Letter: Beware ‘Water Districtgate’

Loxahatchee Groves Water Control District Supervisor John Ryan reported in the Sept. 8 LGWCD meeting that the LGWCD has received “a spate of public document request submittals, of which, the efforts has been interpreted as harassment or curiosity instead of productive effort.” The board supervisor indicated recent events have triggered the LGWCD’s urgency to revise public document request policies.

After considering a well-researched dissertation including appellate court rulings, opinions of the attorney general, law enforcement agency policy and other water control districts policies, by Supervisor Ryan, the board motioned for punitive modifications to the LGWCD public document request policy.

The LGWCD is considering a policy reduction of customer service from one hour of extensive supervisory or clerical research time to 30 minutes at the hourly rate of the administrative assistant plus benefits. Documents from engineers, contractors and attorneys, and associated charged fees by those professionals, will be passed on to the requester. A deposit will be required prior to processing the request. Apparently, public document requests are a LGWCD irritant, similar to the LGWCD lawsuit requesting popular election of board supervisors.

What were the recent events? Most likely, grievances against the LGWCD aired in town council sessions, letters to the editor requesting the LGWCD to answer the questions of Groves citizens, “when the LGWCD becomes dependent” being voiced by several councilmen during last week’s town council meeting, and the council’s recent discussion about the possibility of turning the LGWCD facility into a town hall complex.

The more objectionable exception to the change is the LGWCD acknowledgement of overcharging a select group of Loxahatchee Groves taxpayers for a culvert bridge replacement loan; a 10-year loan that has been in place for three years. The discovery of the overcharge was the result of a public document request. Will additional public document requests uncover other LGWCD secrets? Is this the beginning of “Water Districtgate?”

To provide a little background, the LGWCD wants payback for the reduction of the town’s gas tax revenue subsidies to the LGWCD of which the LGWCD considers “bad form.” Perhaps, one day soon, the Town of Loxahatchee Groves will no longer require the use of the LGWCD meeting room for town functions. The final assessment of the proposed action is simply to repel the pesky public from wanting to be informed and involved.

State Statute 119 allows for the general public to have access to public records. If one has an extensive research request for the LGWCD, one simply submits a series of requests to avoid costs associated with the LGWCD’s curtailing of customer service.

The independent LGWCD must become dependent to the Town of Loxahatchee Groves.

Keith Harris, Loxahatchee Groves