Eye On Modesto

Thoughts and observations about Modesto and Stanislaus County

Archive for the tag “MID Board”

Modesto Irrigation District Wastes $75,000 on Outsourcing

By Emerson Drake   

Among today’s action items on MID’s agenda was one to hire third party administration of their basic retirement plan. So in layman’s speak they intend to outsource the insurance part of the retirement plan.  MID has had two positions designated for handling questions and assisting retirees but for two years now only one has been filled.  I wanted to provide the two-step song and dance given to the Board by the Human Resources head but the video isn’t up yet.  I was so captivated with the jargon used I wanted to share it but that will have to come later.

Suffice to say the head of H.R was unwilling to commit to doing away with a position they haven’t needed in two years because it might become necessary AFTER they outsource the majority of the positions duties.  Interestingly enough only Director John Messinger agreed that MID wasn’t saving money but spending an extra $75,000.

When John asked if Human Resources was going to come back before the Board to request the unused position  be filled concerns were voiced by other Board members that the Board had never micro-managed the staff before and they shouldn’t start now.

So lets summarize the issue.  They have two positions designated to perform the job tasks and one of them has been vacant for two years.  They intend to out-source the majority of the job for $75,000 a year yet aren’t willing to give up the unused position.

Believe it or not the final vote was 4-1 (Mensinger being the one “no” vote) to spend the extra money and to leave the position available to be filled without oversight.

At today’s meeting being fiscally responsible wasn’t what you would call their long suit.

 

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MID’s Fun With Numbers

By Emerson Drake    MIDpic

The Tuesday meeting of the Modesto Irrigation District Board was another head shaker.  The topic of our interest was the 2016 rate workshop which was conducted by MID’s Planning, Pricing and Risk Manage,r Jimi Nitniss.  Now Jimi, whose compensation package comes to around $195,000 a year, has questionable goals and apparently has way too much time on his hands.

How Do You Lower Rates and Remain Revenue Neutral?

If you take a look at your bill you’ll notice a fixed monthly charge of $12.50, an environmental adjustment and a capital adjustment. And of course the really bad news, your electric usage.  But MID Staff has a way for you to lower your electric rates but at the same time pay the same amount for the first 500 kWh.  Huh?  That’s right some might call it smoke and mirrors but MID says it’s all the rage with other utilities.  MID_2016_Residential_Rate_Design

“This Will Make the District Look Like Heroes”  PaulCampbell

That’s a direct quote from MID Director Paul Campbell at Tuesday’s workshop.  See it isn’t about making things better,  it’s about making them appear better.  Staff wants to raise your fixed fee from $12.50 to $20.00 and charge less for the first 500 kWh.  So the cost is a wash or revenue neutral. BUT  MID gets to say they have the lowest residential rates around.  So how does this help us?  It doesn’t.  It’s all public relations. The electric rate remains the same for everything  more than the first 500 kWh  used, .18 per kWh.  Lots of fanfare with little or no effect.

The Driving Force Behind the Change

Jimi says since Turlock Irrigation District (TID), Sacramento Metropolitan Utility District (SMUD), and Roseville all do it it must be a good idea.  The idea is to have fixed cost on your bill to more accurately cover MID’s fixed cost.  But it still doesn’t cover it all of the fixed costs, all it really does is pretend to lower your bill, which of course it doesn’t do. To our mind it’s like a placebo for electric ratepayers.  And at the end of the day you still have the headache.

Our suggestion

Most people don’t realize just how much the residential ratepayer subsidizes industry in Modesto.  Right now you’re (residential) paying .16 per kWh in the summer and .13 per kWh in the winter.   Large industrial  businesses around Modesto are paying as little as .05 per kWh summer and .03 Per kWh winter rates.  Do you know that .03 is cheaper than the cheapest power MID buys (Don Pedro hydro is almost .04) but hey as long as homes are paying .16 and .13 who cares?  If MID wants to emulate Roseville and SMUD and virtually ALL of the utilities in the Bay area they will bring industrial and residential closer in line.  For these bay area companies don’t use they residential rates to subsidize their industrial base like we do.  And if you’re curious farmers and ranchers  are paying  .10 per Kwh summer and winter.  Forget the water subsidy, open your eyes to the electric subsidy.

