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[whitespace] Hot Water

Petaluma water policy prompts a complaint

By Greg Cahill

A FORMER Petaluma City Council member and a group of local progressives have filed a complaint over Petaluma City Council's decision on Jan. 23 to overturn a controversial water contract policy. David Keller, an environmentalist whose decision not to seek re-election in November helped lead to the defeat of the once-green council majority, is among 10 south county residents who have enlisted a San Francisco attorney to challenge the way in which the council reversed its opposition to a controversial 35-year public water contract. That agreement would control the supply and distribution of water between the Sonoma County Water Agency and several municipal water districts in Sonoma and Marin counties.

According to a Feb. 22 letter from attorney Andrew L. Packard, the group wants the Sonoma County Board of Supervisors, the board of directors of the SCWA, and the Sonoma County Counsel's Office to "correct several significant violations" of the state's open-meeting law known as the Brown Act, under the threat that the group will file a lawsuit to overturn the vote.

In September, after 18 months of public debate, the Petaluma City Council refused to sign on to the controversial agreement after charging that ratepayers weren't being given the full story about the cost of the contract, the environmental impact of water diversions on the Eel and Russian rivers, or the need for more extensive water conservation measures.

At the time, Sonoma County and Santa Rosa officials threatened reprisals. But other participating communities soon began warming up to Petaluma's position, and county officials announced that they were ready for a compromise.

After a pro-business majority regained control of the City Council in November, the issue was reopened. On Jan. 22, Petaluma Mayor Clark Thompson convened a special meeting to discuss the agreement, despite protests from three council members--Matt Maguire, Pam Torliatt, and Janet Cader-Thompson--that the meeting had not been properly announced to the public. The council then reversed its position and voted to sign on to the agreement.

In his Feb. 22 letter to county officials, Packard contends that "the ultimate resolution of these matters will touch upon the lives of hundreds of thousands of Sonoma County residents, as well as the residents of neighboring counties, for years to come. For these reasons, these matters warrant the strictest adherence to the letter and spirit of the Brown Act's unambiguous mandate that public officials' actions 'be taken openly and that their deliberations be conducted openly.' "

Napa Police Officer Charged in Rape Case

EIGHT MONTHS after allegedly raping his former sister-in-law, a Napa police officer has surrendered his gun and badge and turned himself in to authorities. Alexander Edgar Mingus, 52, was arraigned Tuesday at Napa County Superior Court on one felony count of forcible rape. Bail was set at $50,000.

The victim, who was identified last Friday in the Napa Valley Register as the suspect's sister-in-law, has known Mingus for 22 years. She is the estranged wife of Napa's deputy police chief.

"The kind of relationship we had was . . . I saw [Mingus] like a friend . . . a big brother," the woman told the Register. "It's like being raped by your sister's husband."

If convicted, Mingus, a 27-year veteran Napa police officer, could be sentenced to eight years in state prison.

According to court documents, Mingus allegedly raped the woman on July 26 at her home. On Aug. 31, the woman filed a complaint with Napa Police Chief Dan Monez, accusing Mingus of sexually assaulting her. Because of potential conflict of interest, Napa law enforcement authorities asked the Santa Rosa Police Department to investigate the case. Mingus remained on duty until Oct. 17, when the SRPD's Sex Crime and Family Violence Section interviewed the victim and conducted an investigation that resulted in a search warrant.

Mingus was then placed on administrative leave.

In November, the California State Office of the Attorney General was brought into the investigation. At that time, the Sonoma County District Attorney's Office consented to the appointment of Sonoma County Deputy District Attorney Christine Cook as a special deputy attorney general responsible for case review and prosecution.

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From the March 1-8, 2001 issue of the Northern California Bohemian.

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