Eye On Modesto

Thoughts and observations about Modesto and Stanislaus County

Archive for the tag “Modesto Irrigation District”

Gov. Newsom’s Appointee Uses Lobbyist to Disrupt MID Meeting

By Emerson Drake  

On Tuesday Bill Lyons used lobbyist/attorney Stacey Henderson from Terpstra Henderson Law Office located in Ripon to disrupt questioning of the MID General Manager regarding invoices from Gualco, a lobbying firm MID uses for state issues.  Ms. Henderson is paid to appear at MID meetings by several close business associates of Bill Lyons.  People who regularly attend MID meetings are aware of her close ties to Lyons and their continual attempts to keep MID electric ratepayers subsidizing farmers’ irrigation rates.  William Lyons, 68, of Modesto, has been appointed Agriculture Liaison in the Office of the Governor, a cabinet position for $175,008 per year. You have to give him credit, he knows how to cash checks paid for by taxpayers.

While a member of the public was engaged in an informative exchange with GM Scott Furgerson, Ms. Henderson leaped to her feet and began to speak over the conversation.  At the beginning of every MID meeting the Board Secretary reads a short spiel stating that any persons causing a disruption will be asked to leave.  Apparently that doesn’t apply to Bill Lyon’s lobbyists.

To make everything more clear and easier to follow, Bill Lyons has been CEO of Lyons investments (read Mapes ranch) since 1976, and that is around the time Bill began treating MID as his personal fiefdom. Bill and or his family and business associates controlled three of the five votes on MID’s Board as long as most can remember (until Jim Mortensen bungled it).  For years they funded any challenge to his votes/puppets by cutting a campaign donation check for  $5,000 anytime they were opposed during an election(in most elections they ran unopposed due to lack of interest). For perspective a $5,000 check in past MID terms was more like a $50,000, check today.

Just to introduce all of the Lyon’s entourage, because we wouldn’t want to leave anyone out, another Bill Lyons lobbyist Bob Fores (who is also a lobbyist/attorney), chimed in later but at least he didn’t disrupt the proceedings.  It’s humorous to onlookers when attorneys take umbrage to being called lobbyists but if your clients don’t have any official business in front of MID and you’re being PAID to shape opinion, then you are by definition a lobbyist.  Now personally I can understand why a lobbyist wouldn’t like being called an attorney but…Oh well you get my drift.

Stacy Henderson has lobbied MID to allow farmers to sell water to each other and insisted on keeping MID’s nose out of the prices farmers charge each other, all the while insisting MID deliver the water to her clients at approximately $40 dollars per acre foot below MID’s delivery cost.

Bill Lyons tentacles reach all over the sate but especially Stanislaus County. He was behind the attempted MID water sale to San Francisco and was able to get the Modesto Chamber of Commerce including Cecil Russell, to publicly support the sale (Lyons keeps pulling those strings).  His elected MID puppets even created a slush fund of $250,000 to support the sale.  Think about that for a minute they used ratepayer funds to ram an unpopular water sale down out throats.

Can we afford to have lobbyists paid for by Bill Lyons disrupting public meetings and getting away with it?  Watching the GM schmoozing Ms. Henderson during the following break provided us with another clue and a chuckle. But not to be outdone Stu Gilman conferred with Chamber of Commerce’s CEO Cecil Russell’s female executive assistant behind the dais during a break.  I can’t say that I or anyone else there had ever seen that happen before.  When it comes to weird twisted politics, MID takes the cake.

We can count on one thing, that there’s more to come from Lyons and his band of marionettes.

About the EyeOnModesto:  We’re not paid to attend meetings and our opinion’s aren’t for sale. You can’t say the same for lobbyists or attorneys or for lobbyists that are attorneys who go to these meetings

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MID Mailbag Brings Us Featherbedding at the MID

By Emerson Drake 

Over the years our MID Mailbag has produced very interesting results that have become stories, like the bastardized ‘smart meters’ MID purchased that were defective requiring hundreds of thousands of dollars (of our money) to set right. But in the past year we’ve come across some items that need to see the light of day.

When Greg Salyer was allowed to step down as MID’s General Manager and retain his same salary of $236,188, eyes were opened.  His new title of Assistant General Manager, second in pay only to the newly hired GM seemed excessive for a position created by Mr. Salyer for himself.  In the last year we’ve received ‘concerns’ from staff that they see no input or leadership coming from Salyer and are wondering how long the farce will be maintained.

