times  FVWD’s similar category — and that she would later report on the results of her investigation. PCWD’s high allocations in that category appear to be explained by the fact that Holldber — for some reason — lists diesel fuel to operate PCWD’s dump truck and tractors under the category “transportation and travel,” which makes that category appear artificially very high compared to FVWD’s similar category. So investigation was warranted.

Clearly, PCWD does not enjoy seeing its apparent transgressions of state law and its own conflicts of interests policy in print, and Pine Cove resident Nancy Borchers does not like seeing that either. Neither do I. But the TC must monitor our local public entities for the benefit of the public those public entities serve, reporting what it finds.

So, let me ask you, our readers: Do you believe your Town Crier should NOT investigate into or report on conflicts of interests or other apparent wrongdoings by your local, tax-funded public agencies? Or do you feel it is an important mission of your Town Crier — or any real newspaper for that matter — to monitor local public agencies and inform readers of apparent illegal and/or improper conduct? Please write a short letter to our editor ([email protected]), and tell us what you think and whereabouts you live — Idyllwild, Pine Cove, Fern Valley, Mountain Center, Garner Valley, Pinyon, off the Hill, etc. 

Former PCWD President Dick McKee is not infrequently quoted as having admonished, “The truth will prevail.”