Fireworks at the MID
By Emerson Drake
Maybe, just maybe, Tom Van Groningen’s reign of terror at the MID is coming to an end. We watched for four years as Director Van Groningen and his cohorts in crime, bullied, out numbered, and out maneuvered former MID Director Mike Serpa at every turn. They even created a variety of rules which kept Director Serpa from getting access to information he needed to form sound decisions. These have since become known as the Serpa rules.
Today Director Van Groningen was caught in his own trap. He and Allen Short had gotten together to place an item on the agenda to discuss Proposition 26. Directors Byrd and Blom questioned this item being placed on the agenda and when Van Groningen was challenged for his unilateral actions he replied he had followed the rules. Tim O’laughlin insinuated Van Groningen was correct. But Director Nick Blom had a copy of the Board rules which he read. These rules delineated Van Groningen had violated Board policy.
Tom, I feel like you’re handcuffing us…You’re the reason this Board can’t come together
When Director Van Groningen accepted responsibility. Director Byrd said it wasn’t good enough. He pointed out Van Groningen had repeatedly broken policy guidelines and his continuing to accept the responsibility wasn’t getting anything done differently, especially in light of the almost 20 years Van Groningen has served on the MID Board. He should have known better. After a few minutes of discussion during which Tom Van Groningen was asked directly if he was the one who leaked the Board’s lawyer’s confidential memo to Judy Sly, Van Groningen said no and suggested Ms. Sly be asked since she was in the back of the room. Ms. Sly was asked and she replied “no comment.”
The memo is about the falling water charge on MID electric bills. The timing is interesting since the memo was leaked immediately after the water sale to San Francisco went down to defeat. Ms. Sly has been using this confidential board memo as a basis of several articles in the Bee. Remember Ms. Sly and the Bee came out in favor of the sale even BEFORE they had read the contract. Now she’s apparently using the memo in an attempt to further her crusade in favor of the sale.
So the issue came down to a vote. The result was a 3-0 in favor of removing the item from the agenda. In all three votes which were eventually taken today, Directors Byrd, Blom, and Warda voted yes and Van Groningen and Wild remained silent.
The second vote was regarding the time alloted to the public to speak. In years past it had been a five-minute period but during the water sale, in order to quiet dissension, the Board had voted to limit public comments to three minutes. Today that was reversed, 3-0, with the caveat that if the line of speakers was too lengthy the time could be temporarily reduced by the Board President.
Then came the discussion regarding the make-up of the Water Advisory Committee. At the last MID meeting Directors Glen Wild and Ton Van Groningen had proposed having 14 people on the committee. This week Director’s Blom and Byrd, with the support of Paul Warda, proposed a much smaller committee. One member from the City of Modesto nominated by the City Council, one member nominated by the Farm Bureau, and one each from each of the Board’s Directors whom would reside in the Directors district. After a short conversation regarding a member from the Chamber of Commerce it was settled. Again the vote was 3-0 in favor of the smaller 7 person committee.
So all in all, it is possible there is a light at the end of the MID tunnel, and, for the first time in a long time, it might not be an on-coming train.