Suit against AV moves forward (November 17, 2015)

Resident Leane Lee claims transparency is at stake

APPLE VALLEY — A trial date is scheduled to be set during a hearing today in a San Bernardino court pertaining to an Apple Valley woman’s lawsuit in which she alleges the Town of Apple Valley failed to produce proper documents pertaining to a public records request.

Leane Lee filed the suit against the town for contract documents related to the Hayward Consulting Group, True North Research, Inc. and the 20⁄20 Network — all of which the town has utilized during the process of its proposed acquisition of the Apple Valley Ranchos Water Co. system.

Lee is suing the town to enforce her right to receive the documents she requested in April pursuant to the California Public Records Act of 1968, according to a writ of mandate filed by her Corona-based attorney Chad Morgan.

She believes the town’s legal expenses have significantly exceeded the budgeted amount and alleges that the town is attempting to conceal the amount spent on legal services by transferring funds from one account to another in order to obscure the nature of the expenditures.

When the town talks of their transparency, Lee told the Daily Press Monday, the most transparent issue should be for the public to know how much they’re spending and on what. And yet, many of these costs are hidden.

In May, Town Attorney John Brown — of Best Best & Krieger — told the Daily Press the town intended to vigorously defend itself against Lee’s lawsuit.

The town declined to comment further on the matter Monday, according to Town Spokeswoman Kathie Martin.

Since this is a matter of pending litigation against the town, Martin said, it’s not appropriate for us to comment until the issue has been resolved by the courts.

Lee said she learned the specifics of one of the requested contracts via a March 15 Daily Press article.

The article showed that the contract between the town and the 20⁄20 Network calls for a monthly retainer of $7,500, three months of additional startup compensation of $2,500 and reimbursed expenses of up to $1,000 a month.

The contract started Feb. 24 and will end Dec. 31, 2016, according to the report. Costs billed to Best Best & Krieger will be passed on to the town, Brown said in the report.

Yet Lee’s writ states that — in response to her April request for the town’s contract with the 20⁄20 Network — the town asserted on May 11 that it does not have any hard-copy documents that respond to this item of your request.

The point is, Lee said, you shouldn’t have to go through the press to get public records.

Brown previously stated that it is not uncommon for attorneys or outside counsel to hire experts or consultants, commission appraisals and the like, particularly in situations of anticipated or pending litigation.

Lee initially filed her public records request in order to determine amounts the town paid to each of the three groups for their services.

I do very much feel that the public has a right to know and form opinions based on financial facts, Lee said. But financial facts are being hidden.

As for the town’s contract with True North — the research firm that conducted a survey that concluded most Apple Valley residents support the town’s proposed acquisition of Ranchos’ water system — Lee said all that was initially produced was a document that didn’t contain any signatures or dates.

That document was substituted with a document that had signatures, Lee explained, (but) no date other than a copyright date, on True North paperwork, which was 2011. If you look at everything out of True North research it has a copyright date for when it was issued. And I was seeking something from 2014. How the alleged survey was defined in that document didn’t comport with the survey itself.

Lee alleged that, in essence, the manner in which the town conducts business is being stretched beyond what any laws ever intended.

Source: Matthew Cabe, Daily Press