If you would like to watch the workshop you can see the magical effect of the rate adjustment on the MID Board.  There will be a public hearing in November, so stay tuned.

Vance Kennedy Voices Concerns to the MID Board

By Vance Kennedy

1.  There is an estimated minimum need for about $35 million dollars in funds to answer requirements for Don Pedro

Drip Irrigation Layout and its parts.

Drip Irrigation Layout and its parts. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

reservoir and the MID irrigation system.  That number is a very approximate one.  To the best of my knowledge, funds have not been saved for this.

2.  That money is too large to be obtained by immediate charges, so a bond issue is necessary.

3.  Recent comments by the head of the Federal Reserve, suggesting an easing of bond buying, caused a very rapid jump in 30-year Treasury interest rates of 0.8 percent.  That still leaves interest rates far below long-term averages.  However, the Federal Reserve immediately hastened to try to calm the fears of a rapid rise in interest rates.  It helped, but did not cause interest rates to return to the prior low rates.

4.  In the past, large-scale printing of money resulted in large increases in inflation, but with a variable time delay.  It seems reasonable to assume a similar occurrence in the future.

5.  Now is the time to sell bonds before the Federal Reserve actually does raise interest rates.

6.  A source of bond repayment must be identified before the bonds can actually be sold.

7.  That means an equitable distribution of charges to water users is needed, which will take time, but the time available is very, very short if we are to take advantage of existing low interest rates and before inflation takes off.

8.  The only way a bond can be issued rapidly is to use MID’s overall credit, with a definite written agreement that raw water users will repay the rest of MID customers as soon as possible, and that means very promptly, with no exemptions.

9.  That will require a major, perhaps gradual, charge causing water rates to increase greatly.

10. When water rates increase greatly, many farmers may forego flooding and use drip irrigation.

11. That will result in dropping the water table greatly, just like in the foothills, due to lack of sufficient groundwater recharge.  Also, it could cause a permanent loss of rights to river water, since flood irrigation is greatly reduced and canal water will not be used beneficially.  That loss of water rights should apply permanently to farmers going to drip irrigation because once water rights are lost, they cannot be easily recovered if, indeed, they ever can be recovered.  Otherwise, drip irrigators will act like parasites on the flood irrigating farmers.  This problem with drip irrigation has not been widely recognized in the past, but can no longer be ignored.

12. To avoid the loss of water rights to the river, the farmers must continue to flood irrigate and pay whatever is required to retain the water rights to canal water.  Cities should also encourage farmers to flood irrigate, since groundwater is their backup in case of a severe or prolonged drought.

13. A rough estimate of the cost to pay off $35 million dollars over 30 years, and cover already existing costs, is on the order of $38 per acre foot, plus or minus $5 per acre foot, assuming the present interest rate of 4.8% on MID bonds.  That will mean at least quadrupling the present raw water charge.  Before city residents get all excited about their water rate increases, they should realize that the water charge is estimated to be less than 2% of their water bill.  Hence, their water bill might go up $3 to $4 dollars per month.  City cost now is 1/5 of a penny per gallon.

14. The immediate reaction to this proposal will be “No way”.  Farmers can either face reality now or pay a lot more in the not too distant future.  I challenge anyone to face the situation realistically and come up with a better way to solve our long-term problems.  Detailed explanation of these ideas have been provided to the Board members will prior to this meeting.  Do the Board members have any questions or comments?  Time is of the essence.  $35 million for each 1% increase in interest cost to pay off $35 million over 30 years.  The total increase in interest costs over that 30 years will be about $10.5 million.

MID Ratepayer Wants Safe and Tasty Local Produce and is Willing to Pay for It

By Joan Rutachow

I would to thank Vance Kennedy for his comments this morning.  I would like to comment on an article by Glen Wild that

Agriculture

Agriculture (Photo credit: thegreenpages)

appeared in the Modesto Bee on Sunday, April 21st –

Item #5 – “Those urban residents, the vast majority of our district customers, have their power bills inflated so that the MID irrigators do not have to pay for the cost of service.  It is estimated to amount to at least 3% of their power bill”.

