Santa Clara University

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Her Honor

Judy Nadler, senior fellow in government ethics at the Markkula Center for Applied Ethics, looks at ethical dilemmas, scandals, and best practices in government.

The following postings have been filtered by tag special districts. clear filter
  •  Taxpayers Get The Bill For Some Questionable Expenses

    Tuesday, Sep. 11, 2012

    Elected officials are likely to tell you that their jobs are 24/7, and that they must be available at any time to interact with the voters. I disagree.

    While the oath of office commits an individual to serve the public, it does not anticipate round-the-clock access, especially for directors elected to special districts, often a part-time responsibility.

    A recent investigative report showed elected officials from the Santa Clara Valley Water District in California, were reimbursed for things ranging from installation of in-home Internet access to attendance at social events. The NBC Bay Area reporters found not only were board members being paid for “official” board meetings, they were also charging for events where water district matters were not discussed. (They are also paid $286 when they meet with the district CEO.)

    The district allows a “per-diem fee for attendance at events, as each member determines will best enable them to serve the District.” This broad definition has led to board members charging the public for membership fees in a Rotary Club, professional engineering societies, attendance at banquets and picnics, and the like. Directors  justify such expenses as a way of "interacting" with their constituents.

    Two directors “maxed out” on the amount they could charge to the public for meeting fees alone: $34,323.60.   Director Patrick Kwok received $57,462 last year for meetings plus benefits and travel.

     Public scrutiny will lead to changes in some of these expenses, as many are unjustified.  A new practice will require posting on the Web this type of  spending by directors each quarter. Much more can and should be done to decrease spending and increase transparency.

  •  Responsibility, Accountability Needed For Special Districts

    Thursday, Feb. 10, 2011


    “Under the radar” is a term I often use for those public agencies that are not well known to the public or the press.
    You may have heard about a local water board, or a board making decisions about transit, utilities, and sanitation. But some communities have "special district" boards or commissions that are responsible for mosquito abatement, cemeteries, levee maintenance, transit, fire, harbor, geologic hazard abatement, and the like.  
    Some members are appointed, others are elected, but all are subject to strict reporting requirements enforced  by the California Fair Political Practices Commission. The commission investigating complaints publishes a regular summary of actions, and this month one item caught my eye.
    Arturo Chacon, who won a seat on the Central Basin Municipal Water District Board of Directors was just fined $30,000 for a host of violations. His election committee not only failed to file at least five separate required statements on time, it also violated several key provisions of the ethics laws, including accepting cash contributions of $100 or more and making cash expenditures of $100 or more.
    The decisions made by special district board members and their administrative directors have significant impact on the day-to-day running of some of our most basic services. These individuals approve budgets, allocate funds, and set policies that our children will inherit. They should not escape the spotlight.


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