By Miriam Raftery
August 31, 2010 (La Mesa) -- "He makes $199,000 a year and gets a car and benefits, but this public official doesn’t want to receive routine emails outside business hours. I-Team reporter Lauren Reynolds shows us the unusual steps he’s taking to be left alone.”
So begins a 10 News investigative report on Mark Weston, general manager of Helix Water District. View the video here.
10 News responded to a tip from East County Magazine (a 10 News partner) that Weston had placed an agenda item on the meeting for this Wednesday, September 1st to require that “non-emergency communications between the General Manager and members of the Board will generally occur during the normal course of business.”
Weston told 10 News that e-mails sent at night wake him up, since he sleeps with his Blackberry mobile device next to his bed. He doesn’t want to turn off the Blackberry in case of emergency.
Board member Kathleen Coates Hedberg said she has on occasion e-mailed Weston in the evening, because she works and has children, so often can’t get to her board work until 8 p.m. or later. She said she has e-mailed him on important matters such as rate increases, but did not expect an immediate reply.
ECM reported in May 2009 about a water rate hike that was voted on by the board. After the vote, Hedberg discovered that 68 letters from taxpayers opposed to the rate hike had not been included in the board’s packet. The incident illustrates the importance of timely communication. If a board member learns of a major omission in a board packet, has questions or wishes to change an agenda the night before a hearing, should that board member be free to contact the general manager?
We also asked former San Diego City Attorney Mike Aguirre his opinion on the legality of the proposed measure. Aguirre said that while a board can set policies to regulate actions of board members, “a blanket restriction on all communications after a certain hour is too prohibitive.” Even if a concern does not rise to the level of an emergency, Aguirre said, “There is the matter of a board member representing their constituency. If there’s a board meeting the next day and there’s an important issue that requires communication to take place, that would be difficult to restrict.” Instead, he said, a public board should consider “time, place and manner regulations that are rational.”
After Channel 10 News and East County Magazine began investigating this issue, the proposed wording of Helix Water’s resolution was changed today. The new wording limits only the non-emergency communications from the general manager to members of the board, not the other way around.
This item will be considered by the board on Wednesday at 2 p.m. at the Helix Water Board headquarters, 7811 University Avenue in La Mesa. Speaker slips for public testimony are available at the meeting.
If you wish to voice your views ahead of time to Mr. Weston, you may reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or (619) 667-6200. Remember, he does not wish to be contacted after 5 p.m. or before 8:30 a.m.