Imperial Irrigation District’s general manager and board president are being accused of violating California’s open meeting law based on e-mails others are saying have been stolen from an IID director’s computer.
An e-mail read and distributed by Brawley-area farmer Mike Morgan at Tuesday’s Imperial Irrigation District meeting show what he says is then-assistant to the general manager Kevin Kelley working with the general manager and a board member to make decisions out of the public view. Morgan alleges it is a serial Brown Act violation, which is a series of communications to develop a collective decision on an issue when that decision should be made in open session in view of the public.
Still, some are questioning how the e-mail between Kelley, then-general manager Brian Brady and board Director John Pierre Menvielle was released, with Menvielle calling for an investigation.
The November 2009 e-mail in question was between Kelley and Brady, with Kelley advising Brady how to respond to concerns presented by then-Director Michael Abatti. What brought up the concerns, though, was that Kelley wrote he has talked with Menvielle, who had spoken with Director Anthony Sanchez about the issue related to the district’s water transfer. Kelley added that Director Stella Mendoza “is also solid,” according to the e-mail.
“Our goal should be not to telegraph what we are doing to anyone (we have played this thing out for six years to get to this point, so why would we budge now?),” read the e-mail.
“… What Abatti wants is some sort of unilateral board action regarding Salton Sea that would box us in before a ruling,” it continued. “Clearly, this would be unwise, and you may have to flatly say this, but it is best to say it to the full board on Monday (if you have to go there, which you may be).”
That e-mail was then forwarded by Kelley to Menvielle.
Abatti, Morgan explained Tuesday, was worried about the liability of the Salton Sea after sitting in on some portions of the Sacramento Superior Court hearing about the Quantification Settlement Agreement. Morgan said IID’s consulting attorney David Osias had argued that the state had no liability to restoring the Salton Sea.
Talking about IID business out of view of the public has gone on way too much at the IID, Morgan added.
However, Kelley said he didn’t think it was a Brown Act violation, as no vote was set for the Nov. 30 meeting.
“It’s obviously embarrassing, but I don’t believe it’s sinister,” he said Wednesday.
“… I was the board liaison,” he said. “I was talking to board members routinely.”
Kelley contends he was reporting to his then-boss about a matter of some importance to the IID and Brady, Kelley said. He reported what one board member had told him, then added his own view of where another board member’s position was.
“I’m constantly surprised at how board members vote,” he said. “That was simply my assessment.”
Kelley said Tuesday was his first opportunity to see the e-mail and while he has confirmed that there was no vote on the Monday mentioned in the e-mail, he’s still doesn’t know the context of the e-mail. It did occur during the same time period that the district was awaiting the trial court’s decision on the QSA, the nation’s largest agriculture-to-urban water transfer.
When asked, Kelley said he didn’t know what good it would be to do an investigation since the e-mails are already out there.
However, Menvielle has called for an investigation in a statement released Wednesday.
“At yesterday’s (Tuesday’s) board meeting Mike Morgan, the leader of the Imperial Group, read an e-mail dated Nov. 28, 2009, that was stolen from my IID laptop computer,” he wrote. “Steve Scaroni, another Imperial Group member, claims in a Dec. 15, 2011, e-mail to me that he has a hard drive with all my e-mails.
“These e-mails are confidential, and they were stolen from my IID computer by someone at IID,” he continued. “I’m asking the IID for an investigation into how these stolen e-mails got into the hands of Imperial Group members and their friends to be used as dirty politics at election time.”
Scaroni denied having a hard drive of Menvielle’s e-mails, saying he was just trying to rile up Menvielle with his 2011 e-mail. He does not, nor anyone in his family or with the Coalition of Labor, Agriculture and Business, have a hard drive with those e-mails, he said.
One of the subjects of the e-mail, Abatti, said he didn’t know about the e-mail, but he’s not surprised.
“There’s no doubt in my mind that that was going on,” he said. “What I got used to was there were three votes to two.”
Not many things went before the board during his time and didn’t pass with staff’s recommendation, he said. Some board members’ minds were pretty much made up before they walked through the door, and that’s not fair to the public.
Decisions would also be brought before the board and not given enough time to answer all the questions, he said. It’s why often he was an opposing vote — he didn’t feel like he had all the information to make a decision.
“If I can’t explain my vote, then it wasn’t my vote,” he said. “It was staff’s vote.”
Staff Writer Elizabeth Varin can be reached at email@example.com or 760-337-3441.
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