The board members on the East Palo Alto Sanitary District voted unanimously to censure one of its own board members, Dennis Scherzer, at a special hearing held on September 27. The meeting which was held at the sanitary district headquarters included all five board members: Joan Sykes-Miessi, Betsey Yanez, Goro Mitchell, Dennis Scherzer and Glenda Savage, who participated in the meeting from South Africa via Skype.
Lee Hawkins, the board’s general manager, and Malathy Subramanian, its legal counsel, also attended the meeting, although they could not vote. Since he was the subject of the censure, Scherzer was also unable to vote on the censure motion.
With its vote to censure Scherzer, the board also considered sanctions that would: 1) take away any seniority Scherzer has on the board, 2) take him off of all board committees, 3) restrict his business related travel and limit the opportunities he had to attend special board training sessions. Sykes –Miessi approved the sanctions but, the other board members voted against them. Mitchell said the board really wanted Scherzer to change his behavior.
Before the board voted to censure Scherzer, board president, Joan Sykes-Miessi, started the special censure hearing by presenting some of the history of the EPASD in order to show how far the district had come. She mentioned problems the board previously faced, including its failure to complete an audit report for 2000-2001 on time and she cited various problems that led to the district’s bankruptcy in 2003. Sykes-Miessi also mentioned steps the district took to improve restoring stability including reducing staff hours, investing in better equipment to address capital projects and their recent collaboration with the San Francisquito creek project which will benefit East Palo Alto and Palo Alto writers.
In stating the reasons why she and the other board members felt Scherzer should be censured, Sykes-Miessi cited Scherzer’s disrespectful behavior towards board and staff members, his inability to let his colleagues know that he wasn’t going to attend meetings, and his failure to follow protocol by contacting legal counsel instead of the general manager or the board president.
Sykes-Miessi pointed to specific email exchanges between herself and Scherzer that she thought showed how disrespectful he was in his communication. She said that when Scherzer had pointed out that there had been an overpayment of director’s fees and was concerned that if the issue wasn’t addressed it could be construed as fraud, he continued to email her about the issue rather than send his emails to the district’s legal counsel and its general manager, who were the appropriate people to handle the issue.
In making her case, Sykes-Miessi read excerpts from several emails Scherzer sent that she felt were “condescending and sarcastic.” In one of the emails she read, Scherzer had written to her,“If you were a savvy politician you would have crafted a remedy by now.”
In responding to her charges, Scherzer read a 12 page paper that he had written. In his response, he mentioned that he was also censured when he was elected to office in 2009 and he stated that the current attempt to censure him was the result of a personal attack from Sykes-Miessi and not the result of any consensus by the other board members.
In return, Sykes-Miessi read a letter that she had presented the board at its previous meeting and reminded Scherzer that the entire board had voted to hold the censure hearing because it agreed with the charges cited in her letter.
In his letter, Scherzer stated, “I have also declined to address behavioral issues described within Board President Joan Sykes-Miessi’s letter. These are unqualified subjective opinions and conjecture, not the result of observation by a credible psychiatrist.”
At this point, Mitchell asked Scherzer whether “a normal intelligent human being [could] determine if they are being attacked by words?” Mitchell seemed to indicate that Scherzer was making an unnecessary statement since staff and board members had witnessed some of Scherzer's disrespectful behavior on various occasions.
During the censure hearing Scherzer raised his voice and several board members reminded him that the censure hearing, itself, was being held to determine whether his behaviour was disrespectful to other board members.
Savage said that she felt substantial evidence was provided at the hearing, and she stated, “I hope that this experience.... expresses why the directors have chosen to censure director Scherzer at this time.” She said that the hearing should be a “wake up call” that all board members should heed, since they shouldn’t take for granted how they conduct themselves while serving in a public office.
Yanez stated that Scherzer’s disrespectful behavior shouldn’t have to be tolerated. “Before he came to our board, we used to get along and have peaceful meetings,” she said.
For the most part, the other members of the sanitary board seemed to take issue with Scherzer’s behavior, since they said that his poor behavior interfered with the board’s ability to accomplish tasks that it needed to accomplish.
The East Palo Alto Sanitary District will hold its next meeting on Thursday, October 4.
The author of this article, Jamilla Rages, can be contacted by email at email@example.com.
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