Speaking for myself, a private citizen, I am happy to pay 3% of my MID bill for the irrigators!  Our irrigators raise livestock, grow hay and food crops.  They wake up in the middle of the night to irrigate.  They supply my food and the food for hundreds of thousands of people.  A 3% fee is a good investment!  3% of a $50 MID bill is $1.50; 3% of a $100 MID bill is $3.00, 3% of a $150 MID bill is $4.50.  3% is a small price to pay for all of the services our farmers provide.

Let us not forget that the farmers  subsidize the ratepayers.  Their water recharges the aquifer and agricultural products bring millions of dollars to our district.  Again, 3% of my MID bill is money well spent!

The Better Man

Modesto Marathon  8080

He speaks quietly and seems to always choose his words with care and caution. So when he speaks, he is respected and listened to. I know him to be a true and honest gentleman. He does have some challenging health issues, and has endured them with dignity and grace. Never once have I heard an excuse, or observed him being anything except professional. He has served our community for almost twenty years, never seeking any fanfare. The man I speak of is Mr. Paul Warda now serving on the Modesto Irrigation Board of Directors.

            Mr. Warda has made an impact in recent months serving the ratepayers of MID that will live on well past his or my lifetimes. I see Paul Wardas performance as nothing short of heroic and courageous. He has been able to see thru what was past routine practices and understood that change was necessary. I for one am truly grateful, and we all should be as well.

            I write this letter of gratitude because Paul Warda deserves to be recognized for his years of service, and the new direction for the Modesto Irrigation District that he played a huge part in.

I ran against Mr. Warda for his board seat in 2009.  I, today have no regrets. I lost that election to a great board member.

             

 Ted Donham

 

 

 

MID Board’s New Leadership Will be a Breath of Fresh Air

[CALIFORNIA-A-0021] Don Pedro Dam

[CALIFORNIA-A-0021] Don Pedro Dam (Photo credit: waterarchives)

By Emerson Drake

The Board meeting turned out to be as spicy as forecasted.  When the closed session was over and we were allowed in, we were met with a scowling Glen Wild.  Director Wild had his heart set on being the Board President but that didn’t come to pass.  While he had two years of experience on Nick Blom, Director Wild would have been Van Groningen’s lackey just as he has been for the last three years.   Besides we don’t need the old guard with their old obfuscating, covering-up ways continuing to run the Board.  Paul Warda nominated Nick Blom for President and Larry Byrd for Vice-President.  Both of those nominations were approved.

The Martino Graphics $49,500 bill was paid as expected but acknowledgement came from newer Board members of improprieties having been perpetrated by Management.  Joy Warren didn’t discuss the particulars, she only mentioned they were included in the handout (pages 116-130 in the pdf  from yesterday’s article.)    I pointed out that out of the seven specific areas the money was supposed to be spent, only one came close to the proscribed use and that was : Implementing a program to improve the image and credibility of the District with it’s ratepayers.  And, quite honestly, the $148,000 Allen Short spent with Martino Graphics did just the opposite.

Janice Keating, having been paid to speak on behalf of the water sale while pretending to be a private citizen (all the while being paid for her testimony)didn’t sit well with the majority of the Board or the public.  The money was actually spent on perverse lobbying efforts on the sale’s behalf.  Questions have arisen wondering if at least one of the “Community Columns” written in the Bee was bought and paid for.  Another question asked later “how many of those in the “paid employee category of Martino Graphics”  lobbied Bee Opinion Page Editor Judy Sly.”

Funnily enough, one thing that stuck in the craw of several of the Board members was the funneling of money through Martino Graphics to Carol Whiteside.  By laundering the money through Martino Graphics, Directors Byrd, Blom, and Warda weren’t aware Ms. Whiteside was “on the clock” when she invited them for breakfast.  The secret was shared by Directors Van Groningen, Wild, and General Manager Short. These three are responsible for at least $165,000 being spent on a clandestine  lobbying effort which failed.  I have little doubt this is among the many reasons Allen Short is being run out-of-town on a rail, albeit on a velveteen covered rail.  On this all we can all say is thank God he’s gone.  Now if only his two amigos would join him, but that’s just too much to ask.

An interesting revelation is how much “churning” attorney O’Laughlin has done.  He’s been requiring all Public Information Requests to go through him, and this just isn’t necessary.  At $300.00 per hour (from a prior Public Information Request) he’s been making out like a bandit with all of the time he’s claiming he spends on them, and without the overhead of a mask and gun.

