Sanitary District Fairness?
Open Letter Board of Directors, Montecito Sanitary District,
I am writing to express my dismay at the circumstances surrounding Director Warner Owens’s resignation, effective October 15, and the board’s decision to appoint his replacement on or before November 5. The actions of the board seem carefully calculated to thwart the democratic process. This is unacceptable. I urge the board to reverse its decision and appoint the replacement director after the winners of the November 6 election are sworn into office in December. If the board cannot agree on this course of action, then it should call for a special election to fill the open seat.
As you well know, we have an election in less than three weeks that is going to provide clear public input on the desired direction of the MSD. Voters will have the opportunity to return two incumbents to the board (signaling clear approval of current board actions) or elect two new directors (signaling a clear desire for change).
It is far from clear as to why Director Owens’s seat is not being contested in this election as well. He appears to have sold his home in the district in March of this year. Where has he been living for the past six months? Was he even eligible to remain on the board during this time? Why did he not announce his resignation over the summer, so that his seat could be contested in an open election? I and many other members of the community would like answers to these questions. In the absence of additional information, the timing of his resignation appears clearly designed to allow the current board to appoint his successor.
Under these circumstances, it is irresponsible and undemocratic for the current board to appoint a new director before the winners of the November election are sworn in. If the incumbents win, then the board has a clear mandate for its current policies and can appoint a new director consistent with that mandate. If the Water Security candidates win, then this is a clear signal the community wants change, and these new directors should be part of the process to appoint the replacement director.
If the MSD presses forward with an appointment before the winning directors are sworn in, the only reasonable inference is that the current board is trying to prevent change in the event the incumbents are replaced. This would be a gross abuse of the appointment process and would likely ensure that every incumbent on the current board would face well-funded opposition in the next election, if not some type of organized recall campaign before then.
In light of these considerations, I urge the board to reconsider its decision and defer appointment of Director Owens’s replacement until after the winners of the upcoming election are sworn in. The democratic process and the best interests of our community demand nothing less.
Editor’s Note: Owens rented a home in the district after selling his home, said Diane Gabriel, general manager of Montecito Sanitary District; he notified the district once he knew he was moving. Applications for his replacement are being received through October 31, and the Board of Directors will hold interviews, and possibly choose a new director, on November 5.