Saturday, August 9, 2014
(San Mateo County) Embattled harbor district fires back at grand jury
August 9, 2014
San Mateo County Times
By Aaron Kinney
HALF MOON BAY -- The squabble-prone leaders of the San Mateo County Harbor District at least agree on one thing: They do not want the district to be eradicated.
The district's board of commissioners made their first public comments last week on a searing grand jury report that called for the agency's dissolution. But their contentious and sometimes confusing reaction underscored one of the chief concerns of the grand jury, which called the board out for "embarrassing" and "dysfunctional" behavior.
The purpose of Wednesday's meeting in Half Moon Bay was to establish a timeline and procedure for responding to the San Mateo County civil grand jury's July 9 report. The analysis found fault with the budgeting, financial accounting and governance of the district, which operates Pillar Point Harbor near Half Moon Bay and manages Oyster Point Marina in South San Francisco. The district has a $10 million operating budget supported in part by $5 million in county property taxes.
Commissioner Jim Tucker stepped forward Wednesday night with a proposal for the five board members to submit their thoughts on the report to the district's lawyer. The attorney would then craft the material into a draft response for consideration at a future meeting.
But the idea drew outrage from Commissioner Sabrina Brennan, who wanted the board to discuss the merits of the grand jury report right away, and discomfort from the attorney, Steven Miller, who worried that he was being asked to step outside his role as legal adviser and formulate policy.
Ultimately the commissioners voted 4-1 to have general manager Peter Grenell's staff incorporate their remarks into a draft for review at the board's Aug. 20 meeting. Brennan dissented, saying she was "disgusted," and announced she would produce a "minority report" for the grand jury.
It was the latest of many disagreements between Tucker and Brennan, whose confrontational style has caused friction on the board. Brennan is sharply critical of her fellow commissioners, even campaigning to replace Tucker and two others in the November election. Tucker and other board members have marginalized her, shooting down her proposals and restricting her comments.
Brennan said Thursday she is concerned the board will forego public discussion next month on the grand jury report, whose criticism she welcomed, although she opposes dissolution.
"There will be a motion to approve the report, and there won't be any discussion except for me, and I have five minutes, and then they cut me off," Brennan predicted. "I think having meaningful discussion is necessary given the circumstances."
Tucker said Thursday he didn't want to share all his thoughts on the grand jury report until the draft response is ready, but claimed the report contained numerous mistakes and omissions. For instance, Tucker said, the grand jury failed to note that since 2004 the district has paid down a debt to the state Department of Boating and Waterways from nearly $20 million to $5.9 million.
"It was very nasty toward us, and that's a polite word I can use," Tucker said of the report. "And I don't think it gave us a fair shake."
Commissioner Will Holsinger said the grand jury's reasoning about the board's disputes is flawed.
"What I find troubling," he said, "is they use the notion that there is political discord and personality conflicts as the principal basis for dissolution."
By that logic, the state of California should be taken over by the U.S. government, said Holsinger, claiming that disagreement is a basic aspect of democracy.
The question of whether to dissolve the district would be up to the San Mateo County Board of Supervisors, said Supervisor Don Horsley, who represents the busy fishing port at Pillar Point. Horsley recently asked the county's Local Agency Formation Commission to hire a consultant to study the feasibility of dissolution. He expects a report in December.
Contact Aaron Kinney at 650-348-4357.