Editors Note: Below is an Op-Ed from Bob Fultz, a candidate for the San Lorenzo Valley Water District, in response to a recent article published in the SCM Bulletin.
A recent “article” by Chris Finnie in the Santa Cruz Mountain Bulletin demonstrates what happens when reporters don’t follow important journalistic professional standards and ethics, and the effect that has on our community.
To begin, this article isn’t clearly labeled as an opinion piece or news reporting, so it has caused a lot of confusion among readers, with people posting on various social media sites citing it as “reporting”. Glaringly missing is Ms. Finnie’s disclosure up front that she was the Campaign Manager for the incumbents. The first rule of journalism, one important for the editor to enforce to maintain journalistic credibility, is that a reporter must disclose all conflicts of interest. This omission clearly calls into question Ms. Finnie’s credibility as a reporter; we’ll assume the Editor wasn’t aware of this breach, where another news writer could have been assigned to cover the election. But even if this was intended as an opinion piece, Ms. Finnie is still professionally and ethically obligated to disclose to readers and the community her position or inside relationship with the campaign, critical information that would allow them to make a judgment on whether this is serious news reporting, or more correctly, a heavily slanted campaign ad.
Even more harmful is the disturbing ripple effect this breach of ethics has, as the “article” is artfully passed around various social media outlets as “reporting” by prominent members of the community—people who like to think of themselves as our leaders. As a community, we should be horrified that anyone, let alone those we tend to trust, would be comfortable weaving this unethical behavior into the fabric of our shared community values. It is also sad that rather than engage in meaningful political dialogue on issues, of which many are unfamiliar concerning the water district, our community leaders instead feel compelled to stoop to fear-mongering and mud-slinging.
To the voters of the SLVWD, this clearly shows the political culture embraced by incumbents, who by their silence consent to this breach of ethics and deliberate misleading of the community. This lack of transparency and disrespect for the public is exactly what the Grand Jury was saying when it issued a recent report criticizing the incumbents for their lack of it. As a community, the team of Fultz Henry Swan believes that it is time for us to say loudly and clearly that the era of this kind of ugly politics is over –by electing a new board who will truly get back to the mission of the water district, representing everyone in our community.
An old saying is that when incumbents don’t have a positive record to run on, they resort to running a negative campaign. Given Ms. Finnie’s relationship with the campaign, this intent is abundantly clear. The incumbents don’t say anything in their ads or flyers or in the debates about what they are going to do for the community for the next 4 years. Their entire message is an appeal to their authority and a promise to “do more of the same”. Please contrast that with the positive platform put forth by Fultz Henry Swan for Board Director 2018 (www.Vote3IfYouAgree.com). It is specific about all of the critical issues facing our community. It talks about our vision for the future. It focuses on you and not us. And it is very detailed about what we will do over the next 4 years that will move the district forward being stronger and better.
Friends, our community is better than this, and we need the leadership to show it. Our team wants to build a new board culture—a culture where everyone is heard, everyone listened to and everyone has their questions answered and thoughts addressed in a positive way. The culture we have now really starts at the top—the incumbents. If this negativity is what they stand on during the campaign, imagine what the next four years will be like. Our vision for the future firmly leaves all that behind.
We’ll return to fill in the missing pieces of Ms. Finnie’s “article”, but more importantly, first move on to good news and the positive message SLV and Scotts Valley voters in the district deserve, let’s review what Fultz Henry Swan will do for our community:
Stop the use of Glyphosate in our watersheds and by the District generally. The incumbents will not. In fact, they have attempted to recruit Mr. Stone warily into the discussion, but how members of the valley’s leading environmental organization can support the use of glyphosate is beyond us. Really, would they put power ahead of what is good for our community’s health?
Fultz Henry Swan have never said that rates can’t go up. But what we have said is that before rates go up there needs to be a strong review of the numbers, a positive action fulfilling the primary duty of the board. Incumbents are hooked on hiring consultants to give them an “independent analysis”; those hired opinions are often drive-by window dressing designed to provide political cover. The inattentiveness or irresponsibility of the incumbents around financial matters has caused the SLVWD’s costs to provide service to essentially the same number of customers to balloon over 30% in two years, to drive our reserves down to dangerous levels, meaning we are one disaster away from a financial crisis. The board has raised rates to the point where the 30% of our community living on less than $40,000 a year are facing a huge percentage of their income going to pay for water. We are listening to you, and believe that we can find cost savings of $400,000 a year and are committed to finding that through a mid-year budget review as soon as we are seated. If we can, we’ll stop the rate increase already set for October 2019 AND we will still be able to do the needed infrastructure, a win-win.
We are going to dispose of the lawsuits—lawsuits that the incumbents freely but willfully decided to undertake to protect a former board member who from his illegal act—which has now been affirmed by judges 3 times. This has cost us, the ratepayers, hundreds of thousands of dollars. The incumbents are now emotionally invested in this fight and so they are doubling down on this as well—meaning the ratepayers continue to be on the hook for their lack of experience with lawyers and conflicts of interest situations.
