The local example seems to have its roots about two years ago in a dispute over the Town’s landscaping, what should be done to improve it, and who should be consulted in making the decisions. Resident Bill Richardson, whose offer to help was not accepted by the CSD Board of Directors, continued pressing his case that the issue was being poorly handled, sending increasingly voluminous and strident letters bemoaning the board’s performance. As time went by, the focus of his effort increasingly became one director in particular: David Piepho.
Richardson’s lament resulted in a lawsuit against the district alleging that CSD board violated the law by not recording meeting minutes properly, not conducting its business in public and acting without properly voting. After the town spent some $100,000 to defend the suit, Richardson dropped it last November in return for the board’s simple acknowledgement that there were laws governing its conduct. No findings were made that the town had broken any of those laws.
A Press editorial at the time said, “The entire episode was rife with personal attacks, name calling and disrupted meetings, and cost nearly $200,000 in legal expenses on both sides. The reputation of the town as a whole suffered, as mean-spirited invective replaced reasonable discussion as a way to get things done. The case was likely a major reason residents elected a pair of new directors, Mark Simon and Ray Tetreault, who ran together on a slate for change. … We hope that the change … will signal the beginning of a genuine effort to change the way differences are settled in Discovery Bay.”
But that didn’t happen. A number of other constituents, for various reasons, were drawn to the fray, their intense disapproval spreading to virtually every issue Piepho addressed, as well as to those who agreed with him, voted with or for him, or, in the case of County Supervisor Mary Piepho, lived with him.
The group, nominally perhaps as many as three dozen but whose core is half that, has met from time to time to discuss strategy. Minutes from those meetings note some participants’ primary objective: the destruction of the Piephos’ political future. They have hammered at the Piephos over public records, ZIP Code boundaries, a no-tow zone ordinance, open meeting laws, meeting stipends, residential growth, advisory council (AC) duties, AC funding, AC boundaries, the community center, the response to sewage spills, the posting of meeting announcement signs, availability of meeting agendas, expenditure of P6 law enforcement funds, commission appointments, boat storage zoning, the town’s Web site, fiscal policy, representation on the county Local Agency Formation Commission, security cameras, water discharge quality, Byron’s sewer system, conflicts of interest and responsibility concerning the Piephos’ offices, safety improvements to Highway 4, eBART station sites and highway right-of-ways. There are probably more.
While a few of these topics remain hotly debated – including the ongoing effort to solve the vexing problem of copper-contaminated discharge that has resulted in steep fines – official findings of fault on the CSD board’s part have thus far been few, including the failure to publicly notice a subcommittee meeting and the order in which business is conducted at the beginning of some CSD meetings. Both of those items have since been addressed.
The ceaseless attacks, accompanied by a torrent of public-records requests, vitriolic Internet postings and confrontations at board meetings and in public, caused heightened resistance and deeper entrenchment on Piepho’s part and brought his equally fervent supporters to the surface. The result has been a no-holds-barred battle between the two factions. Lines were drawn in concrete as the missiles flew both ways. Finally, the melee resulted in an atmosphere so toxic that two directors – including the group’s one ally – resigned from the board.
The effort to replace the directors then became the latest frontline in the battle of wills. Forced by their reduction in numbers to vote unanimously in order to appoint new directors, the board was unable to do so. The matter of choosing the town’s new representatives will now be decided by the County Board of Supervisors, including Mary Piepho, instead of the people of Discovery Bay or the town’s elected board.
All government bodies have their shortcomings, especially those with part-time officials. Dissatisfaction is bound to arise and flaws are sure to be found regarding policy, procedure, performance and – a big one in Discovery Bay – attitude. This is what elections are for. But even the election of directors Simon and Tetreault failed to quell the disturbance, and the “slate for change” is now also under attack.
It is certainly within the rights of the Piephos’ antagonists to pursue their agenda through any legal means available to them, just as it is within the rights of the Piephos and their supporters to defend themselves through the means at their disposal. But it should be clear by now that the tactic of all-out assault against all things Piepho has proven ineffective, and the collateral damage to the town’s reputation and ability to govern itself is inexcusable.
We believe it’s high time for the hostile politics in Discovery Bay to end. The Piephos and their backers must re-learn compromise and strive to conduct the town’s business from the middle ground instead of from the ramparts of self defense. For that to happen, though, their opponents must change their approach, and use the laws of governance to improve the town, not encumber or tear it apart.
They should find and put forth candidates they truly believe in and who have positive ideas on how to address the town’s problems. For their current course, seeking the destruction of one or two individuals regardless the collateral damage, now echoes too strongly a ludicrous argument from the Vietnam War: that it’s OK to destroy a village in order to save it.
It’s not. If they believe the village needs to be saved, they must find another way to do it.