Recently released notes from a June 7 Oakdale Irrigation District closed session meeting raise questions to the veracity of court declarations made by new directors Gail Altieri and Linda Santos.
On June 21, OID Directors voted to release a confidential May 10 memo from OID Director Steve Knell to Linda Santos surrounding her questions regarding the controversial On-Farm Conservation Program that is currently in litigation in an action brought by farmers Louis Brichetto and Robert Frobose, acting as the “Oakdale Groundwater Alliance.”
The directors’ decision to release the memo and session notes came after consultation with OID legal counsel Tim O’Laughlin. By law, closed session leaks are prohibited unless the legislative body authorizes the disclosure of the information.
Back on May 18, the attorney for Brichetto and Frobose, Osha Meserve, filed declarations from Altieri and Santos supporting the plaintiffs’ claim to halt the water sale.
In the sworn declarations, both OID directors state they had not been informed about details surrounding the sale despite trying to find out what was going on.
Their declarations included May 3 and May 6 emails from Knell about the sale but not the released May 10 memo from him.
In the May 10 memo to Santos (with a ‘cc’ to the other directors), Knell answers Santos’ questions on how the program will be funded, names of who made the decision not to sell the On-Farm consumptive use water, and the date the decision was made not to sell the water.
“At the April 5 Board Meeting I informed the Board that the contract before them was for a 75,000-acre pulse flow release,” Knell wrote. “I apologize if I was not clear in conveying that the water transfer component of the On-Farm Conservation Program was not going forward. My understanding in closed session was the Board knew the water transfer program of the On-Farm Conservation Program was dead and that proceeds from the water release program could pay for the On-Farm Conservation Program.
“This came from a question from Director Altieri,” Knell continued. “She questioned the funding of the On Farm Program in light of the Brichetto/Frobose suit. I explained to the Board that the water transfer component of the on-farm conservation program was not moving forward but the proceeds from the water release program could pay for the On-Farm Conservation Program. I received no other questions and assumed my response was understood.”
Knell also added that the specifics were discussed in closed session because of the suit and the plaintiffs were in the audience at the time of the meeting.
“Hopefully this will explain to the public that they knew at the time (when they filed their statements),” Knell said when asked on Thursday, June 23. “This memo shows they knew it and how they knew it.”
“There was dialogue going on,” Director Herman Doornenbal told The Leader on Friday, June 24. “I believe that memo shows Steve (Knell) was up front and informing them of what was going on.”
Knell said attorneys have told the directors throughout the litigation to discuss the matter only in closed session, however after a May 4 hearing seeking a temporary restraining order to stop the sale, Altieri met with Meserve and offered her information. Santos later did the same.
The closed session notes memorialize that Doornenbal along with directors Steve Webb and Gary Osmundson asked the legal staff to seek a temporary restraining order and preliminary injunction against Santos and Altieri, which would “preclude them from participating in further closed session discussions” on the Brichetto/Frobose lawsuit.
“We can’t logically prepare and defend this action if our own directors are talking to the other attorney,” Doornenbal said.
In another item from the meeting, Webb made a motion backed by Doornenbal in closed session to hold special meetings on Wednesday evenings rather than Tuesday mornings to allow greater coverage by local media.
Santos and Altieri, who have been outspoken on the need for more transparency in the district, were the lone dissenting votes against the move but the other directors voted in favor.
“This issue about transparency is what put them in office,” Doornenbal said about Santos and Altieri. “They’ve gotten a lot of mileage about ‘OID being transparent.’ I think local people would like to hear from the local media so we should make ourselves available.”
Doornenbal added that he felt Santos and Altieri were picking and choosing who will do the writing for OID by making themselves and the meetings only available at certain times to certain individuals.
Requests were made by telephone and email for interviews to both Santos and Altieri throughout the week following the release of the session notes. Those messages were not returned by press time.