Murphys Sanitary District directors approved a nearly $1.04 million budget Monday night and fielded calls — which went unheeded — for two directors and the district’s attorney to resign.
The budget drawing on more than $107,000 in reserves — includes $200,000 for proper removal of sewage sludge illegally stored on district property dating back to 2003.
The cost had been estimated $25,000 higher in budget negotiations, but a consultation with Sonora-based Condor Earth Technologies placed the latest estimate of the amount to be hauled away at 3,000 cubic yards, about 2,000 cubic yards less than an earlier estimate.
State regulators ordered the district to remove the sludge by Oct. 15 as it may be contaminating nearby groundwater.
The session that spanned more than three hours and saw an audience that first spilled out the front door of district offices. The crowd greatly dwindled as the night wore on, with accusations cast and dirty laundry aired as has become custom at the meetings.
The board took up correspondence from former board President Beth Hartline calling on current President Patricia Davies and General Counsel Ken Airola to resign due to alleged conflicts of interest. Hartline also called on Director Ryan Van Cleave to step down as a nonresident of the district.
None of the three resigned after supporters spoke on their behalf while others joined in some of the criticisms.
Official response letters denying any improprieties from Davies and Airola were entered into the record.
Resident John Hauselt told the board a $350-per-month lease for the district office space owned by Davies on Big Trees Road had saved an estimated $102,000 in 17 years, compared to market costs.
Discussion of Van Cleave’s residency delved into the details of a bitter divorce. Hartline’s letter questioned whether he resided at a Mitchler Street home when he applied to join the board in February.
“I left the house that I built. I think you’re overstepping your grounds right now,” he said in response to the call for his resignation. “I’m living on the other side of town. … I’m about two blocks outside the district where I’m staying.”
Airola said the board should not remove Van Cleave from his seat as residency requirements in special district law are not clear “that it’s where you put head on the pillow at night.” He also noted Van Cleave still gets mail, pays bills and holds other ties to his former home. He suggested Van Cleave’s critics complain to the grand jury or district attorney.
“It’s where your address is when you applied for the board,” Hartline said. “It’s not a matter of where your heart is … that’s absolutely absurd.”
Van Cleave said that he did reside at the home when he applied. Asked by Director Delma Harris whether a restraining order by his ex-wife prevented him from doing so, he said “I think you’re misinformed” and added that a temporary order had been filed April 4.
“A young man is going through a family ordeal,” Hauselt said in Van Cleave’s defense. “He came here to give public service not to go through this ordeal.”
Claudia Shafer, a resident and former director who said she had resigned her board position because of persistent “discord and dysfunction,” scoffed at Airola’s advice.
“We know the grand jury does nothing ... they’re a joke,” Shafer said, referencing past years’ scathing reports on the district and their limited impact. “The DA is not going to do anything. They’re busy trying to go after meth dealers.”
Another point of contention was the December 2010 reappointment of Davies, who resigned just two months earlier after her ownership of the district office and a resulting conflict of interest was questioned. A new lease was signed in the interim in November and her appointment was made by a sealed board vote.
Airola said he thinks that vote did not violate the law forbidding such secret balloting, the Ralph M. Brown Act.
Most district staff agreed such appointments should not have been done by sealed ballot. Nevertheless, the consensus was that the practice preceded Davies’ re-appointment by several years and General Manager Julio Guerra pledged that the days of such opaque votes are over.
“I guess if we’re all moving forward, we’ll just ignore conflicts of interest,” an exasperated Hartline said.
Considered as a separate agenda item, the board agreed to direct Guerra to research the costs of alternate general counsel and auditing services for consideration at a later meeting.
In another contentious issue continued from last month, the board voted 3-2 not to require a second $60 monthly fee from a property owned by MSD employee Marilou Miloslavich.
The land includes two structures: a “cottage” that is 35 years old with a bathroom but no kitchen where Miloslavich said her grandson sleeps, plus a one-bedroom, one-bathroom home.
District Mike Peccia had argued that other district ratepayers had been dinged for a second fee for structures similar to the cottage. Guerra and Airola were satisfied the combined two bathrooms and kitchen were equal to a single “equivalent dwelling unit.”
Directors Van Cleave, Tim O’Flinn and Delma Harris voted against imposing a second fee while Davies and Fred Kett made up the minority.
Kett said the vote constituted the district “piece-mealing things again” by deciding such situations on a case-by-case basis rather than as a policy issue.