by VREG Leaders
In Ventura, the city staff uses the Brown Act to do precisely the opposite of what lawmakers created it to do.
Legislators designed the California Brown Act to end “back room” deals and bring local government out into the open. Ventura Water uses it to throttle the flow of information instead.
Ventura established a Water Commission to advise Ventura Water. Before the Commission, Ventura Water operated with little oversight. Even with the Water Commission, Ventura Water continues to control all meeting agendas and minutes. At best, this restricts the flow of information to the City Council. At worst, information flow is non-existent. The City Council doesn’t receive any meaningful information that may help with their future choices.
Ventura Water forces the City Council to get their information from the General Manager. Thus circumventing the reason the city established the Water Commission.
Because the Water Commission minutes show only action items, all discussion of issues are as though they never happened. So, when the City Council looks to the minutes for any records of issues or concerns, the minutes are no help. Nor are they sufficiently transparent to Ventura’s citizens.
Ventura Water deals with a water system that impacts all Ventura citizens directly. In August 2018, the department violated the Federal Clean Water Safety standards. Ventura Water breached the Total Trihalomethanes (TTHM) drinking water standard. The results could lead to harmful health effects over time. Ailments such as cancer and adverse reproductive outcomes can happen. Ventura Water has corrected the problem, but that’s not the issue.
At issue is how Ventura Water communicated the problem and the solution.
You may not have heard about the incident. It’s not because Ventura Water didn’t announce it. They did the minimum notification. They reported the incident to residents in the affected area by mail. They also posted it on their website. They took out an ad in the Ventura County Star, too.
Ventura Water fulfilled the letter of the law, but it may have missed the intent behind it. Meeting the legal requirement seems to be the minimum standard. Yet setting the bar at the lowest level may place everyone’s health at risk in the future.
Not The Only Incident In 2018
In July, Ventura Water withheld information from the Water Commission. A panel of experts examined Direct Potable Reuse (DPR) of treated wastewater. The experts found DPR for drinking purposes was a threat to public safety. The City Council did not know that. They were only alerted to that fact after private citizens brought it to their attention.
Ventura Water needs to be more transparent. The City Council allows it to operate in secrecy and subterfuge. Stop. Ventura’s citizens deserve and expect open communication. Here’s what the Council should do:
First, make hiring Ventura Water’s next General Manager a priority. Insist City Manager Alex McIntyre interview the Water Commissioners. So Mr. McIntyre may form his own opinion, he should talk to the Water Commissioners without Water Department staff present. The goal is to get the knowledge and details of the history of Ventura Water and gain the perspective to understand what lies ahead in the next six years.
Second, have the Water Commission’s Chairman set the meeting agendas, with input from all commissioners.
Third, ensure all Water Commission’s minutes reflect topics and discussions from all meetings.
Fourth, have the Water Commission Chairman provide a written report to the City Council on a quarterly basis.
Fifth, expand the communication channels Ventura Water uses to inform the public. Set the standard higher than the minimum legal standard.