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Two meetings have been held about the current Lebec County Water Board. Here, Rebecca and Mike Bugbee, Greg Keenberg of Frazier Park Public Utilities District, Patti Svestka, Jagmit Mann and Millie Karr on February 11, talking about Brown Act issues. Millie Karr co-chaired the board recall meeting March 5.
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About 40 people came to the February 11 meeting, and about 50 to the March 5 event.
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At the February 22 board meeting, Directors Jack Rider (above) and Darren Hager (next) and water customers discussing a new rate structure.
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At the February 22 board meeting, Directors Jack Rider (previous) and Darren Hager (above) and water customers discussing a new rate structure.
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At the February 22 board meeting, Directors Jack Rider and Darren Hager (previous) and water customers discussing a new rate structure.
Recall fever was in the air on Friday, March 5 when a group of about 50 customers of the Lebec County Water Company met at the Holiday Inn Express. The meeting was jointly chaired by former board member Robert Karr and Millie Karr.
Millie Karr read a list of complaints against the current board members. Bob Karr— who resigned from the board in December, saying stress is bad for his health—said in an interview that the list will appear in the recall petition that they plan to file with the Kern County Board of Elections.
The Karrs told the group that attorney’s fees for the filing had been donated, “so water customers won’t have to pay for this,” but would not say who provided the money when asked. “I have no comment about that at this time,” Karr replied in an interview, then said it was “citizens.”
Others at the meeting speculated that it might be the Holiday Inn Express owners, developer Emilie Wainright or even an associate of Frank Arciero, Jr. whose proposed Frazier Park Estates has been denied annexation by the current board.
In telephone interviews, Wainright adamantly denied providing attorney’s funds. Jagmit “Jay” Mann and Lexander Singh, co-owners of the Holiday Inn Express, each individually denied contributing to a recall attorney’s fund. Attempts to reach Frank Arciero, Jr. were unsuccessful, but his consultant Derrill Whitten, Jr. of Cornerstone Engineering said, “We’ve watched the Lebec County Water District but I have absolutely no knowledge of anything related to that. I can’t speak for Mr. Arciero and what he does with his checkbook, but I can tell you flat-out that no one on my team has anything to do with that.”
Two current board members, Julie McWhorter and Steve Cozzetto were asked to leave the March 5 meeting by Millie Karr, told “this is by invitation only.”
Some stood to allege that water board directors have met in secret to conduct board business. They said these secret meetings occurred after open public meetings had adjourned, in violation of the Ralph M. Brown Open Meetings Act.
In an interview, Board President Darren Hager said: “We have closed door meetings about personnel and issues allowed by the Brown Act.”
Others said that they suspect Hager has either destroyed or secreted past financial records which would be needed for an audit. Hager says this is “completely false.” He said all past records are available at the water board office or in a district storage container. He said that “I’m personally hiring counsel about defamation.”
Hager continued, “Two people came into my store and said they went to that meeting because they thought they were being invited by the secretary of the water board, then found out it wasn’t true. They said it sounded like a witch hunt, so they came in to ask me questions themselves.”
Horace Smith said that a grand jury inquiry would “clear people’s names and require that those making charges be put under oath to come up with specifics.” Those at the meeting chose “recall” instead.
In an interview, Smith said he thinks personality conflicts caused by gruff personal style and lack of diplomacy may be at the root of the conflict.
By Patric Hedlund with additional reporting by Horace Smith
This is part of the March 12, 2010 online edition of The Mountain Enterprise.
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