After receiving numerous complaints internally regarding the inexperience and lack of performance of an Engineering Tech Supervisor last year, management finally made a move and D.W. was sent toddling off the Woodland Generating Station.  But in MID’s usual fashion a position is now  listed  internally.  A position that was eliminated years ago because it was no longer needed.  But in the best of MID’s traditional featherbedding style (Featherbedding is the practice of hiring more workers than are needed to perform a given job) MID has resurrected the job and will offer it to D.W. at double his paycheck all for a special project.

Towards the end of last summer we kept hearing how then Turlock Mayor and MID employee Gary Soiseth had stopped showing up for work at MID while still cashing his paycheck.  It all came to a head on September 7th when Soiseth resigned rather than potentially being fired.  Apparently, and unknown at the time to the rest of us, this was the first of the behind the scene maneuvers by John Mensinger, Paul Campbell, Stu Gilman and MID General Manager Scott Furgerson.

By the October 23, 2018 Board meeting it became obvious these four had conspired into trying to hire Gary Soiseth as a consultant through Gulaco with a salary increase from $132,579 to $216,808 and for doing basically the same job he had been doing, when he was actually showing up, for MID.

So when concerns were expressed by other Board  members that Multiple Brown Act violations had occurred in recent months it wasn’t a surprise.

Multiple Public Record Requests have been delayed for months.  The current regime is reverting back to Tom VanGroningen and Allen Short days.   These were the  the exact opposite of the clean transparent days from Nick Blom and Larry Byrd.

For MID employees wanting MID to be run as a public business and not a personal empire you can express your concerns by email to westernpalms@aol.com

Oh yes and Paul, are you going to get a discount from John on all that lumber you’re thinking about needing?

 

 

 

MID’s Missing Legal Costs

By Emerson Drake  

A follow-up to MID Staffer Caught ‘Fudging’ the Numbers

We received the missing numbers through a Public Records Request.  Not surprisingly Scott Van Veren’s representation to the public and the Board wasn’t as advertised.  In the last meeting he made the claim the reason he hadn’t added the legal costs for lawsuits was because the settlements would skew or distort the report.  So lets take a look and you tell me.

From 2014 through 2018 the missing numbers total from the legal fees for the lawsuits came to $3,283,175.  The settlements for the same period came to $100,648.  There was an additional column called other which was described as consultant fees and materials for the lawsuits which came to $680,383.  You can see the breakdown by year below. Click on it to enlarge

it.

But clearly Scott claiming that $100,648 would skew $3,283,175 was a smoke screen.  Just as sad was Director John Mensinger repeatedly calling for a vote.  I would suggest John was aware of the ‘3 card monte’ or maybe you’d prefer ‘shell game’. being played out by MID staff.

Unfortunately MID is now using outside attorneys to process PPR’s.  Normally you could get the answers quickly and if you had any questions they were happy to provide answers.  The attorney I spoke with didn’t have a clue what the numbers meant nor could he explain the ‘other column’  Finally I was given a name at MID for follow-up explanations which were helpful. A hearty thanks to Ms. Cartisano. So we’ve made another PPR to find out just how much money MID is wasting on outside attorneys.  Billable hours versus salary?  The answer would seem to be a no brainer.  But you know John Mensinger and his cabal, they’ll stop at nothing.

 

MID Staffer Caught ‘Fudging’ The Numbers

By Emerson Drake 

At the 1/22/19 meeting AGM Finance/Treasurer Scott Van Vuren delivered a report that was supposed to layout our in-house and outside legal costs to allow the Board to make an educated decision regarding whether to hire a replacement in-house attorney or to hire an outside law firm to function as MID Counsel.  He made his presentation but both some members of the Board and the public had questions.  When we tried to get Van Vuren to total the two  pages, the first for $1.8 M  and the second for $1.8M each total is give or take $100,000, he was hesitant to respond, in fact he refused to respond to repeated inquiries.