I think the bottom line is the two problem children (O’Laughlin and Short) are on their way out the door and those  now in charge are determined these excesses won’t be repeated, not by their new hires or by current staff.

I was glad to see the Union receive its long-awaited raises, but someone has to explain to me how the head of Human Resources deserves a 34% raise especially when she’s getting another person added to her department.  Maybe because her department helped to take the survey?  Another interesting point is the result of a Public Information Request asking the amounts of the raises by position.  Attorney O’Laughlin said they had nothing on paper stating this information so there was nothing to turn over. Oh well, I’ve been intentionally misled by him before as have others making similar requests.  The vote was 3-2 with Van Groningen and Wild voting no.  But this was little more than political posturing since they had been unwilling to separate the union and the confidential employee  in votes.

It wasn’t easy for Larry Byrd to adjust his stance on abstaining from the union vote which he had  because of his son, and although the FPPC and a privately obtained San Francisco lawyer assured him it was perfectly legal for him to weigh in, he had resisted voting the last two times the issue came to the Board.  If he didn’t make the adjustment and vote,  the contract  would  have been held up indefinitely.

One continuing disappointment is the Board being unwilling to discuss how George Petrulakis racked up over $28,800 dollars in bills when he was facilitating only one meeting.  But I suppose that and other unexplained expenses will be swept out with the rubbish on December 31st.  We’ll give them a clean slate for the new year, but to paraphrase an old adage: Forgive those who have done the public wrong, but remember their names for future articles.

Money Laundering, payoffs, Just Another Day at the MID

English: A picture of two dual-circuit power l...

By Emerson Drake

Did you ever watch someone with a gambling disease?  They keep raising the bet hoping for the  payoff that seldom if ever comes.  The hole gets deeper and deeperand sooner or later they have to pay the piper,  and that’s what is happening at the MID. 

For years they’ve been getting away with murder by doing whatever came to their minds ( The TANC project, Geo thermal energy to name two losers) flaunting public opinion but when the proposed water sale to San Francisco came around the opposition became formidable.  First the public had been aroused last summer before and  during the MID elections.  Then the Board changed getting two new members, Larry Byrd and Nick Blom. And suddenly during January of 2012 GM Allen Short, and Directors Tom Van Groningen, and Glen Wild realized they needed additional support,  reinforcements if you will.

The reinforcements came in the disguise of Martino Graphics. Allen Short found an expired purchase order that could be twisted, at least if you squint real hard, to assist in their determination to sell MID’s water through an unfavorable contract. So the “Three Caballeros” with the assistance of a MID staff member started funneling money, laundering if you prefer, through Martino Graphics to a local lobbyist, Mike Lynch, and at least one other shill named Janice Keating.  Janice a former Modesto Councilwoman, spoke publicly to the MID Board pretending to be a private citizen concerned about the water transfers, but in reality we know she spoke as a paid shill, someone who pretends to be an innocent bystander but is paid by the house to manipulate the crowd and public opinion. Mark Looker was also a recipient of their largess.

In an enlightening flash MID finally, after more than six months and multiple requests, including Public Information Requests,  after Van Groningen publicly stating they had no contracts with anyone other than Martino, and had no idea who Martino had contracts with, they have finally admitted Martino had subcontracts with Mike Lynch, Janice Keating, and Mark Looker.

Since January of 2012 MID has spent over $99,000 with Martino Graphics under the expired purchase order #54981 and is now requesting another $49,500 all in a failed effort to change your mind about the water sale to the San Francisco Public Utilities District.  The original intent of this purchase order was to have a fund to work/lobby  legislators over water and electric issues. You remember,  like the one to allow large hydro generators to be classified as “Green”.  Yet they didn’t bother to use it for OUR benefit ( a green designation would have held down the cost of electricity) they used it to promote a failed, water wasting idea they couldn’t let go of.  We’ve seen this in the past with the likes of the TANC project where Short spent between $3.5 and $5 million dollars before  the plug was pulled, all thanks to Allen Short’s obsession with being in charge, Van Groningen’s willingness to be led around by the nose and Glen Wild’s subservient way of saying “which way should I vote?” to Van Groningen. They remind me of three elephants walking in file, the latter two holding on to the lead elephant’s tail by their trunk.

