San Miguel Community Services District directors will continue serving as volunteers following a contentious debate this week over whether to allow monthly stipends of up to $600.
Board Vice President John Green had proposed allowing directors to be reimbursed up to $600 a month for things such as travel expenses. Directors would have been capped at $15,000 a year.
Since its formation, the district’s bylaws have allowed directors to receive up to $100 per month, but early board members set a precedent and directors have never taken the stipend, General Manager Darrell Gentry said.
According to Green, the San Miguel CSD Board of Directors is the sole community service district board in San Luis Obispo County not to take advantage of stipends.
The San Miguel CSD is one of 16 community services districts in the county, representing about 2,000 customers and operating on a $1.1 million annual budget.
At a board meeting Thursday night, Green found little support among the other three directors for his proposal. He said they could still refuse a stipend or donate the funds back to the district or local charities, but that directors should have the option.
“Recently in the last year I have incurred a lot of personal expenses (representing the board),” Green said at the meeting. “I’ve done a lot, and I was just looking for a little help.”
Director Anthony Kalvans, a student, said a stipend would help him as he travels across the county for director business. Kalvans, however, said he wanted to give the public a longer noticing period before discussing the issue further.
Gentry advised the board that stipends could be considered by the public as excessive and that scrutiny of public officials’ use of taxpayer dollars has dramatically increased since a 2010 scandal in Bell, Calif.
Gentry told the board that the stipends would not dramatically affect district finances in the short term but would need to be included in the budget moving forward, which would mean taking funds from other district operations.
“Would it mean a financial hit? Yes,” Gentry said. “When you have a community in (economic) recovery like San Miguel, this is a very serious discussion.”
The idea did not go over well with the few residents in the audience, who said the district board has a proud history of volunteerism.
The meeting was held a day after Richard Harrison, who had served as director since the district was formed in 2000, sent a scathing letter of resignation to the board accusing directors of threatening cuts to district services while proposing monthly stipends.
At Thursday’s meeting, Gentry said the district will post a notice of the seat’s vacancy with the county clerk within 15 days as required by law. The district will discuss at its next meeting its three options: to appoint a replacement board member, hold a special election within 60 days, or have the San Luis Obispo County Board of Supervisors to fill the seat.
“There will be some urgency to get this matter before the (district) board in February,” Gentry said.
In his letter, Harrison accused unnamed board members of several acts of misconduct, including harassing district staff and meeting privately prior to board meetings to strategize votes, which is illegal under the Ralph M. Brown Act, California's open-meetings law.
Gentry said Friday the district is not aware of any evidence of board members meeting privately.
“San Miguel is such a small community, I would think it would be very easy to notice if (board members) were meeting,” Gentry said.