January 24th Modesto Irrigation Meeting
Let the War for our MID Begin
By Emerson Drake
It was nice to see one of our newest Board members asking question regarding expenditures. In the distant past that was a mainstay of Cecil Hensley, requesting information and challenging what he considered frivolous spending on the part of staff. Larry Byrd was just seeking background of the Warrants or ‘bills’ MID was paying this month.
We were forced to endure a 50 minute workshop by Carol Whiteside regarding Board members Roles and Responsibility or Board Theory 101. Unfortunately it didn’t cover the topic everyone believed was going to be covered, the reason for November 22, 11 meeting, A Resolution approving Modesto Irrigation District Board Policies regarding Board Governance Process and Board –Staff Linkage.
I know that’s a mouthful but its the Resolution Allen Short attempted to push through for MID Board approval after the election but before the new Directors could be seated and vote on the subject. Both of the new Board members requested it be delayed until they could discuss and provide input on the subject.
When the embattled long timers on the Board have no idea of which way to turn, they fall back and punt.
Watching Board President Tom Van Groningen crawl sideways in response to a question from a ratepayer and claim in today’s meeting that these were just guidelines and not cast in stone, had to be seen to be believed. There’s no nice way to say it because he was literally lying through his teeth. Originally the plan was to pass this resolution word for word.
Many people spoke out during the input for the good of the district portion of the meeting but fireworks erupted when Dave Thomas of the Stanislaus Taxpayers Association spoke. Dave has been instrumental in trying to get information out of MID through Public Information Act Requests.
As many are aware MID hasn’t been forth coming with these requests. We’ve had to go so far as to have a Letter to the Editor Published in the Bee to hold MID’s feet to the fire.
It’s felt that MID General Manager Allen Short over stepped his authority when he went to Washington and talked with Senator Diane Feinstein regarding the sale of water to the City and County of San Francisco. When he pressed former Board President Director Paul Warda if he had made a special request of Allen Short, Director Warda stated he had not.
At this point Tom Van Groningen became combative with Mr. Thomas and used about a minute and a half (no I didn’t time it) of Dave’s alloted time and when the buzzer went off indicating Dave was out of time, Tom Van Groningen became aggressive pounding his gavel repeatedly unwilling to allow Dave to finish his statement despite the fact Van Groningen had “stolen” time from him against past MID Board policy. Director Van Groningen became so incensed his face turned beet red and spittle flew from his mouth as he repeatedly slammed the gavel down. Van Groningen was so rattled he then declared the meeting in recess and had an armed security guard remove Dave from the meeting. Dave being the gentleman that he is left without further incident.
Dave had written a records request and he read it into the record. The following is Dave Thomas statement to the board in its entirety in its original letter format.
. To: Chairman of the Modesto Irrigation District Board of Directors, Tom VanGronigan
Tom, my good friend, we have served on several committees and boards since the early 1990’s. We pretty much know each other. I meant to write this request Tuesday afternoon, but just could not get to it. I am pretty sure that we are quite busy, and you understand that this request is less timely than I want.
In any case, I, and the Association are in need of information regarding Allen Short’s October visit to Washington D. C. to visit Senator Diane Feinstein, Congressman Jeff Denham’s assistant, Nancy Pelosi’s Policy Advisor and two FERC officials. This means that I am required to make a request under the tenets of the California Public Records Act, we request the following information:
1. MID counsel O’Laughlin responded to my PRA request by sending me a letter signed by Allen Short and addressed to Senator Feinstein, the first sentence of which thanks the Senator for meeting “…with the group from Modesto Irrigation District and City and County of San Francisco.” regarding Allen’s “deal points” for a 27,200 acre foot water transfer of MID water to San Francisco.
During the Jan 24th MID meeting, you refused to identify the “group” of people from MID and CCSF who met with the Senator. This refusal requires me to make a PRA request to tell us exactly who visited the Senator with Allen. Please tell us the name and title of every person who visited with Allen and the Senator.
2. Please tell us if you were one of the people who were in the group mentioned in #1, above. Moreover, identify any other MID AGM’s, managers, any MID employee, spouse, relative or friend that accompanied the MID entourage whether they paid for their expenses or their expenses were paid by MID
3. Please tell us the dates, locations and reasons for the visits, of every meeting you have had with Allen Short and/or Tim O’Laughlin, from July 1, 2011, to Jan 23, 2012. This includes every non-scheduled MID Board meeting, whether just you and Allen, or you and Tim, or both Allen and Tim and others.
4. Please tell us what expenses MID has paid for your travel, entertainment, any auto expenses, any other payments or reimbursements whether cash or credit card, from July 1, 2011 to Jan 23, 2012.
5. Finally, during Tuesday’s meeting, last year’s Board Chairman, Paul Warda, admitted that Allen’s trip to Washington D. C., as described in #1 above, was not authorized by the BoD. Please confirm, as current Chair, that this trip was outside the authority vested in Allen. Or, if you know that Allen’s trip was appropriate under Resolution 95-66,or any other Board sanction, please tell us.
Thank you, Tom, I appreciate your candid, transparent and complete response to our request. I know you are committed to total transparency in all your efforts to protect the MID customers.
I have made similar Public Information Requests since the meeting and will be following them up.