Video: HMB director refuses to vacate chair of SAM

Posted by on Mon, February 2, 2009

Long version: SAM directors hold vote, which ends in tie. Discussion follows. [14:30] Video provided by MCTV. The opinions expressed on Coastsider are those of the author, and do not represent the views of MCTV. Thanks to Montara Fog for editing assistance.
Short version: Just the discussion, including the portion quoted in the story. [5:40] Video provided by MCTV. The opinions expressed on Coastsider are those of the author, and do not represent the views of MCTV. Thanks to Montara Fog for editing assistance.

Half Moon Bay City Council member Marina Fraser, who has been Acting Chair of the Sewer Authority Midcoastside for the year since January 2008, is refusing to step down until she has been elected for a full one-year term as official chair. You may also want to read the Review’s account of the meeting, but there is no substitute for watching the video.

Fair warning: This is the most squirm-inducing video of a public meeting I’ve seen in years.

SAM is jointly operated by the city of Half Moon Bay, Granada Sanitary District, and the Montara Water and Sanitary District. Half Moon Bay’s two directors have half the votes on the SAM board, and the four directors from the two Midcoast agencies hold the other half of the votes. As long as the Half Moon Bay and the Midcoast directors vote as blocs, all votes end in a tie.

In January 2008, the Midcoast and Half Moon Bay directors were unable to agree on the election of a Chair, and Fraser, as Vice Chair, became Acting Chair, a position she has held for the last year.

Last Monday, Fraser said that she would refuse to the vacate the Acting Chair position until she is elected to a full one-year term as Chair of SAM.

Pressed for a reason to elect her to the Chair, said, "If you had just elected me as Chair, I would have been fine ... you denied me the respect of having a Chair position. So, this can go on if you’d like. Elect me as chair, and I’ll serve, and someone else can serve after me."

Half Moon Bay’s other SAM director, John Muller, is backing her up. At the meeting Muller said, "Give her an official year as chair, and in 2010 I’m ready to move on. ... If we cannot do that you have to realize Marina has thirty-four more months on the City Council. Thirty-four more months!"

Here is my interpretation of what I saw. You should watch the video and draw your own conclusions.

First, keep in mind that Fraser has been acting as Chair for the past year. Therefore, she’s refusing to vacate the position because either (1) the former Mayor of Half Moon Bay wants to remove the word "acting" from her resume, or (2) Half Moon Bay sees a strategic interest in controlling SAM for at least another year, if not longer, and is using this as a pretext.

The Midcoast directors are under no obligation to vote for Fraser now, or in 2008. That’s why there’s a vote. There’s nothing illegal about what Fraser and Muller are doing, but it raises the question of whether the city is acting in good faith.

Considering Fraser’s and Muller’s threat to never vacate the position unless Fraser is elected Chair, the Midcoast directors have no reason to believe that she will ever vacate the chair. Even if she’s elected to the position.

Comment 1
Tue, February 3, 2009 7:32am
Ric Lohman
All my comments

Couple of additional important items.
Back in Jan 2008 the four Northern directors refused to elect Marina for one specific reason. HMB had just broken the SAM covenant by refusing to support an Emergency Wet Weather (EWW) project. We stated that it would not be proper for the group who put our entire Coast at risk from EPA fines to then demand to lead SAM. Marina’s justification was that she was vice-chair the year before so we HAD TO elect here. It was pointed out that that had only happened in 10% of the time in SAM history.
This year, in addition to still refusing to support the EWW project, HMB is joining with CCWD to shut down the SAM pilot recycled water project. The non-0HMB directors pointed that out, along with the fact the HMB may be bankrupt in June. And yet they are still holding the chair position hostage.

Comment 2
Tue, February 3, 2009 12:11pm
Carl May
All my comments

Do the SAM bylaws state current officers continue in their positions if there are tie votes? Another way I have seen this resolved is to declare there is no reigning officer if there is a stalemate and that the unresolved position rotates from meeting to meeting among board members. This prevents an unelected officer from hijacking control of the meetings (and the agenda?).

(Tie votes on other matters mean the proposed action fails and the status quo continues—as with the failed wet weather project—correct?)

Just another of a long line of examples over the years in which “consolidation” of any unincorporated midcoast government with Half Moon Bay government is shown to be a bad idea. Too late now, but one can only wish there could have been a way besides a JPA with its own board to cooperate on wastewater collection and treatment.

Comment 3
Tue, February 3, 2009 12:18pm
Barry Parr
All my comments

That’s a good question, Carl.  This appears to be the opinion of the board’s counsel. However, it may not be the only option, particularly when this threatens to run on indefinitely.

Perhaps MWSD and GSD should ask their respective counsel to look into this matter.

Comment 4
Tue, February 3, 2009 1:10pm
Ric Lohman
All my comments

Carl and Barry,
Good questions and ideas.
We tried that early on. Guess what happened. You’re right.
In the “spirit of cooperation” that HMB talks about but never actually follows, they blocked the vote on that also.
SAM council said that would work. Marina and John blocked it once they took control.
They’re now holding the position hostage.

Barry Parr wrote: “Fair warning: This is the most squirm-inducing video of a public meeting I’ve seen in years.”

Exactly. Fraser and Muller act like a pair of preening high school bullies who think they can dictate to the entire student body. Maybe that’s how they really did behave when they attended HMB High School (and apparently never left).

No wonder the City of HMB is so screwed up. These so-called “public officials” are more concerned about the bs distinction between being called “Acting Chair” versus “Chair” rather doing what is right for their constituents.

Like members of the Mafia , they say things like “You need to show us respect,” rather doing the job they were elected to do. Absolutely pathetic.

this video demonstrates the fallacy in the LAFCo “consolidate all” logic.  I hate to imagine how this area would be if we had been part of HMB all along.  Carl is correct, we need very local government.  Locally elected agencies that can think and act appropriately; within and beyond their boundaries in terms of public health, safety and environmental protections.

Comment 7
Tue, February 3, 2009 8:42pm
Carl May
All my comments

It didn’t involve the two HMB City Council members now on the SAM board; but there were some similar games played in the 1990’s by Old Guard council members to deny the usual informal rotation of the HMB
Mayor position.

So, if HMB tradition shows the sequence of such leadership positions is arbitrary in the city….

Maybe the State Board of Education has some guidelines on the conduct of government high-school style?

Or, from a more pragmatic angle, has Barry’s suggestion for consulting the lawyers of the special districts been explored? At the very least, this situation points up an area of the JPA agreement that obviously needs greater specificity. Not a very good answer, but even a coin flip between two candidates with the same number of votes for a SAM board position would better serve the public than the embarrassing recalcitrant behavior shown in the video above.

How about a coin flip for which members serve as the four Northern directors?

Comment 9
Wed, February 4, 2009 2:04pm
Carl May
All my comments

Apples and oranges. My comment is not about whom among their members the city and the special districts send to the SAM board but, rather, the SAM officers chosen by the designees on the SAM board.