We helped him with his math offering that it added up to approximately $3.6M but we couldn’t get him to say the words.  Finally he was forthcoming enough to state that there were additional legal costs he hadn’t included in the report. Most notably these were outside legal costs. When asked to place a number on these he said he’d have to get back to us and the Board.  Scott repeatedly said the missing numbers would be skewed by settlements. So some of the Board started following up with questions.  Scott kept using Turlock Irrigation District (TID) as his comparison.  But when asked to produce TID’s  numbers so we could compare apples to apples he claimed he’d need to get TID’s permission. Obviously Scott was stalling since these numbers are public domain.

Scott had been saying all along that we paid more then TID for legal costs but had nothing to back up his statements.  Questions were finally asked why he hadn’t checked with other districts for comparison. Obviously it didn’t suit his and Director John Mensinger’s preconceived position that outside services would be better.

John Mensinger kept trying to interrupt the questioning saying he’d heard enough but even Director Stu Gilman was getting curious now.  What they didn’t mention and since public comment is only 5 minutes so we didn’t get a chance to ask, was about the comparison.  TID’s budget is less that half of MID’s. ($164M vs $429M) and it’s safe to say that MID’s 122,000 electric customers are several times more than TID’s.  So why use them as a comparison?  So they can  get the predetermined outcome the ruling cabal desires.

And since we’re just trying to be helpful we have made a Public Record Request from TID for their legal costs for the last three years.  Scott seems to produce more reliable numbers when someone is looking over his shoulder.  The public needs to look out for themselves now since our compadres in this fight on the Board are out numbered.

It’s starting to sound like 2011 all over again.  And that bodes ill for the ratepayers.

For the follow-up see MID’s Missing Legal Costs

 

The House Modesto Gets Flimflammed at MID

By Emerson Drake  

On October 1, 2017 Pastor Glenn Berteau took a few minutes from Sunday’s service to introduce  lay pastor Stu Gilman and to ask for the congregations’ support and vote for Stu Gilman.  Pastor Berteau reminded the congregation that Stu is a personal friend of his and a friend of The House along with being a board member of The House.  Stu made a promise to the congregation that day. He said for years they had been overpaying for electricity and he would get them a rebate based on how much money they had spent on electricity.

Stu was subsequently elected to the Modesto Irrigation District Board and MID was facing a law suit from ratepayers.  He and the rest of the MID Board decided to commission a Cost of Service Study from Bartle Wells Associates and MRW & Associates to defend against the pending lawsuit.

Now to the meat and potatoes. The ‘report’ basically said apples were oranges and up is down.  It’s an agreed upon fact the water delivery side was facing a $17 Million shortfall every year.  And the electric ratepayers have been overcharged to pay for steeply discounted electric rates to large companies (read below cost in some cases), to pay for the water losses and to buy a percentage in the natural gas powered Lodi plant.  The Lodi plant is where their profits come from and are called ‘discretionary funds’ by the report.   The report states if MID’s Board has a policy they can point to that allows them to spend the discretionary funds as they see fit, that could include cars, boats. subsidizing farmers and large businesses including Gallo.

Stu Gilman and the rest of the Board voted to support the report and if it holds up in court it removes any possibility for the congregation and quite honestly the rest of us ratepayers to not only get a rebate but to get an even break in MID’s repressive rate structure.  So when the rubber met the road Stu supported MID and abandoned his congregation and the rest of the ratepayers.  Stu had his chance to stand up and keep his word to us but he showed his true colors and instead became just another one of them.  We had hope and gave him rope, and look what he did with it.

One of the issues is the essence of religion is submission to authority and for supporting Stu Gilman, Pastor Glenn must accept some responsibility for the outcome.  People expect their Pastors, Ministers, Priests, and Spiritual Advisers to look out for their best interests when they demonstrate their support for candidates or ballot measures from the pulpit.  As happens often in life the people that need the breaks the most get screwed but when it happens to you, by the leaders of your church, you should be asking questions.  Lots of questions.

And your belief in their answers is discretionary.

MID Intrigue, Betrayal and the Brown Act

By Emerson Drake  

Recently Modesto Irrigation District meetings are more like a Shakespearean play. They’ve had it all, palace coups, intrigue, betrayal,  possible legal violations and audit reports that stretch credulity.  And believe it or not we’re underplaying recent events.