Ask them to actually quantify and break down what Martino did to earn the money instead the sweeping obfuscations of reality they provide and they can’t.  An examination of the purchase orders, which wasn’t provided but EOM  has made available in the past, reveals the same generic charges month after month while providing no real substantiation of work.

The following pdf link provides a glimpse into the twisted cover-up mentality staff uses to provide Allen Short, Tom Van Groningen and Glen Wild a spider hole to crawl into under the glare of public examination.

121812BoardAgendawithAttachments

Pages 116 -130 are the ones discussed in this article.

If you choose to dive further into the MID cesspool we can talk about the contract the MID Board gave to George Petrulakis allegedly to facilitate in the meetings between Modesto and the MID Board. Mr. Petrulakis was paid:

$28,852.50

  But since they only held only one meeting and George  gets paid $415 per hour what else did he do for the Board to justify his 69.39 hours of work?  Can you say lobbying and influence pedaling or did he provide inducements to others to go in front of the MID Board and endorse the water sale?

Then there is MID attorney Tim O’Laughlin who as a going away present is requesting a payment of $146,250.89. These are a total of his invoices from November and December and it isn’t his last bill there is at least one more coming. MID the gift that keeps on giving.

You have to walk away shaking your heads wondering where the closest bathroom is to wash your hands. But we need to resist that impulse. We need to dig down deep to get to the bottom of the MID barrel to rid ourselves of ALL of the rotten apples.

 The next MID meeting is at 9:00 AM Tuesday Dec. 18th.   As with all parties it’s BYO Pitchforks and torches lynch ropes are optional.

You don’t want to be late, it’s the best show in town.

Some Suggestions to the MID the Bee Finally Got Around to Liking

Two hangman's nooses and gallows behind the co...

By Emerson Drake

I’ve been going to MID meetings for more than six years, writing about them for just short of five and been talking on the radio about them for four years in February.  During that time I’ve consistently made some suggestions hoping they would be implemented. But honestly, they haven’t gained any traction until recently.  Others have joined me in making these requests from time to time, and I’m not trying to claim the ideas were all mine.  During Mike Serpa’s time on the MID Board we had someone who cared, but one person on the Board couldn’t  get anything on the agenda (unless your name was Tom Van Groningen or Allen Short) let alone manage to create real change in the way things were done, no matter how hard they tried.

Even with the addition of Directors Larry Byrd and Nick Blom it took ten months to get to the point of generating and possibly passing some out of the box ideas (for MID) that other public entities have been utilizing for years. MID does place their agendas on-line but they remove them before the next meeting, never to be seen again without a Public Information Request and most of those are drawn out to the legally  mandated limit of 10 working days at best even when the information is readily available. They also seldom place supporting material on-line linked to the agendas like other public agencies do.  See the City of Modesto’s website as an example of doing things the correct way.

The Board’s policy is to destroy the electronic records of the meetings 100 days after the meeting. I’ve never understood this policy especially since they wait until AFTER the records are destroyed to approve the minutes. The October 21, 2012 agenda shows them approving the minutes from 6/23/12, a delay of 120 days.

We’ve asked the Board repeatedly to preserve the records and place them on-line along with streaming the video live. They’ve consistently refused to seriously consider any of these suggestions.

As recently as last week I once again repeated the request for separate email addresses for the Board members that the General Manager wouldn’t be privy to. Why should he or his replacement be monitoring a Board member’s communications?

The MID’s Purchase Orders process needs to be better defined. Here is the part of the resolution staff has been willing to share. Director Van Groningen brought the above to me for one of our private meetings and I don’t know if he shared it with the rest of the Board or not.  A complete copy will be handed out  to the Board on Tuesday at the scheduled meeting.   This is what he/staff  provided, a partial of Resolution 2010-35.

3.Contract Purchase Order 54981 issued July 2010 states that it is effective through December 31, 2011.

This PO is for services to “Refocus and Enhance Public Education and Information Services per Board Resolution 2010-35.”  These services included a variety of consulting activities through subcontractors retained by Martino Graphic Design with MID’s approval.

This Project was undertaken at the direction of the Board in accordance with the referenced resolution, stating as follows:

The Board of Directors of the Modesto Irrigation District does hereby authorize and direct the General Manager to continue implementing legislative and regulatory activities to further the goals and interest of the District in State and Federal jurisdictions, including…7.  Implementing a program to improve the image and credibility of the District with is ratepayers.

