Weekend Open Thread: Habitually Tardy Bilodeau Feels “Unsafe” at Public Water Board Meetings




[Ed. Note: This post has been redesignated as your Weekend Open Thread.  Talk about this, or anything else you’d like, within broad bounds of decorum and discretion.]

By John Earl, cross-posted from Surf City Voice.

A displeased Denis Bilodeau to the right, flanked by a nonplussed Cathy Green and a noncommittal Phil Anthony.

A displeased Denis Bilodeau to the right, flanked by a nonplussed Cathy Green and a noncommittal Phil Anthony.

Nearly thirty-four minutes into a recent early-morning committee meeting of the Orange County Water District, Director Denis Bilodeau silently slunk into a big black chair and pulled himself up to the table.

The table takes up almost half of the room, which is less than the size of the garage space provided at your local self-service car wash.

Bilodeau sat with five fellow members of the OCWD Board of Directors (Sarmiento, Green, Anthony, Flory and Dewane), their legal counsel, a staff member, and their general manager, who always sits at the head of the table under a wall TV.

The wall facing the general manager from the other end of the table, and the wall to his right, were lined with chairs occupied by other staff and a couple of public citizens.

Bilodeau sat on the side of the room to the general manager’s left.  And there I was, standing a few feet behind him, with my iPhone perched on a monopod far above the back of his neck.

Directly behind me was a counter-top with the usual breakfast buffet of hard-boiled eggs, Danish, muffins, bagels, and fruit for the directors—bought with ratepayers’ money for about $95.00

When Bilodeau arrived, I was already live streaming the (Feb. 12) meeting via the Internet—at no cost to myself or the public.

When he sat down in front of me, I was trying to get a good camera view of the TV screen (which showed a chart explaining OCWD credit ratings) without blocking the view of others.

Bilodeau is usually late to meetings, often by more than 30 minutes.  Sometimes he arrives late and leaves early, or when the meeting has only minutes left.  But board members are always entitled to their $221 stipend plus mileage, just for showing up, no matter how long they stay.

Enter Bilodeau, tardy.

Enter Bilodeau, tardy.

You can see Bilodeau arriving at 33 minutes and 55 seconds on the archived version of the stream posted on my Livestream website (or, to the right.)

In 2013 Bilodeau averaged 9.5 paid meetings per month (directors can be paid for a maximum of 10 meetings per month).  As I reported previously, he had the worst attendance record of all 10 OCWD board members for that year.

For his performance, Bilodeau collected $24,987.69 in stipend payments in 2013. With benefits, thanks to OCWD ratepayers, he made $46,999.55, more than any other board member except for Stephen Sheldon, who made $50,000.

That’s in addition to his share of about $13,000 spent a year (based on 2014 receipts) on the buffet as an incentive for board members to attend their meetings.

Ka – Ching!

Thanks to my streaming effort, ratepayers have unedited and visible evidence online of slurping from the public trough by OCWD directors.

But instead of thanking me for my public service, Bilodeau complained that I was “literally breathing down” his neck, making him feel “unsafe” and “very uncomfortable.”

I was “very disruptive,” he said.

Being “disruptive” is Bilodeau’s key complaint because it’s the only legal claim OCWD can make to prohibit live streaming of its public meetings by citizens or the press.

Bilodeau wants “visitors” to stay seated in the “visitors gallery,” away from the food on the counter-top and away from the back of his neck.

“I think that we need to carefully consider how we’re going to deal with that,” he said.

The matter is under consideration by OCWD legal counsel.

By Bilodeau’s standards, it seems, I have also disrupted other meetings.

During the Property Management committee meeting last month (video also embedded BELOW), for example, I mentioned Bilodeau’s attendance record and his acceptance of lots of campaign money from an entity negotiating a lease renewal with the board.

You can see the look of disruption on Bilodeau’s face if you watch that meeting.

Back of the neck of Bilodeau, Administration and Finance Meeting, Feb. 12, 2015.

Back of the neck of Bilodeau, Administration and Finance Meeting, Feb. 12, 2015.

It makes you wonder why any politician (especially a routinely tardy and conflicted politician) would vote for live streaming of public meetings.

So I wasn’t surprised last month (Jan. 21) when the board voted down live streaming by 8 -2, with Directors Flory and Green voting for it.

Bilodeau didn’t talk about disruption then.  Instead, he talked about demand (of which he claims there is none) and costs (he says it will raise your water rates!) but grudgingly offered a “reasonable solution”: audio recordings would be available by request via email on a trial basis.

“I know the demand is virtually zero,” he said.

“And I don’t think the video provides much of anything [of] additional value to the public that [it] would want to listen in and see what we’re doing here” he added.

Since then, Bilodeau’s plan was upgraded and the OCWD staff have placed convenient links to audio records of public meetings going back two years on its website.

But Bilodeau is partly correct about audio’s limits.

Without video streaming, you wouldn’t know if he walked silently into a meeting 34 minutes late, or be able to see the charts on the TV screen.

And without live video (which can be captured at home) you can’t compare what really happened at meetings to my reporting or OCWD’s skimpy minutes.

By Bilodeau’s standard, open meetings are obsolete. Why should OCWD have any open meetings when throughout its history few people outside of the water industry have attended?

The answer: easier access invites more people to participate in their government.

And it only takes a few sharp eyes to get a lot of people involved if the issue is right.

That’s what happened in the past year due to OCWD’s plan to buy into a $1 billion desalination plant proposed by Poseidon Resources Inc.  That would replace imported water at three to 10 times its current cost—without adding a drop to Orange County’s water supply.

If I were a water board member supporting the Poseidon scam, I would be worried about the potential political consequences of being watched by even more people online.

Maybe that is why Bilodeau and a majority of his colleagues feel so uncomfortable, unsafe and disrupted right now.

– See more at: http://www.surfcityvoice.org/2015/02/tardy-water-director-feels-unsafe-at-public-meeting/

About Surf City Voice

John Earl is the editor of SoCal Water Wars (previously Surf City Voice.) Frequent contributor Debbie Cook, a former Huntington Beach Mayor, is board president of the Post Carbon Institute.