Commentary: I will help pay legal fees for Sanitary District

Four Costa Mesa Sanitary District board members hired a law firm to petition the California attorney general for a ruling on whether the offices of Sanitary District director and city planning commissioner offices are incompatible.

The City Council decided to install Director Jim Fitzpatrick as a planning commissioner after he had been elected to the Sanitary District. The city attorney provided the council with a legal input and opinion. The district legal counsel had provided the district board members with a legal opinion that the offices were likely incompatible.

After considerable discussion in November and December 2010, the Sanitary District board voted to get a second legal opinion on the issue. I voted against getting a second district legal opinion from a law firm, Meyers-Nave, because the board members had a district legal counsel opinion that stated that the offices were likely incompatible.

I voted not to get this second legal opinion because I objected to spending public money, even though I thought it important for the public and the council to know if the offices of planning commissioner and Sanitary District board member are incompatible. This second district legal opinion confirmed that the offices were incompatible.

The Meyers-Nave legal opinion also refuted each point Fitzpatrick had made during board discussions on the matter. I then voted to support getting the attorney general's opinion.

I had committed to pay one-fifth of the legal costs to obtain the attorney general's opinion. Now I am committing to keep the cost to each residential trash parcel to less than $1 total. I will cut my meeting reimbursement requests for this year, and the next two years of my term, to reduce the legal costs.

I will track the savings to the Costa Mesa ratepayers by comparing my W2 forms from the district for this year, next year, and the next. For residents who would like me to refund their dollar call me at (714) 545-9613. I can also clarify some of the misinformation being put out about the Sanitary District this election season.

Legal costs for petitioning the attorney general for a ruling on the incompatibility of office issue have reached $36,000 as of August. The legal costs are tracked and reported to the board by the district general manager.

ROBERT J. OOTEN is president of the Coast Mesa Sanitary District Board.

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