Maria Gutzeit and Dan Mortensen say the move to recall them from the Newhall County Water District board feels personal.
“Of course I’m upset. I have served for 13 years on the water board, and (I’m) an active member of the community for 25 years,” Gutzeit said. “It seemed like retaliation. … You put in a lot of time trying to do the right thing and to document a lot of benefits.”
Added Mortensen: “We’re taking the time to do right by the rate payers. To be rewarded like this is a kick in the teeth.”
Gutzeit, the incoming NCWD board president, is a self-avowed proponent of merging the NCWD with the Castaic Lake Water Agency (CLWA) into a single body. She said 14 of 15 board members favor it, and the two boards were scheduled to jointly meet Tuesday night to officially vote to merge.
Gutzeit said it’s one person, Joan Dunn, a former NCWD board member who unsuccessfully ran for a CLWA seat in the last election, who’s trying to remove her and Mortensen. Mortensen believes Dunn is a front for Lynne Plambeck, the one board member opposing the merger (Plambeck was unable to be reached).
“Sour grapes trumps millions of dollars,” Gutzeit said.
“This has Lynne Plambeck’s handwriting all over it,” said Mortensen, who conservatively estimates the merger will save ratepayers $14 million.
Dunn, who said she ran on a “no water monopoly” platform, singled out the pair because she felt betrayed by them.
“They are the ones we elected,” Dunn said.
“They’re like turncoats. … What other choice did we have? We’re being railroaded into this merger.”
The intent to recall, Dunn said, is a reaction to her feeling that the four-member ad hoc committee that agreed to the merger operated in secret and violated the Brown Act, a 1953 state law prohibiting private meetings of local legislative bodies. Gutzeit and Mortensen were on that committee.
“This characterization (about these) backroom discussions is really unfair,” said Mortensen, who added that he waived his fees over the two years he spent working on this.
Gutzeit pointed out that the two ad hoc members from CLWA, Bob DiPrimio and Vice President Bill Cooper, were not subjected to Dunn’s intent to recall.
“We’re easier to recall,” Gutzeit said. “It sure feels personal.”
Gutzeit said that the committee held meetings that were “properly conducted by state law,” and it decided to bring the matter to the public in early 2016. Since then, she said, there have been four or five public meetings.
“It has been public for nearly 12 months,” Gutzeit said.
Furthermore, the text of the agreement that was to be voted on Tuesday has been public since Friday, she said. Once the boards vote to merge, they will work with state legislators to draft the text of the new law that is required. Gutzeit said she isn’t sure who will sponsor the eventual bill, but new Assembly member Dante Acosta and state Sens. Scott Wilk and Henry Stern have been approached.
“If we’re recalled, it doesn’t unwind the deal,” she said.
For Dunn, the notice of intent is only the first step in an expensive process. She now must have a 300-word legal notice published in two newspapers of general circulation (she said The Signal charges 90 cents a word). Then she needs to collect enough signatures in the next four months from registered voters within the water district, with the goal being 6,000.
Should she get the necessary signatures by April, the NCWD would be on the hook for a special election that could cost as much as $180,000.
“We think we’re going to have enough people,” Dunn said. “I’ve talked to so many people.”