We will establish a new board culture to ensure that the trust and transparency that the Grand Jury reports of 2014 and 2018 say is lacking will no longer be the case. We have a multi-point plan for doing that which you can find at our website: www.Vote3IfYouAgree.com.
We believe the choice for the water board is very clear. The incumbents say they will give you more of the same. Fultz Henry Swan say there is a much better district ahead. We have the vision and skills to move in that positive direction, and just need your vote to get started. We very much appreciate your support.
Now, to address the specifics under question, let’s turn to the article itself. First, it must be clearly stated that heavily quoted Assemblyman Mark Stone is NOT endorsing the incumbents, and that readers are encouraged to call his office if any further clarification is desired.
Quite a bit of time and detail is focused on one of our team, Lois Henry, criticizing her work on the Lompico board, and deserves a response. Let’s be brutally honest –by the time Lois Henry joined that board the Lompico District was not healthy. In fact, Lois and the rest of the Board—in an act of public service that we should hope that all public servants perform—were left with the unenviable task of fixing it.
Here are facts that Ms. Finnie excluded from her “reporting”.
December 2008: Lois Henry was seated on the Board.
July 2009: Grand Jury started its investigation, meaning it was mostly investigating what had happened BEFORE Lois joined the Board.
July 1, 2009: Lompico appointed Santa Cruz County to handle its financial accounting, which enabled Lois and the Lompico Board to finally have financial oversight.
February 2010: Lois uncovered the embezzlement by the secretary resulting in her firing.
March 2010: Lois uncovered the general manager falsification of water reports, as supported by a Grand Jury indictment and the State, resulting in his firing.
May 2010: Grand Jury report issued which included the following commendation by the Grand Jury: “Commendation: The Grand Jury commends the actions taken in 2010 by the Lompico Water Board. This board has begun to recognize and understand the challenging issues facing the District and has taken difficult but necessary first steps to address them.” as well as a recommendation that Lompico merge with SLVWD. Lois was already advocating for that position.
2011: Lompico caught up on all of its bills that had been outstanding as of December 2008.
2013: Lois receives “President of the Year” award from California Special Districts Association (composed of over 3000 special districts in the state of California).
June 2016: Lompico and SLVWD merger, as recommended by the Grand Jury, concludes, with Lompico coming in with cash, assets, an increased annual property tax share for SLVWD, and a self-taxed Assessment for planned infrastructure upgrades. Once those projects are completed, the Lompico infrastructure in most areas will be as good as or better than the other areas in the SLVWD.
Shouldn’t we, as a community, agree that this is a pretty fast cleanup and healthy outcome, of what was obviously a Board dedicated to serving its community?
This is where the incumbent message and Ms. Finnie’s “reporting” really fails. It’s easy to criticize, but if using any standard model, like Compare and Contrast, for evaluating a preferred outcome, NOT ONCE have the incumbents or their supporters suggested what Lois and the Lompico Board should have done differently. This is an important point, because the actual outcome was Lois and the board engineered a successful merger with SLVWD, which went “seamlessly” according to SLVWD staff, and did so while ensuring that the Lompico residents never ran out of water. That action included strong leadership of recognizing when to ask for help and convincing others to provide it. Lois’s leadership did that in spades and that’s why she was named “2013 President of the Year” by the California Special Districts Association. This honor was richly deserved, a key fact an ethical reporter would have included in a real news article—but Ms. Finnie saw fit to withhold. Not many among us would agree this is valid “reporting”, as do incumbents and their supporters, bent on promoting only a negative message.
Turning to Ms. Finnie’s next unsupported assertion, apparently based on the type of unsubstantiated “gossip” most serious reporters disregard, that Mr. Fultz was somehow “uncooperative” during his service as a Trustee for the San Lorenzo Valley Unified School District. Again, had Ms. Finnie exercised even the most basic fact checking she would have uncovered the fact that documentary evidence shows the SLVUSD voted unanimously 91.5% of the time and Mr. Fultz voted with the majority 94.5% of the time. While that sinks in, consider that in the world inhabited by Ms. Finnie, the incumbents and their supporters, this is what they present as being “uncooperative”, a very weak and amusing position. This distortion of the truth is in line with the rest of Ms. Finnie’s “reporting” which is heavy on sensational language but light on facts, documentary evidence and reality. In other words, very little of what she wrote should be taken seriously as professional reporting, and should be read for what it is, a slanted negative campaign ad for the incumbents, with readers being appropriately cautioned as to its purpose and accuracy.
We encourage voters to contact us through our website www.Vote3IfYouAgree.com or Facebook page (search for Fultz Henry Swan for SLV Water District Board November 2018) , or call and talk to us, and if you read something that seems odd or disturbing, please let us know and we’ll figure out the truth together.
Our success as your board will depend upon working together, and that starts right now for us. Please vote for Bob Fultz, Lois Henry and Steve Swan, and let us start building a better future for our district.
Fultz | Henry | Swan for Board Director 2018