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A June 2018 meeting of the San Diego County Water Authority board / Photo by Adriana Heldiz

Connie Williams was ecstatic when she got a job as an administrative assistant at the San Diego County Water Authority – she was her family’s sole breadwinner.

But only about a year later, the agency fired her for sending a personal FedEx on the Water Authority’s dime. Williams said she tried to pay the agency back, and a co-worker even testified that she’d instructed Williams to use the agency’s FedEx account number, which resulted in the charge.

“A review of Williams’ case suggests the Water Authority, the agency in charge of making sure San Diego has enough water, can be mirthless, even compared with other bureaucracies; when employees there fall out of favor, the agency can find a way to sideline or get rid of them,” Ry Rivard notes in a new story examining the case.

Williams and another employee who filed a separate complaint against the agency say their problems are a sign of deeper issues within the agency.

“The Water Authority recently increased its spending on outside attorneys to deal with employment issues,” Rivard notes.

Court Orders San Diego Schools to Keep Emails

San Diego Unified School District cannot destroy emails older than one year as officials had intended in June after Superior Court Judge Ronald Styn made his tentative ruling official Friday and issued a preliminary injunction until a trial is held in March 2019. Voice of San Diego filed suit in May seeking to halt the implementation of a new records retention policy — a move that would have led to the permanent deletion of hundreds of millions of emails dating back to 2010.

San Diegans for Open Government and attorney Cory Briggs also filed a separate lawsuit. The judge consolidated them for the decision about whether to stop the school district from destroying the emails right now. Briggs’ case spurs from a public records request seeking each and every email the district was about to destroy.

Voice of San Diego’s lawsuit also considers the email retention policy but is a broader complaint about the district’s handling, delay and denial of public records requests. Felix Tinkov is handling the case for VOSD.

From Scott Lewis: This is a big win. But it’s just the start. We have existing public records requests that have been delayed for more than a year. We have no idea if some of the records we are waiting for were about to be destroyed. Now our lawyer can spend time examining the district’s public records practices and make our case that transparency and reform is needed in how the district handles public records requests.

The local chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists also weighed in: The district had argued that it was not going to be destroying any public records because it had trained each employee to go through every email going back eight years to determine if they were public records or not and proactively save the ones that were.

“The court finds SDUSD fails to establish that its guidelines, policies and procedures will insure that ‘records’ will not be destroyed during the automatic deletion procedure,” Styn wrote.

This is what SPJ leaders had found as well.

“Despite our monthly requests to the school district, we were never provided with clear evidence that employees had been adequately trained on which emails fit the definition of a “record” and should therefore be retained,” the group wrote.

The Principle at the Heart of the Hunter Case

Rep. Duncan Hunter leaves a federal court hearing. / Image via KPBS

Rep. Duncan Hunter isn’t in trouble for allegedly making a bunch of personal purchases on his campaign’s dime – at least, not exactly.

In an analysis, Scott Lewis lays out the reasoning behind the country’s campaign finance laws that ensnared Hunter: “We have decided, except for some narrow circumstances, that you can’t give politicians money that they can put directly in their pockets. We don’t want politicians to feel personally indebted to people who want things from the government.”

There’s plenty more analysis of the Hunter case in this week’s Politics Report, and on the VOSD podcast. National news is all over the case. Some highlights:

  • Politico reports Hunter’s Republican colleagues are aghast at his efforts to blame his wife.
  • The New York Times profiled Hunter and his dual lives on each coast.
  • And there are now a billion profiles like this of Ammar Campa-Najjar, the Democrat running for Hunter’s seat.
  • The Onion weighed in with satire about what really shocked Hunter’s Republican colleagues: He poor.

Lots of Action in Sacramento as Legislature Winds Down

The Hunter news last week drowned out what would otherwise be a big politics story: A Senate committee is investigating state Sen. Joel Anderson over an incident in which he apparently threatened to hurt a lobbyist.

Anderson is running for the state Board of Equalization, and, it turns out, his challenger has his own troubling history. That and more are in the weekly Sacramento Report, including:

  • One of the most-watched bills in the whole state this year has been Assemblywoman Shirley Weber’s bill that sought to change the standards for when prosecutors could hold police officers responsible for shooting unarmed suspects. On Friday, the bill got dramatically watered down so that it no longer changes prosecution standards at all.
  • This is the last week for bills to pass through the Legislature and move on to Gov. Jerry Brown’s desk. Brown will have until Sept. 30 to sign or veto them.

Local Mayors Argue a New San Diego Power Agency Would Burden Their Residents

If the city of San Diego goes through with creating its own agency to buy power for city residents, “roughly 2 million San Diego County residents may be forced to pay more for their electricity,” the mayors of San Marcos, National City and El Cajon argue in a new op-ed.

They’re largely relying on a recent decision by the state Public Utilities Commission to make their case. The PUC rejected a plan from the state’s three biggest utilities over how to charge so-called exit fees. The utilities plan, the PUC found, would have stifled competition.

The issue: VOSD’s Ry Rivard has reported extensively on the debate. Existing power companies – San Diego Gas & Electric, Southern California Edison and Pacific Gas & Electric – already built power plants or signed long-term contracts to buy power on the assumption their monopolies would not end.

So, if the city formed an agency and its 1.4 million residents stopped buying power from SDG&E, customers outside of the city could be left holding the bag for that power the company bought.

For years, companies have been able to charge departing customers an “exit fee” to recoup those costs, but nobody has been able to agree on whether the fee is too high or too low. If it’s too high, few governments would be able to provide cheaper power, destroying the community choice movement. Too low, and customers stuck in places footing the bill for these old contracts will be paying too much.

The case in today’s commentary: “Without exit fees, customers who remain with utilities would be forced to shoulder these costs for new CCA customers,” the mayors write. “In San Diego County it would mean SDG&E customers in San Marcos, Carlsbad, Lemon Grove, etc. would be hit with higher bills and forced to subsidize a government-run energy program that provides them with absolutely zero benefits because it only services San Diego residents and businesses.”

Other News

  • The U-T examines the hoops — from here, to Sacramento, to DC — developers hoping to build Newland Sierra are trying to jump through to get approval to build out the 800-acre property. It is not part of the county’s general development plan and it also sits in a precarious place in the middle of the region’s much lauded Multiple Species Conservation Plan. That’s the blueprint for how we’ll protect wildlife according to federal law, while allowing development. And that’s the reason members of congress, including Hunter, were being lobbied.
  • The U-T also reports that San Diego is about to have a debate about whether to allow the construction of housing downtown without requiring that the builders supply parking spots.
  • Whoever operates the Twitter feed of the local National Weather Service branch is running out of superlatives to describe San Diego’s hot summer. We’re breaking all the possible records.

The Morning Report was written and edited by Sara Libby and Scott Lewis.

Scott Lewis

Scott Lewis oversees Voice of San Diego’s operations, website and daily functions as Editor in Chief. He also writes about local politics, where he frequently...

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