Eye On Modesto

Thoughts and observations about Modesto and Stanislaus County

MID Board Split on Public Comment Time and Everything Else

By Emerson Drake

With the temporary stoppage of the proposed water sale things have definitely quieted down at recent MID meetings. We’re back to fewer people attending and just a smattering of people actively commenting on current issues. At the latest meeting only four people stood up to comment during ” public input for the good of the district.”  Since the Board reduced the alloted amount of time from five minutes to three several months ago on the pretext of shortening waiting  lines and with only four people speaking (that is becoming the average post water sale) it seemed like an appropriate time for the rules to return back to normal.

Director Larry Byrd presented the board with a request to move the alloted time back to five minutes. But that was not to be. Since Director Warda was absent the board was down to just four members. Director Wild spoke against the idea saying he would like to discuss it more but then stayed quiet. After all, like his mentor Van Groningen, Wild prefers to violate Brown Act laws and discuss things with other board members away from public scrutiny. Please understand they like to talk not in “closed session” but in the backroom without witnesses. If they were to repeat anything from closed session they would be in violation of Board policy and could be censured.  But if a Director relates something that took place “behind the wall”,  ie: illegally, there isn’t anything Van Groningen and Wild can do.  Director Blom was willing to second the motion.  But seeing Directors Van Groningen and Warda were against a revision of the relatively new rule, no second was made.  That’s the way the MID works.  Rather than expose a rift and discuss their differences they choose to remain silent in front of the public. 

I later spoke to Director Wild regarding his comments. Concerning five-minute allotments he said “I’ve been keeping track of people who speak and during their first three minutes they are succinct and present themselves well. But during their last two minutes they berate the Board and I don’t like it.”  Personally, I always thought elected boards were supposed to reflect the will of the people, but when elected officials ignore the public’s input it only stands to reason some frustration might surface.

A current example might be a request for the 2013 budget PN# U00018 for $500,000 to replace the Board room’s audio and video equipment. All of this money for a fancy system and they still refuse create an archive for recordings of meetings or even save for more than 100 days the recorded discs of proceedings, let alone  broadcast their meetings on streaming video.   To this day they continue to destroy ALL electronic recordings of their meetings and refuse to consider approving the minutes of their meetings until AFTER the recordings have been destroyed.

In the next two years they want to spend $1.75 Million on a smart grid security system PN#U00513. These people are spending us into the poorhouse.  The IT department wants to spend over $4.1 Million in just the next two years. CAP-40 CAP is their designation for this.

I could go on about this but my point is their “wish list” was created when they thought they were going to be able to spend Millions of Dollars from the water sale  money they were telling the public was going to irrigation infrastructure.

Another ongoing concern is the money being funneled through Martino Graphics. Year to date Directors Tom Van Groningen and Glen Wild have apparently signed what are called expense approvals in the amount of $21,000.  There is no purchase order assigned for these expenditures.  The account number they use is 312500 00.0 401 and the payment explanation is Board Development and Internal Communications.  These are NOT pre approved by the Board members.  Directors Van Groningen and Wild along with General Manager Allen Short have personally made these arrangements with Martino Graphics and Carol Whiteside.

Ms.Whiteside confirmed in an email to me on 10/10/12 she’s been the recipient of a total of $9,000 as partial fulfilment of her contract with Martino Graphics which she suspended in July.  Her work has never been brought to the Board and Tom Van Groningen says he has a copy of her work but no presentation has ever been made.  As a point of interest Ms. Whiteside was paid $1,500 directly to her for an earlier presentation to the Board and public.  Questions abound as to why Van Groningen and Wild have made these obviously deceptive arrangements and why was the ante upped and how do they account for the remaining $12,000?

In addition, we know $6,000 of these billings ($3,000 each ) have been pulled at successive meetings from the consent portion of the agenda. The question remains unanswered as to whether or not  the checks have been sent.

When I asked Director Van Groningen if the Board pre approved the expenses, his response was “they approved them when they voted in the consent Calender.”  In other words NO they didn’t. So what we are hearing is two members of the Board, outside the scope of the public, and their fellow Board members, can approve expenditures which would advance their positions on future votes.

It appears we won’t have any relief from this type of underhanded dealings until after the 2013 elections when Van Groningen and Wild have to stand in front of the public asking for their votes.

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