FAIRFIELD — A majority of Fairfield-Suisun Sewer District board members disagree with the grand jury’s recommendation that they impose a limit on how many of them attend out-of-town conferences.
But they agreed with the grand jury that they should submit written reports after the conferences. Those reports would get attached to meeting minutes.
The grand jury in a May report said having multiple board members attend out-of-town California Association of Sanitation Agencies conferences costs too much. Plus, board members who go to the conferences fail to adequately share what information they learn with the public, the report said.
The sewer district board tried to pass a response that disagreed with the grand jury report in June, but several members were absent and the board failed to muster the necessary six votes. It tried again Monday and this time passed a revised response Monday on a 7-0 vote. The board consists of the Suisun City and Fairfield city councils.
Voting in favor of the response were Fairfield Mayor Harry Price and Fairfield City Councilman Rick Vaccaro and Suisun City Mayor Pete Sanchez and Suisun City Council members Mike Hudson, Mike Segala, Jane Day and Lori Wilson. Fairfield City Council members Pam Bertani, Catherine Moy and John Mraz were absent.
From 2010 through 2012, nine sewer district board members attended at least some of the conferences in Palm Desert, Napa, San Diego, Sacramento, Newport Beach, Monterey and Washington, D.C., for a total cost of $97,000. For example, seven board members went to the 2011 Palm Desert conference. Five went to the 2012 Palm Desert conference. Six went to the 2011 San Diego conference.
In addition, nine staff members attended conferences at a total cost of $38,000, the grand jury report said. Board meeting minutes indicate board members only sporadically reported on what they learned at these conferences, it said.
The sewer district board disagreed with the grand jury recommendation to limit the number of board members who attend conferences and to rotate which members get to go.
“The Board of Directors believes that an engaged and educated board will make better decisions that result in lower costs to the district’s ratepayers,” the response said.
Sanchez suggested a limit of five members attending any one conference. The idea quickly died among such questions as how to tell certain board members they couldn’t go and whether too high a limit might not be meaningful.
The board agreed with Sanchez’s suggestion to change the original proposed district response and instead agree to develop a policy to require written conference reports.
“I have no problem with that,” Sanchez said. “I already do that anyway. Why should I sign off on a response that says it won’t be implemented?”
The discussion then centered on how in-depth these reports might have to be, though that will be decided at a future date.
“It’s as simple as whatever seminar you go to, you write a brief summary of it,” Vaccaro said.
Hudson said he wants to focus on whatever he finds most valuable at a conference.
The grand jury also recommended that the sewer district eliminate the health care benefit reimbursement provided to board members by the district’s medical/dental/vision program. That would save taxpayers money, it said.
The response passed by the board called the recommendation neither warranted nor reasonable. The average annual cost for the past three years for the program is $22,348, or $2,235 per board member per year. This is small relative to other forms of health care or other benefits available to public officials, it said.
Reach Barry Eberling at 427-6929 or [email protected] Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/beberlingdr.