As an example Staff currently believes after reading the above  Board Resolution 2010-35

  • Based on the foregoing resolution, the General Manager clearly would have had the authority to make expenditures under this PO, and to extend the time and not-to-exceed value of the PO;

In other words they (Short’s staff)  support the idea the GM can not only indefinitely extend a purchase order time limit but that the not-to-exceed value is meaningless and the GM is given Carte Blanche or an open checkbook, if you will.

 I don’t believe that’s what the true meaning of the resolution is and  I haven’t been able to read the entire resolution due to their foot-dragging response to Public Information Requests. But that is the portion the quote as applicable.  These aren’t the General Manager’s private monies, they are ratepayer supplied funds. We deserve a staff who believes in responsible controls, a staff who won’t create verbage to support the GM’s desires and lacking that,  the Board needs to provide unquestionable guidance and  a promise of a dire consequence when its instructions are flaunted. An area in the past where they’ve fallen woefully short.

GM  Short’s staff may be trying to create an “out” but in my opinion it’s  an inappropriate use of money  that cannot be overlooked or swept under the rug.  How many other occurrences of this type of malfeasance in office have taken place?

The phrase “Not to exceed” on purchase orders means what it says. It doesn’t mean spend however much you want.

We want to thank Directors Byrd, Blom, and Warda for pushing these ideas to the forefront.  Now lets bring them home.

In Sunday’s Bee, Judy Sly finally gets around to agreeing with many of the items we’ve been suggesting for years.  Thanks for getting on the “Band Wagon” Modesto Bee, now help us follow through with the rest of the many, much-needed changes.

MID’s Tim O’Laughlin Withholds Information on Public Information Request

By Emerson Drake

Apparently MID’s attorney feels he can get paid for doing half a job, okay maybe a third of his job.  In my opinion he’s bilking his employer by not completing his assignment properly.  He’s apparently churning for a second pay-day for doing the same work.

I made a Public Records Request at a recent Board meeting for the amounts of the falling water charges that are on our bills in the last 10 to 15 years.

Here is the request and the response.

October 26, 2012

To:

WesternPalms@aol.com (via Email Only)

Emerson Drake

Re: California Public Records Act Request

Dear Mr. Drake:

On October 16, 2012, Modesto Irrigation District received your Public Records Act

Request which was made verbally during the Board meeting, requesting the following

information:

“With regard to the falling water charge that’s on the bill, I would like to request

information regarding the amounts that we’ve been charged for the last 10 or 15 years and the

legality of it.”

In accordance with Government Code section 6253, MID will comply with your request

to the extent that the writings you have requested are not privileged or otherwise exempt from

production under the California Public Records Act, or other applicable law.

Response:

Below are the falling water charges for the last five years:

Falling Water  Charge

2008                                     2009                                2010                        2011

$5,681,470                   $7,063,695             $8,165,250          $10,158,720  

2012

$7,587,965

Should you have any questions regarding this matter, please do not hesitate to

contact this office at (209) 526-7388.

Sincerely,

Tim O’Laughlin

Interim General Counsel

The following link is the pdf response  from Tim O’Laughlin.

son_Drake_dated_October_26__2012_re_Falling_Water_Charge

“What’s on America’s Mind” Wednesday 7:00PM

 

Radio RED 104.9 FM

Tonight’s discussion includes:

Fireworks at the MID, who leaked MID’s confidential memo and why? Van Groningen Chastised by Board, alleged  Brown Act Violations, the need for roll call voting, and they’re finally replacing Tim O’Laughlin MID’s Million dollar man, Recalling five heroic men here in Modesto, Modesto’s home owners who kill cats,  SalidaMAC meeting last night and the low hanging fruit, Mitt Romney’s only endorsement for another candidate was Richard Mourdock GOP candidate for U.S.Senate who says no abortions for rape victims because God intended for it to happen.

This and more Wednesday night from 7:00 until 8:30 PM

Our call in number is 1-347-215-9414

104.9 FM K-GIG Salida is our flagship radio station where we can be heard throughout the week.

To hear us live or later from our archives http://www.blogtalkradio.com/centralvalleyhornet/2012/10/25/whats-on-americas-mind-with-emerson-drake

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