The California Attorney General has concluded that a trustee of the Lakeside Union School District (Lakeside) may not serve simultaneously as a director of the Padre Dam Municipal Water District (Padre Dam). In Opinion No. 01-1007, filed April 3, 2002, the Attorney General concluded that a common law prohibition against holding incompatible public offices precludes a person from holding these two offices at the same time.
Lakeside is located within the boundaries of Padre Dam, but Lakeside does not receive any services directly from Padre Dam at this time. Although Padre Dam does not sell water to Lakeside, it does sell to two retail water agencies that in turn sell water to Lakeside. Furthermore, Lakeside obtains the majority of its water for irrigation from its own wells instead of from these retail suppliers. In addition, some Lakeside properties use septic tanks instead of sanitation services from Padre Dam. If these properties were to obtain sewer hookup, Padre Dam would provide the sanitation services. The board of trustees of Lakeside is a body responsible for obtaining both water and sanitation services for Lakeside.
The Attorney General determined that both the office of trustee of Lakeside and the office of director of Padre Dam are public offices. The Attorney General noted that there exists in California a common law prohibition against holding incompatible public offices. Public offices are incompatible if one office supervises or audits another office, or if one office has removal power over the other office. Incompatibility also exists if the exercise of official duties for the respective offices results in a significant clash of duties or loyalties.
The Attorney General noted potential significant clashes of loyalties in holding both the office of trustee of Lakeside and the office of director of Padre Dam. Although Lakeside currently obtains the majority of its water for irrigation from its own wells and uses septic tanks on some of its properties, a decision on whether or not to abandon these practices would result in divided loyalties for a person who holds an office in each organization. Decisions that serve the best interests of Lakeside may not also serve the best interests of Padre Dam. Significant clashes of duties and loyalties may also arise where Padre Dam sets wholesale water rates, dictates restrictions on water use in times of shortage, or imposes conditions for providing sanitation services.
The Attorney General also commented that if one office is held and another incompatible office is accepted, the acceptance of the second office results in an automatic resignation from the first office.