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D. A. Lacey Demands Central Basin Correct Action Only Three Weeks After Receiving Complaint

BY BRIAN HEWS

The Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office of Integrity (OI) normally takes a few months from the time the office receives a complaint to the time the office demands action or begins an investigation.

After nearly seven years they are still investigating LA County Assessor John Noguez.

But that’s not the case with Central Basin (CB) Municipal Water District, and the move reeks of petty politics.

Three weeks ago, California Assemblywoman Cristina Garcia sent a poorly written and grammatically challenged letter to Lacey’s OI demanding “action” against the current Central Basin (CB) Water Board, consisting of President Leticia Vasquez, Vice President Art Chacon and Directors Phil Hawkins and Martha Camacho-Rodriguez.

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Garcia’s letter referred to the contentious February 6 CB Board meeting, and specifically the voting process to appoint new officers. 

The letter started, “I urge you to take action against the Central Basin Water District Board of Directors, which has committed illegal acts and endangered the financial stability of the District. Against the advice of legal counsel, a group of four board members continued to have a meeting without a quorum and voted.”

Garcia alleged that the board illegally appointed [the] President/Chair of the board, illegally appointed a General Manager, and illegally appointed a General Counsel 

But Garcia did not offer any citations to back up her allegations.

That didn’t matter to Lacey and her OI; just three weeks after receiving the Assemblywoman’s letter, Lacey fired off  a two page letter, signed by the head of the Office of Integrity Allen Yochelson, demanding they “cure and correct” their actions.

The letter stated almost exactly what Garcia said in her letter without citations or witness interviews: Vasquez is not the President of the Board, the meeting was not properly noticed, and Anthony Willoughby, the new counsel for CB, was not properly appointed.

For her first argument, Lacey simply stated that Vasquez did not post notification of the meeting per Government Code section 54956, part of the Brown Act.

She wrote “other persons with knowledge” disputed President Vasquez’ actions but questionably did not list any names.

“However, other persons with knowledge of these events disputed that assertion.”

Lacey also charged that the notice was not posted on this District’s website, once again admitting her office did not interview anyone about the website posting.

“In addition, to our knowledge, the notice was not posted on the District’s website, as required by law.”

But if the OI had done their due diligence and interviewed Vasquez, she would have handed them proof she made attempts to order staff to post the meeting online, but Olivarez Madruga Lemieux and O’Neill (OMLO) attorney Kevin Lemieux ordered staff not to post the meeting. 

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Undeterred by Pulido and Lemiuex, Vasquez manually posted the meeting notice on the board outside of Central Basin and provided a video as proof.

VP Art Chacon was with her, but Lacey did not interview Chacon either.

Lastly, Lacey argued – only citing CB’s Administrative Code – that a majority did not exist when the new officials were installed as officers.

There are eight seats available on the CB Board; the Code indicates a majority would constitute five. But there is an open board seat due to the resignation of Frank Heldman,  would that bring the majority down to four?

Lacey argued no, cited the Code, and in three sentences ordered CB to “cure and correct the actions,” just like Assemblywoman Garcia wanted.

In a letter back to the DA, Anthony Willoughby of Willoughby and Associates, CB’s new general counsel,  slammed Lacey for her “taking a single side and issuing a unsolicited opinion.”

He indicated that Lacey was “ignorant of the facts” surrounding the CB battle.

“First and foremost you must be aware of the facts of the situation prior to issuing any letter or claims opinion on actions,” wrote Willoughby. 

Willoughby rightfully asserted that Lacey made no effort to fully investigate the facts of the situation, nor did she contact the elected officials involved in the issue including President Vasquez, VP Chacon, and Directors Hawkins and Camacho-Rodriguez. 

He produced a laundry list of extremely questionable actions by OMLO attorney Steve O’Neill that undermined the authority of the new officers and emboldened the staff at CB to rebel against them.

Rebellious actions included changing the code on the elected official’s entry cards so they could not enter the parking lot or the building and forcibly removing other staff members from their offices.

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Video of Andrew Hamilton‘s insubordination while reading OMLO attorney Steve O’Neill’s letter that stated the vote for President and VP and the hiring of the General Manager was “illegal.”

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Willoughby then argued that, given there is only seven seated board members, that a majority is four, and himself cited the Brown Act as proof and a landmark 1987 California Appeals Court case.

In that appeals case,  Price vs. Tennant Community Services District, the court addressed a situation that exactly matches  the CB question.

The court asked “whether the quorum is changed if there is a vacancy on the board.” 

The Appeals Court found that the law expressly mandates a board, which is absent members due to a vacancy, can transact business if a majority of the remaining board members vote.

Given the vacancy of Heldman, a majority, under the California Appeals Court ruling in Central Basin’s case, is four.

“This is an unprecedented takeover of a public agency and something must be done,” wrote Willoughby, “we encourage the DA to reach out to those who are opposed to the actions of OMLO, led by attorney Steve O’Neill, and seek justice for the people of Los Angeles by protecting their elected officials.”

HMG-LCCN has learned that after the DA received the letter they called Willoughby in for a lengthy meeting, Willoughby has not responded to emails as of time of publication.

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