Two NCWD members get notice of recall over alleged merger talks


Two Newhall County Water District board members received notice of a recall effort to remove them from their posts, citing alleged backroom discussions with regards to the water district’s plan to merge with the Castaic Lake Water Agency.


NCWD directors Maria Gutzeit, the board’s recently elected president, and Dan Mortensen were each served Thursday with a Notice of Intention to Circulate a Recall Petition – the first step in recalling locally elected officials under state law.


Joan Dunn, a former member of the NCWD board, served her notice of intent to begin a recall petition at the board’s meeting Thursday.


“I want people to know that there should be no water monopoly,” Dunn told The Signal Monday. “I know there are a lot of people upset about this.”


Dunn singled out Gutzeit and Mortensen, she said, for having acted as lead negotiators in a process to allow dissolving and merging Newhall County Water District into Castaic Lake Water Agency.


This process took place behind closed doors for a year, Dunn said, until a Brown Act complaint was filed last January by one of the other Board members.


NCWD board member Lynne Plambeck filed a complaint with the District Attorney’s Office against her colleagues, saying they held illegal, closed-door talks regarding a proposed merger of two Santa Clarita Valley water districts.


Plambeck letter cites a section of the Ralph M. Brown Act, passed in 1953, that guarantees the public’s right to attend and participate in meetings of local legislative bodies: “The people, in delegating authority, do not give their public servants the right to decide what is good for the people to know and what is not good for them to know. The people insist on being informed.”


Officials from both water groups, however, said an ad-hoc committee formed to explore whether a merger should be explored is legal, according to NCWD General Manager Steve Cole and CLWA General Manager Matt Stone.


Since January, and after the formal complaint was filed, officials from both agencies – NCWD and CLWA – have held four public workshops with the intention of answering the public’s concerns about the plan.


“The allegations in the notice are 100 percent false,” Gutzeit told The Signal late Monday afternoon, noting the public has been invited to share in the merger discussion this past year.


“All the (merger) research we’ve done to present to the public is a tremendous benefit to the NCWD ratepayers.


“We can gain through increased efficiency,” Gutzeit said. “We would get a voting district compliant with the California Voting Rights Act.  And, we wouldn’t be subsidizing another area’s debt.”


Dunn, however, believes the ad-hoc meetings from a year ago neglected to give residents a say in the proposal early on.


“We didn’t have any other choice than to Initiate a recall”, Dunn said. “They aren’t going to allow us to vote.


Recall is the power of the voters to remove elected officials before their terms expire. It has been a fundamental part of our governmental system since 1911 and has been used by voters to express their dissatisfaction with their elected representatives.


Issuing the recall notice is the first step in the process of recalling elected officials.


In order for the recall to continue, Dunn needs to collect a certain number of signatures in order for it to appear on a ballot. She needs between 10 and 30 percent of NCWD’s registered voters.


Since there are slightly more than 20,000 registered voters, she would need to collect at least 5,750 signatures.


NWCD Vice-President B.J. Atkins called the recall bid “unfair” and “unfortunate” on Monday when asked about it.


Recall notices were given six days before the two agencies – CLWA and NCWD – are scheduled to meet for a settlement agreement on another issue, expecting to reconcile all issues of civil litigation between them.


The settlement agreement which is open to the public happens at CLWA’s Rio Vista Water Treatment Plant on Bouquet Canyon Road Tuesday at 6:30 p.m.

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on Twitter @jamesarthurholt

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