It took more than two hours of disputes and distractions, but a local water district is closer to replacing its outgoing watermaster.
North San Joaquin Water Conservation District directors agreed on a process to start screening applicants to replace retiring Watermaster Pete Weinzheimer at Friday morning's special session, but the agreement was reduced to a subplot of the meeting as members of the public exchanged barbs with the board's president.
"You should abdicate your position as chairman; your methods alienate us," said Robb Hoag, audience member and district advisory board member. "We are not third-graders."
Hoag was addressing President Bryan Pilkington, a teacher at John Muir Elementary School.
Pilkington responded to Hoag's remarks with a shot of his own.
"The election is over and you lost," Pilkington said.
Hoag ran for a director position in 2010.
District meetings are often contentious affairs, and Friday's marathon session was no exception. Even though there were only three items on the agenda, the 10 a.m. meeting stretched past noon. Directors Mark Beck and Joe Petersen left prior to the session's adjournment. Both directors said they heard about the meeting the previous day and could only stay until noon.
The men left the meeting early because the district isn't important to them, Pilkington said to the public. Members of the audience shouted in disagreement at the comment.
How the time was spent
More than 30 minutes were spent debating taking out the words "but not necessary" in regards to a candidate's experience for the watermaster position. The original wording of the advertisement said that experience was "preferred but not necessary" — language with which two board members took issue.
Considering inexperienced candidates could help the district because it would be easier to find the right person by casting a wide net, Pilkington said.
"Just like we were going to do with the attorney, right?" Beck said to the board president.
Pilkington has been criticized in recent meetings for allegedly subverting a board motion outlining the process to replace the Stockton law firm Herum Crabtree, which was dismissed by the district in a closed session in late March.
Shortly after the firm was fired, the board approved a process to reach out to attorneys who specialize in water law and are listed on the State Water Resources Control Board's website.
Instead, Pilkington only sent out requests for applications to 10 law firms out of a possible 68.
The president said previously that the board gave him the option to only send out 10 requests for applications because the district advertised the need for a law firm in a publication devoted to water issues. The motion passed March 28 gave no indications about capping the number of requests sent out.
Much of the controversy was rendered moot at Friday's session, when Sacramento-based law firm Somach, Simmons & Dunn — which was rumored to be Pilkington's preference — withdrew its offer to provide counsel for the district. The Chico-based legal group the district was also considering advised the board not to continue the process with only one candidate, Pilkington said.
Beck, who serves as the board's secretary, will be responsible for sending out requests for applications to legal groups specializing in water law that are listed by the state.
Motion for 10-year audit shot down
Tempers flared when Pilkington pushed for the board to approve a motion to hire an accounting firm and audit the district from 2000 to 2010. While Beck and Petersen weren't opposed to hiring an accountant, they argued that rolling both motions into one was basically writing a blank check for an unnecessary process.
"You are going to break the district if you do this," Petersen said.
"Yes, we will," Pilkington said in reply. Audience members who have labeled him as an obstructionist out to destroy the district applauded and laughed at his remark.
"There it is," said Brad Lange, of LangeTwins Winery.
Pilkington backed off his statement and said that a detailed audit is necessary to discover how the board inherited a "bankrupt district" and help it move forward.
Petersen said that the San Joaquin County Grand Jury, which investigated the district at Pilkington's request, found no financial wrongdoing.
The chairman immediately raised his voice and denied that he pushed for the grand jury investigation.
"That is totally false," Pilkington said. "I did not request that, and I do not want false things on the record."
When Beck raised his hand and asked comment on the issue as it was still being discussed, Pilkington denied his request.
"Are you denying my right as a board member to speak?" Beck said.
"Yes, I am," Pilkington said.
The exchange drew chuckles and gasps from the audience.
"I voted for Beck, and I'd like to hear him speak," said audience member Craig Ledbetter.
Pilkington did not respond to Ledbetter's request.
The board is considering hiring a new accountant because Matthew Blote, who audited the district's books for several years, recently retired from accounting. An email from Blote was given to board members during the meeting, and it that said a 10-year audit would serve no purpose and the costs would outweigh the benefits.
Pilkington's motion for a new accountant and 10-year audit was voted down, but the board will discuss hiring a new accountant at an upcoming meeting. Not date was announced for the district's next meeting.
Contact reporter Jordan Guinn at firstname.lastname@example.org.