City approves hiring firm to investigate municipal water use

Mayor Nader launched fact-finding mission Jan. 9
By: Steve Archer, Reporter
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A fact-finding mission initiated by Lincoln Mayor Stan Nader into advice that the city has received from water consultants and attorneys moved forward Tuesday night with the council approving the hiring of a Sacramento law firm.

The Lincoln City Council unanimously approved the hiring of Meyers Nave to conduct a fact-finding mission looking into the 2013 HF&H water-rate study, Prop. 218 and the city’s recent water loss report to the California Department of Water Resources. The estimated budget for the investigation, according to a staff report, is $27,275.

Nader took up the issue at the Jan. 9 council meeting.

“It recently came to my attention that the 2017-18 budget is the first to contain a revenue line item for the city’s municipal water use,” Nader said Jan. 9. “That prompted further inquiry into the city’s recent water loss report to the State (Department of Water Resources) and also the HF&H water rate study that was adopted by the City Council in 2013.

“I have concerns the HF&H (water rate study) did not adequately disclose the fact the city was not budgeting revenue to pay for its municipal use nor did it disclose the implications that practice may have relative to Proposition 218,” Nader added at the Jan. 9 meeting.

The city has not billed itself for sewer and garbage services either, City Manager Matt Brower said Wednesday.

According to a city staff report, Meyer Nave senior associate Kate Cook from the firm’s Municipal and Special District Law, Public Records Act and Labor and Employment group, will be the lead attorney for the investigation.

City attorney Kristine Mollenkopf said she has confidence in the selection.

“The firm has a wide-breadth of experience,” Mollenkopf said. “She (Cook) has a wonderful understanding of the law and all of the resources of the firm at her disposal.”

Cook also serves as the city attorney for Plymouth, deputy city attorney for Rio Vista and general counsel for the Rolling Hills Community Services District.

Lincoln resident David Stanley disagreed with the choice and suggested attorneys from one of the firm’s other divisions. He was also skeptical of the amount budgeted for the fact-finding mission.

“$27,725 comes out to about 80 hours of work,” Stanley said. “I don’t think that’s enough.”

Cook bills at $275 per hour.

Lincoln resident Byron Chapman said he was surprised none of the members of the city’s ad hoc water committee were included in the investigation.

“This is the fox watching the chicken coop,” Chapman said. “The city hires a firm to investigate itself, overseen by the city attorney. The client here is the city, not the citizens; the citizens get everything second-hand. The level of trust on this issue has not been the best. The citizens should be in this.”

Mollenkopf said all of ad hoc water committee members have agreed to be interviewed during the fact-finding mission.

Councilman Paul Joiner said the fact-finding mission will look into the city’s internal workings.

“The council only has two employees: the city manager and the city attorney,” Joiner said. “We don’t have any other tools in our kit to ferret out the information.”

Earlier in the meeting, Stanley questioned the 2017 cancellation of a city contract by the law firm of Kronick, Mosovitz, Tiedemann and Girard; adding that law firms typically cancel contracts for only two reasons: non-payment and not following advice. He asked for a detailed explanation of the contract cancellation.