State Rejects Montecito Sanitary District Conflict Complaint

District Anonymously Accused of Misusing Public Funds

The state Fair Political Practices Commission has rejected an anonymous complaint filed on October 18 against Montecito Sanitary District boardmember Robert Williams, the board said last week. The complaint alleged that Williams had violated state conflict-of-interest laws by voting to spend district money on an ad that the district placed in the Santa Barbara News-Press during the recent electoral campaign for two seats on the board, including his. The complaint was filed on the same day that a Sacramento law firm representing a slate of five candidates for board seats on the Montecito Water and Sanitary districts threatened to sue the Sanitary District, alleging that by running the ad, it was using public funds “to engage in political speech.”

At a special meeting on November 14, the Sanitary District board voted to send a letter to the slate’s law firm, asking the five newly elected candidates, “How are the community’s rate payers benefitted by forcing the Sanitary District to use its limited resources to defend itself from these unfounded claims? The District did nothing wrong,” the letter stated. “It has free speech rights and duties to inform its ratepayers about issues of public concern related to its mission and compliance with permitting requirements.”

The candidates for the slate were backed by more than $120,000 in campaign funds and won the November 6 election handily. At the Sanitary District, Woody Barrett, the owner of Alltex Exploration Inc., a Houston-based oil company, and Dana Newquist, the owner of Mission Villa, an Alzheimer’s facility on Mission Street, unseated incumbents Judith Ishkanian, a 12-year veteran of the board, and Williams, a retired executive who oversaw the design, construction, and installation of recycled water infrastructure for the Irvine Co. in Newport Beach.

To fill a vacancy on the board, Ishkanian, Williams, and boardmembers Thomas Kern and Jeff Kerns in November unanimously chose Thomas Bollay, a prominent Montecito architect who is on the land-use committee of the Montecito Association. He will serve the remaining two years of the term of Warner Owens, who resigned last month because he was moving out of the district. Bollay was endorsed for the post by Heal the Ocean, a nonprofit conservationist group that has lobbied for more widespread use of recycled water on the South Coast.