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Columbia trustees trample Brown Act, First Amendment

Who can say how far Columbia Elementary School District Board members will go in defending their superintendent, John Pendley?

How about attempting to subvert the First Amendment and the state’s Ralph M. Brown Act, which assures Californians’ right to speak openly and participate in public meetings?

Indeed, drawing on a paranoid, scheming mindset and some half-baked legal advice, the board majority Tuesday announced that the public will no longer be allowed to discuss at open meetings the campus’ 2010 sex scandal involving Pendley’s son, Brennan.

This is outrageous.

California’s prison-realignment plan an abysmal failure

California’s prison-realignment plan — Gov. Jerry Brown and the Legislature’s answer to a court-ordered reduction in the populations of the state’s 33 prisons — is just months old but has already proven to be an abysmal failure.

AB 109 has put the public at risk, diminished the punishment for some serious criminal offenses to mere handslaps, strained local law enforcement resources and gutted the state CDCR’s system of inmate firefighting camps — an important firefighting tool.

Four problems to offset one big, recurring problem: our lawmakers’ inability to balance the state’s budget.

Newspaper changes on the way for our readers

Union Democrat readers will notice a number of changes in coming months to the paper.

We’re adding new content, beefing up some existing sections, redesigning section fronts and re-organizing some material to help readers better navigate through the paper. We’re also cutting newsprint costs by slimming down the width of our pages.

The most apparent change will be the addition April 5 of a feature section dedicated to home improvement, gardening and crafting. Democrat Features Editor Margie Hiser is already designing the “Sierra Living” section, which will resonate with green thumbs, crafters and general readers alike. Among the features: Two gardening columns, plus expert advice on home decorating, repair and maintenance.

Govt., health leaders need to wake up to mental health crisis

If a community is indeed judged by how it treats its weakest members, Tuolumne County government, law enforcement and health care leaders are guilty of making us all look bad.

We are, of course, talking about what has happened to our county’s system of emergency psychiatric care over the past two years, highlighted in a Jan. 20 Union Democrat investigation.

TUD change of rate plans welcomed

    We cautiously applaud Tuolumne Utilities District General Manager Pete Kampa and his staff for doing the right thing and re-examining a proposed water rate hike. The original proposal is harmful to local residents and the rates and timing are far too aggressive in this sluggish economy.
    At the 11th hour, Kampa, who is up for a contract renewal, on Monday pulled the rate hike request from the board’s Tuesday agenda, saying he and his staff will go back to the drawing board to draft a less-severe plan.

Pland displayed leadership, integrity

    Four-term Tuolumne County Board of Supervisors member Dick Pland announced on Wednesday that he won’t run for re-election next year, leaving behind a nearly 50-year legacy of public service in the county.
    The 5th District board member from Jamestown has often served as the voice of reason on the board. More than once during the board’s regular Tuesday morning meetings, Pland has swayed contentious votes with a stiff upper lip, and a thoughtful opinion.

Phelan rant raises ‘ethics’ questions

    Joel Phelan, husband of Columbia Elementary School District Board President Laura Phelan, at a trustees’ meeting last Tuesday described our school reporter Lacey Peterson as “an unethical tabloid reporter, who continues to falsify information.”
    This and Mr. Phelan’s remaining rant — claiming that Peterson has a “conflict of interest” — was allowed to stand unchallenged at the meeting. It would have been inappropriate for Peterson to say anything.

TUD should retract and revise its ratepayer plan

    Tuolumne Utilities District board members next week will consider a planned series of rate increases that would boost residential water and sewer bills about 30 percent over the next four years, starting in January.
    District officials say it’s needed because the district is losing a lot of money on its operations — about $2 million a year on water alone. The district also lacks enough reserve funds to do any meaningful upgrades on the water and sewer systems, like replacing outdated water storage tanks and consolidating the dozen-plus water treatment plants under fewer roofs, which would relieve staffing needs in the future.

Roundup, Amgen and Frog Jump – our triple crown

    In the course of 10 days from May 11 to 20, 2012, our region will celebrate and host three major events — The Mother Lode Roundup, The Amgen Tour of California (Stage 4) and the Calaveras County Fair & Jumping Frog Jubilee.
    If planned, coordinated and promoted smartly, we’re hopeful that all three events will benefit from this “crowded calendar.” This is a unique opportunity to maximize exposure, attendance, favorable publicity and revenues for all three events.

GCSD needs accountability and responsible leadership

    The California Water Resources Control Board recently issued a warning letter to the Groveland Community Services District saying it faces a $1.1 million fine for a pair of sewer spills in August 2010 and last March.
    It will be handled as a civil matter, with the fine meant as a shot over the district’s bow, according to one board official.
    It’s unfortunate on a number of levels.
    It doesn’t, for instance, provide a nuts-and-bolts remedy. It will buy no new trucks or lift stations or training for staff.

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