Stevens to be arraigned Friday

NCCWD general manager asks district to pay his legal fees

By Chris Hunter; Tribune Editor

Dave Stevens, general manager of the North Coast County Water District, will be arraigned this Friday at the Redwood City Hall of Justice on 11 felony charges and one misdemeanor charge.

The arraignment follows San Mateo County District Attorney James Fox's leveling formal charges against Stevens after a controversial nine-month investigation into the general manager's actions while conducting water district business.

Stevens' attorney, San Francisco lawyer Joseph O'Sullivan, has said Stevens will fight the charges aggressively. Stevens has also always maintained that he would fight the charges in an effort to clear his name.

The charges include accusations that Stevens gave himself pay raises without approval from the board of directors, that he misused a district credit card for personal reasons and that he improperly gave district property (water meter boxes) to Chuck Gust.

The misdemeanor charge is a shoplifting accusation. The charge alleges that Stevens left a Pacifica convenience store with some beverages and lunch items without paying for them. It is the only charge unrelated to NCCWD business.

The board of directors held a closed session meeting on Monday to discuss the continued effectiveness of Stevens as the general manager while he is facing these serious charges.

After spending two hours talking about the technicalities of how to handle his continued employment at the district during this period, the board ultimately took no action - leaving Stevens in his administrative position at full salary.

"The board conducted an evaluation of the General Manager's performance during 1996 as contemplated in his contract," read the official statement from the water district following the closed meeting. "The board determined that no change in his compensation is warranted therefore his salary will continue at its current level. With respect to the General Manager's status, the board took no action."

O'Sullivan last week sent a letter to the board asking the public agency to foot the bills for Stevens' legal defense. He also pointed out that board member Tom Piccolotti should not be allowed to participate in any decision-making actions concerning Stevens, since he, Piccolotti, is expected to be a prime witness for the prosecution and was instrumental in getting the district attorney's office to begin the investigation last year.

"Mr. Stevens has served this board well," wrote O'Sullivan, "and this board now has the opportunity to stand by its General Manager. I am sure that between Mr. Clisham and myself, our respective fees would not exceed $50,000."

Stevens will formally ask the NCCWD board to pay for his legal defense during the "General Manager's Report" at the regularly scheduled water board meeting tonight, scheduled for 7 p.m. in the district office at 2400 Francisco Blvd.

San Francisco lawyer David Clisham is the attorney handling the employment aspects of Stevens' legal problems. It is Clisham's belief that the board should not suspend Stevens or make any changes in his employment status prior to issuing him a notice of proposed disciplinary action.

Clisham wrote in a letter to the water board's attorney that the controversy surrounding the general manager has engendered some public discussion of whether or not Stevens should remain in his position of general manager now that he has been formally charged with 11 felonies.

"One of the members of the Board of Directors has made a public statement that Mr. Stevens should be placed on unpaid administrative leave following media publication that Mr. Stevens has been the subject of charges filed by the San Mateo County District Attorney based on allegations involving actions Mr. Stevens took in the course and scope of his employment as General Manager of the Water District," wrote Clisham. "Mr. Stevens has not received a notice of proposed disciplinary action containing charges nor has Mr. Stevens been given an opportunity to respond to such charges to an impartial hearing officerThe board of directors of the Water District may not therefore, take any adverse action involving Mr. Stevens' employment status prior to affording him required due process."

Clisham also stressed his belief that any board member who expressed a public sentiment about the future of the general manager's employment should not be permitted to participate in any vote or action involving that issue.

Like O'Sullivan, Clisham believes the water district should pay for Stevens' legal defense, since the charges involve his activity in the district. "See Government Code 995 and other applicable statutory provisions which require a public entity to provide a defense when allegations are based on acts or omissions occurring during the course and scope of employment."

Attorney O'Sullivan, in a lengthy letter to the board of directors, outlines why he believes the charges against Stevens will not hold up in court.

"I am confident that we will prevail on all the allegations," wrote O'Sullivan. "The District Attorney's failure to come up with any concrete wrongdoing has resulted in his, by necessity, going back to issues of pay raises, compensatory time and repayment of petty cash; issues previously adjudicated by your board."

O'Sullivan, who in a Tribune interview has lashed out at the District Attorney for filing the charges against Stevens, continued to criticize the DA in his letter to the board.

"In his news conference announcing the charges, the District Attorney, James Fox, actually had the audacity to threaten your board with legal action for allegedly covering up wrongdoing. I am confident that no one on your board did anything wrong and I am equally confident that Mr. Stevens will be vindicated. Presumably, you are outraged at Mr. Fox's allegations relative to the board and of his endeavoring to usurp your duties and obligations."

Peter Lynch, the Deputy District Attorney who will prosecute the case against Stevens, said Tuesday that he would maintain the code of professional ethics and not comment about any other lawyer's public statements.

"We believe we have filed charges we can prove," Lynch said. "There is quite a lot of evidence."

Lynch confirmed that it is, indeed, up to the water board members to make any changes in the employment status of Dave Stevens. "Mr. McDevitt (NCCWD attorney) did call us to find out what the charges were. It's completely up to them to decide (his employment status)."

As for the District Attorney pursuing any legal action against members of the board, Lynch said that his office is not currently moving in that direction. "He was stating something that is available to us," said Lynch, referring to Fox's previous comments about leveling accusations against board members.

As for Tom Piccolotti, or any other board member being singled out by Clisham and O'Sullivan because he will be a key witness and was involved in the investigation, Lynch said, "All of the members of the board of directors are going to be key witnesses. How they distinguish between Tom Piccolotti and the others, I'm not sure. I will leave it to them to decide."

After Friday's arraignment, depending on whether or not Stevens' attorneys are ready to answer the charges with a plea right away, a court date will be set. Lynch said he has no idea how long that will take, but since Stevens is not considered a "flight risk," and is not in custody, the case will not be considered pressing.