Next Agenda Holds Promise of Transparency at MID
By Emerson Drake
The items on next weeks agenda range from allowing Board members greater access to both staff and records to possibly placing Board meeting recordings on-line for the public, who can’t make the meetings to view. To those who are familiar with the MID, these are amazing possibilities.
When Mike Serpa was elected, we had a member who asked the difficult questions and received very few answers. He was stonewalled by the MID’s own attorney Tim O’Laughlin and Allen Short made life as difficult as possible. General Manager Allen Short made decisions regarding what material the Board members were allowed to access and prevented any questions from being asked to staff without his permission. You might ask why they implemented these draconian measures and did they affect the rest of the Board members. The reality is the most of the Board had been acting like bobble head dolls in the rear window of a car (nodding yes) and took Short’s word regarding most MID policies.
But Director Mike Serpa has never been one to just roll over and agree without substantiation. So when he started to ask questions he was demonized by Short and Van Groningen. Soon there after Bee Editor Judy Sly jumped on the band wagon and wrote several times about this issue. When Mike Serpa ran for reelection Ms.Sly trotted out this old bugaboo again and helped to defeat him.
So after the “Serpa rule” was passed, if elected Board members had questions regarding policies, all GM Short had to do was say it was going to require too much staff time and to override him it took a majority of the Board members to request it. I don’t remember a single time Short was over ridden by the Board when this “too time-consuming” ruling was made in Mike Serpa’s direction. I have requested a copy of Board Resolution 2000654 but if the MID track record holds true I doubt I will see it (if I see it you see it) before the Board meeting next Tuesday.
Next is the dotted line between Board Secretary and Allen Short and the Board members. Short has two secretaries of his own sitting outside his office but somehow he’s managed to commander the Board’s secretary. Personally I think it’s kind of funny/sad that no Board members have a MID email account. All “Board emails go to a central account where the Secretary prints them out and gives them to Short who decides how to handle them. Even when addressed to specific Board members the emails aren’t given directly to them. They receive them after the fact so to speak.
So why does the Board’s Secretary report to Short? Can you say control?
No wonder Board members, at least three of them, want to discuss this. In years past, two of the now retired Board members bragged they didn’t own a computer some of this could have been a help but instead of going through Short with their emails even his buddy Van Groningen employs his private email instead of utilizing one at MID.
MID records dvds of all of their meetings but has a policy requiring destroyed them after 100 days. The policy defines these recording as: for the use of the Board Secretary to provide accuracy in the creation of the meeting’s minutes. They are adamant the recordings are not public records. I know because I tried, through Public Information Request to gain access to the recording when the 100 days expired and they were going to destroy/ dispose of the dvd. The response I received from MID’s attorney was: ( if we gave them to you they would be public records and then we couldn’t give them to you) talk about convoluted logic.
Would anyone be surprised to discover the MID Board approves the minutes AFTER the recording is destroyed?
We (myself and several members of the public) have been asking for the Board to save their recording physically and on-line for at least 6 years to no avail. We’ve also been requesting them to keep agendas and supporting documents available on-line but haven’t been able to find sufficient support on the Board until now. The Stanislaus County Board of Supervisors keeps agendas and supporting documents available from 1993 and Board videos are available from 2006. Don’t you think the MID Board should start IMMEDIATELY?
During my last meeting with Director Van Groningen, he mentioned he would request an audit if fellow Board members deemed it necessary. When he brought it up to the Board he phrased it to suggest only a few thousand dollars might be found at great expense. I reject both premises. The misuse of both the NON Purchase order process and the Purchase Order System is a great concern.
Purchase Order #54981 was used to spend $127,000 AFTER it expired and in an egregious abuse of the NON-Purchase Order process to attempt to funnel $24,000 ($6,000 in pending checks written but not sent) to Martino Graphics. Somehow Allen Short and Tom Van Groningen along with Glen Wild got together and decided to spend ratepayer money on their own agenda without discussing it with the rest of the Board. There are still $9,000 spent but not accounted for.
Using a second party (Martino Graphics) to disguise money being given to a lobbyist working behind the scenes utilizing local politicos to convince local officials on the water sale issue is wrong, and if it is shown, anyone who participated should be held accountable. We can’t even access contracts to lobbyists because they use Martino Graphics to hide their involvement.
I would like to be able to fill you in on the letters from Escalon and Oakdale but MID as usual is dragging their heels on even simple Public Record Requests. They prefer to supply Judy Sly at the Bee with confidential memos and letters since she’ll publish MID propaganda rather than someone in the public domain who will hold their feet to the fire.
It is time for the MID Board to accept the need for accountability. Directors Byrd, Blom, and Warda are pushing forward so lets support their efforts.
Gentlemen I thank you as do ALL of the MID ratepayers.