Carroll: Special Districts Are Focused Governments, Not Shadow Governments

Print More

Special districts made national news recently during HBO’s show “Last Week Tonight” with host John Oliver.

As the general manager for the Costa Mesa Sanitary District (CMSD), I acknowledge that special districts, and all levels of government, should continually work to engage the public and build public awareness. And, within our limited budgets, that is what we at CMSD and many of our fellow districts throughout the state are striving to do.

There is always more that can be done to increase public accountability and educate the public about the essential services special districts provide.

At CMSD, we provide solid waste and wastewater collection services to over 116,000 residents residing in the City of Costa Mesa and portions of the City of Newport Beach and the unincorporated County of Orange. Since 2010, CMSD has taken steps to improve accessibility and transparency by recording our board meetings and making them accessible to the public through our website and on our own YouTube channel.

At least 72 hours before board meetings (24 hours for special meetings) CMSD posts the entire agenda packet on our website. Our new board meeting software makes it easy for the public to download any staff report, and if members of the public want to be notified when the agenda packets are posted on the website we have that capability too.

Residents can subscribe to our email list to receive announcements, job openings, agendas, quarterly newsletter, and more information about their district.

CMSD’s Board of Directors also share the belief that local governments have an obligation and duty to be accessible to the public. For these reasons, CMSD is in the process of purchasing a building that will greatly expand the public seating area for board meetings and we plan on live streaming our meetings in the new building.

While most of the “Last Week Tonight” segment was filled with examples of bad government, California has made strides in increasing transparency and accountability and a big portion of that can be attributed to our statewide association. A point Mr. Oliver made sure to acknowledge.

In addition to our own efforts to increase accountability and public awareness, the California Special Districts Association (CSDA) has become an integral part of ensuring special districts are equipped with the necessary tools to make sure they operate in the most efficient and effective manner.

CSDA’s successful educational programs on ethics, the Brown Act, new board member orientation, managing investments, agenda preparation, and other important topics have greatly improved special districts’ accountability.

Special districts across the state are encouraged to take advantage of a wide array of educational opportunities to learn more about the different aspects of managing a local agency.

Not only does CSDA offer trainings, workshops, and webinars on various topics, they also encourage their members to participate in the Special District Leadership Foundation’s (SDLF) District Transparency Certificate of Excellence program.

Created in 2013, this program teaches districts to promote transparency in the operations and governance of special districts to the public. Those seeking the certificate must demonstrate compliance with a list of requirements, including timely audits, budgets, financial transaction reports, compensation reports, Brown Act standards, website components, and outreach efforts.

CMSD is proud to have earn the certificate twice since the program’s inception and there are currently 109 special districts in California that have also earned their Certificate of Excellence in Transparency.

In addition to offering valuable educational tools to its members, CSDA launched a public outreach campaign earlier this year to bridge the gap between the crucial services millions of Californians value and the local special districts who provide them.

The Districts Make the Difference campaign has made important information available to the public via an array of platforms including its website Districts Make the DifferenceFacebook page, YouTube channel and Twitter account.

This website not only contains easy to digest information about the types of special districts in California and the services they provide, but the public will also be able to find out more about the districts in their own area.

Mr. Oliver’s show about special districts was entertaining and enlightening and we welcome the attention it has shined on our local agencies. But unlike the examples he highlighted during the 15 minute segment, special districts in California are dedicated to doing the right thing, serving the public good.

Our special districts are connected to the community they serve. At CSMD, if residents have questions about their garbage removal and they come to one of our board meetings, they won’t have to wade through an agenda filled with every other issue under the sun. Our board is focused on providing residents with topnotch services, and anyone is welcome to speak to our board about that services without having to make a trip to a county meeting or travel to the state capitol.

Special districts in our state are dedicated local government agencies that provide essential services to millions of Californians. Unlike general purpose governments, such as cities, counties, or the state, special districts focus on providing one specific service or a small set of services.

By focusing on specialized services, special districts are able to be innovative, think long-term, and provide communities with the most efficient and effective services available. Much like a well-run, focused business. And, while every special district has yet to offer its board meetings online, like we do at CSMD, people are touched by the services a special district provides every day.

We would like to encourage everyone to visit Districts Make the Difference to learn more about special districts and CSDA’s website to obtain more information about the resources available to help local agencies increase their accountability and transparency.

Scott Carroll has been the General Manager of the Costa Mesa Sanitary District since 2010. He is a certified Special District Administrator from the Special District Leadership Foundation and a Credentialed Manager from the International City/County Management Association (ICMA). He may be reached at scarroll@cmsdca.gov.

Voice of OC is interested in hearing different perspectives and voices. If you want to weigh in on this issue please contact Voice of OC Involvement Editor Theresa Sears at TSears@voiceofoc.org

For a different perspective on special districts, check out the recent Op-ed on the Orange County Water District written by Huntington Beach resident Debbie Cook.

  • David Zenger

    Come to think of it, why does such a thing as the “Costa Mesa Sanitation District” even exist? Most likely another fossil from ancient days that never got rolled into city services where the service itself would have a lot more oversight by elected people that citizens have actually heard of.

  • Shirley L. Grindle

    There are far too many special districts in Orange County. But it is virtually impossible to dismantle them. Nobody serving on the Boards of these Districts wants to give up their perks (like health insurance) and other benefits that they enjoy including all-expense paid attendance at conventions. This is particularly true for the myriad water districts in Orange County.

    • David Zenger

      They would probably have to be dismantled and reorganized by the Legislature. Anybody who doesn’t think the stipends and health insurance doled out to the part-time board members are delusional.

  • David Zenger

    How ridiculous. Nobody can look at the patchwork of OC water districts and not see these anachronistic Nineteenth Century holdovers for what they have become: obscure, expensive,
    unaccountable shadow governments, with arrogant , overpaid, over-pensioned bureaucrats.

    Way, way, past time to clean house.

    But thanks for the industry association propaganda. Always good for a laugh.