Former water district director Cy Mann filed a scathing claim
against the agency he served last year, and he expects the issue to
be a subject of ongoing litigation.
Former water district director Cy Mann filed a scathing claim against the agency he served last year, and he expects the issue to be a subject of ongoing litigation.
Legal staff at the Santa Clara Valley Water District have recommended in a staff report that the existing board of directors deny the claim that seeks damages of more than $25,000. Staff also recommended denying a similar claim filed by Mann’s wife, Harkirat Brar.
“We didn’t see any legal basis for either claim,” water district risk manager David Cahen said.
In the claim, which will be presented at the March 22 board meeting, Mann accuses the Santa Clara Valley Water District of libel, violating his privacy, causing emotional distress, harassment and other harm. He is seeking a financial award to compensate for this harm as well as the “humiliation, depression, emotional distress, sleeplessness (and) anxiety” resulting from the district’s release of information about a Morgan Hill property he used to own to the news media.
Mann, who calls himself a rancher and business owner, was appointed to the water district board to replace former director Sig Sanchez, who retired in 2009. Mann served for most of 2010, and declined to run in an election in November 2010 to maintain a seat on the board.
Both claims refer to a news story published by the San Jose Mercury-News Aug. 4, 2010, which reported that Mann had not paid his invoiced groundwater charges on time from 2002 to 2009. The groundwater charges were due each year on a nine-acre ranch in Morgan Hill, owned previously by Mann and now by his wife.
The story was based on water district records for the property’s groundwater use and bills, and the couple’s separate claims say that the agency was not authorized to release such information about private citizens.
However, because Mann was serving on the district’s board of directors at the time, his groundwater bills were subject to public records requests, according to water district legal counsel Stan Yamamoto.
The California Public Records Act says that in general, customers’ utility bills are not subject to release to the public. “The exception to that is if you are a member of the governing board” of an agency, Yamamoto said.
The news story referenced in both claims stated that the property in question, on Hale Avenue, was transferred from Mann’s to Brar’s name in 2005. Mann’s claim deals with the release of information about the property from 2001 to 2004, while his wife’s claim has to do with that released since 2005.
Brar identifies herself as a school teacher in her claim, and she listed the ranch’s address as her home address. Mann’s claim lists an address on Silver Creek Road in San Jose as his.
Mann said he could not comment on either complaint. He said future litigation is possible on his claim, and he did not know anything about the claim filed by his wife.
He added he is taking his claim “very seriously.”
Brar’s claim is similar to Mann’s in its accusation that the water district disclosed private facts about her, and libeled her. Both seek an unspecified sum of money in excess of $25,000.
Releasing the information, which was subsequently printed, posted and broadcast to wider audiences through a number of publications, caused emotional harm and distress to Mann and his wife, according to both claims. The information was “false and misleading” and was intended to smear their reputations.
“These … statements exposed claimant to hatred, contempt, ridicule, and obloquy implying that he is irresponsible, untrustworthy, and dishonest,” Mann’s complaint states. Furthermore, the information released – “with malice” – by the district and published in the newspaper presented Mann as an “irresponsible and dishonest public official.”
Both claims use similar language to describe the allegations in common between them, though Mann’s complaint lists additional offenses including inadequate response by water district staff to theft of his property, as well as harassment and threats directed toward him by director Joe Judge.
Mann further accuses the water district of “false light” violations of privacy, accusing the water district of releasing information that it knew was incorrect, in order to present the former director in a false light.
His claim also describes incidents of intimidation as well as theft of public and personal property “inhibiting his ability to serve” as a water district director, and the agency “encouraged a hostile and racially biased environment.” Mann is Indo-American.
Attached to his complaint is a description of the alleged theft of documents relating to an upcoming board meeting that belonged to him, as well as the theft of his director’s name plate from the board meeting room. The theft allegedly happened Aug. 24 at district headquarters, and is currently under investigation by San Jose police, the claim says.
His statement also alleges that district staff did not think the incident was serious. Then on Sept. 14, 2010, Judge made verbal threats to Mann in response to a previous discussion regarding board member expense reports. The threats were allegedly made in the board conference room at district headquarters, in front of other directors, as well as water district CEO Beau Goldie and clerk Michele King.
Mann’s claim also attached a Sept. 30 e-mail sent by him to Goldie, director Richard Santos and district staff members, complaining about the “inappropriate and unprofessional and disrespectful manner” in which he was treated by staff at a previous “communication briefing.”
Named as respondents in the claims are the water district, Goldie and up to 50 unnamed water district employees.