MID board discusses code of conduct

Each director made his points calmly when the board of the Modesto Irrigation District debated a code of conduct for itself Tuesday.

But the board could not get answers on some concerns about the document, so the issue was postponed to a meeting in March.

The code outlines how directors should treat each other, the MID staff, the public and the media. It grew out of the board's reprimand last year of Director Mike Serpa for abusive comments made to board secretary Pat Mills over access to the board's office and document archives.

Serpa apologized for those comments the day he was reprimanded. At the same meeting, the board directed General Counsel Tim O'Laughlin to come up with the code.

Serpa, a frequent dissenter since his election in 2005, criticized a few of the provisions in the draft discussed Tuesday. He asked, for example, for stronger language in the part that directs General Manager Allen Short to report emergency actions to the board "as soon as convenient."

Serpa praised the code overall, especially the part that stressed looking out for the interests of ratepayers.

"I think that is great, and we all need to be reminded of that," he said.

Director Cecil Hensley suggested the one-month postponement so the board could refine the code's section dealing with election campaigns.

The draft would bar board members from soliciting campaign contributions or other support from MID employees. Directors said this ban could be taken to mean that these people could not get the same mailers and phone calls that go to the electorate at large.

O'Laughlin said the draft would allow this kind of contact as long as it takes place away from the workplace,

Several parts of the draft drew no discussion. They include avoiding harassment and discrimination, complying with state law on disclosing economic interests, and generally showing "civility, decorum, integrity and respect at all times."

The draft says the board sets policy for the district but should leave day-to-day operations to the general manager and other staff members. And it says a director should make it clear that he is speaking only for himself when he criticizes a board majority's vote.

Director John Kidd said the board long has followed these principles, but that it would be good to put them in writing.

Bee staff writer John Holland can be reached at jholland@modbee.com or 578-2385.