It was not a good water district meeting for Bryan Pilkington.
During Thursday's board session, he was threatened with impeachment. Then a private investigator railed at him for allegedly mishandling the hiring of a legal firm. A fellow board member lashed Pilkington for filing a motion that might deprive the district of its water right.
For several years, Pilkington has been a critic of the North San Joaquin Water Conservation District. He was elected to the board in 2008 and named board chairman late in 2010. He now finds himself fending off heated complaints — while he is recovering from heart surgery.
The only issue on the agenda Thursday was the hiring of a new law firm.
But director Mark Beck chastised Pilkington for pushing to hire a firm though no members of it had been interviewed.
"To think you won't meet with someone you will pay money to for the next 10 years is a disservice to a degree you should be impeached," Beck said to Pilkington.
Beck's statement was met with applause from the audience of about 20.
The meeting in the Lodi Police Department's Community Room lasted for two hours as two directors pleaded to have more law firms considered. However, the majority of the board voted to move forward and only conduct interviews with two law firms — one in Sacramento and another in Chico.
The board majority fired its previous law firm, Herum Crabtree.
"I'm baffled as to why we got rid of a firm who didn't charge us for time while helping us put together our budget," said Robb Hoag, an audience member and former district advisory board member. "It doesn't make sense financially."
The money the firm will be paid is important, but the firm's experience and abilities are the key issues, Beck said.
"It's not about what they will make per hour; it's about what they will get done in that hour," he said.
The best way to see what a law firm is capable of is to interview them, Beck said.
Directors Pilkington, Hugh Scanlon and Marden Wilbur all wanted to name a new firm Thursday, and the requests of multiple audience members for a legal firm in San Joaquin County to be added to the list of final candidates fell on deaf ears.
"I'm respectfully asking you to interview at least three firms," said Denise Warmerdam, a representative of San Joaquin County Supervisor Ken Vogel. "Most of your constituents here are asking you to interview three."
But the majority of the board wouldn't budge,
"I have no intention of changing my motion," Wilbur said.
The district will conduct interviews with Chico-based O'Laughlin & Paris, LLP and the Sacramento firm Somach, Simmons & Dunn. Directors hope to have a decision on a firm by next week.
Did Pilkington act against an approved motion?
Later, Steven Raddigan, a private investigator, alleged that Pilkington ignored a motion that called for the district to mail letters to law firms on the attorney's list on the State Water Resources Control Board's website. Instead, Raddigan said, Pilkington developed his own process and picked out law firms himself.
"He is in total disregard of the approved motion," Raddigan said.
Raddigan started attending meetings in December, and said he had not been hired by any board member to investigate the district. At the meeting, he said Pilkington's disrespect to fellow board members and audience participants prompted him to investigate his actions.
Pilkington said the motion gave him the option to send out letters to 10 firms, a comment that drew ire from Petersen.
"You didn't follow the motion as approved; there is only one attorney from Stockton on the whole list. You didn't send it out to local firms," Petersen said.
Wilbur defended Pilkington, and said that attorneys in the area are in cahoots with nearby water districts and wouldn't have North San Joaquin's interests at heart.
Petersen said that while there are some Stockton law firms that represent nearby water districts, it's better to be represented by them rather than by a law firm that works for water agencies out of the area.
Pilkington said at the meeting that his biggest goal in selecting a law firm is finding one to protect the district's right to use 20,000 acre-feet of water during wet years.
"Without that right, everything else is moot," he said.
Petersen pointed out that Pilkington filed a protest with the State Water Resources Control Board against the district's water right permit.
"How can he say our most important step with a new attorney is to protect our permit when he has a protest filed against it?" asked Petersen during the session.
Warmerdam suggested a political watchdog group be brought into the discussion.
"I highly recommend you call the Fair Political Practices Commission and ask that question," she said. "We can even invite a representative there to come out here."
The FFPC is an independent, non-partisan body that monitors state and local agencies for issues such as conflicts of interest.
Time limit challenged
Raddigan also challenged Pilkington's recent push to limit public comments to three minutes on non-agenda items.
Pilkington said members of the public would have a time limit for speaking and could only address the board as a whole at the board's last meeting. Raddigan gave members of the audience a copy of the minutes from September 2009 that conflicted with Pilkington's new policy.
When Pilkington said that Raddigan's three minutes had expired, five people in the audience yielded their time to him so he could continue with the results of his investigation. He finished his statement with a prediction for the future of the district's water right, which is being determined by the state.
"I think the Department of Water Resources is waiting for district to come to its senses and get rid of Pilkington," he said. "If you don't get rid of him, the state is coming."
Contact reporter Jordan Guinn at firstname.lastname@example.org.