Since it directly effects our wallets lets start with the most recent first, the 100 plus pages of the District’s Cost of Service Study Report.  Listening to the report of their meeting on line will mystify and amaze you while on occasion putting you to sleep.  When I hear “generally accepted audit and accounting standards” the hairs on the back of my neck rise up because that is the same verbiage we heard during the Enron scandal.  Remember Enron’s report suggested Enron was financially sound all the while the walls were crumbling down.

MID is fiscally sound but the reasoning behind the report is questionable. The whole purpose of this report is to defend them against an electrical ratepayers law suit. They change the words “electrical profits” to “discretionary funds” that can be applied anywhere the Board chooses. And as the magician says abracadabra there is no subsidy for the water side despite the annual shortfall of  $17M.  When evaluating MID’s reports keep in mind the old adage  ‘liars can figure and figures can lie and that well paid ones do it even better.”

The report’s cost of service numbers are skewed, in other words biased and distorted.  As we learned during the Mountain House discussions it all depends on which column they put costs into.  Or if they bother to account for them at all, after all out of sight is out of mind.  MID has a tendency to say once we decide to supply power to an area the expensive main feeder power lines and substations don’t count against cost of service. Yet someone pays the bill.  But that person is an imaginary one named ‘discretionary’.

While we’re still working our way through the report we haven’t come across the validation of supplying electricity at below cost to businesses while still covering their costs. If you have any doubts, it’s ‘Discretionary’ that is paying for it.  If you want to meet ‘Discretionary’ take a look in the mirror.

As we continue to review the report and receive information from our on-going public record requests, there will be more to follow.

 

 

MID-Gary Soiseth-Gualco Group, Shades of Martino Graphics – It’s Deja vu All Over Again!

By Emerson Drake  

Listening to a Turlock Mayoral forum and Amy Bublak making allegations that Gary Soieseth had started a consulting firm and intended to do business with the potential Turlock water treatment plant, set us on an interesting journey.  Trying to get to the bottom of charges that Gary was intending on doing business with a plant that was still on the drawing board is an uphill battle to say the least, but we did file a (PRR) Public Record Request on October 24th to discover any MID connections to Gary’s new company. We later learned the company’s name in a Bee article,it’s called Central California Advisors.

 

According to documents obtained Gary’s contract negotiations had advanced to the closing stage back in July.  Only his potential contract was with The Gaulco Group as Senior Adviser and not his own company.  As you can see on the first page Gary was expected to start on 10/01/18.  Yet he told the Bee he had already done some work for MID on the Federal licensing of the hydro-electric generator at Dom Pedro Dam.  Strange since the federal lobbying/advisers are another company and that company doesn’t show up in the PRR. 

And now is where it gets interesting.  It the Bee article General Manager Scott Furgerson says “Soiseth had done minimal work on behalf of the MID in his new role.” Yet there is no contract with Gary’s new company or any mention of Gary being added to the Gualco Group and no money trail to date.  MID Public Affairs Spokesperson Melissa Williams spoke with us and verified Gary Soiseth had indeed done some work for MID but is being paid by Gualco, not MID, but she did not have any information regarding the amount of work or money involved.  She also stressed that Gaulco was paying Gary and not MID.  Yet, despite her assertions, if Gualco is using Gary to work for MID then MID meaning WE are footing the bill.

 

For those who don’t remember Martino Graphics, Tom VanGroningen, and MID’s attempted water sale, let me provide a little background.  During the time leading up to the water sale MID kept saying they didn’t have contracts with individuals to support their attempts at selling our water to San Francisco.  They kept denying knowing to whom the money was going even after multiple PRR’s were filed.  Finally they admitted that they had a contract with Martino Graphics for over $234,000 and Martino Graphics had contracts with a variety of local politicos, some of whom came to MID to publicly support the sale.   And now we have MID first denying any contract with Turlock’s Mayor and former MID employee Gary Soiseth, either with his company Central California Advisors or Gualco Group, and yet MID is paying Soiseth through Gualco Group.

 

Remember Nick and Larry fought the underhanded Allen Short and Tom VanGroningen for our water their first year on the Board.  It’s no wonder Directors Nick Blom and Larry Byrd called for an investigation.  First Gary gives his notice and then he changes his mind and delays his departure date. Was it to ensure he gets vested for his five years of service or to give  MID’s General Manager Scott Furgerson time to negotiate his severance package, ie: his new job?  And why is his former boss feathering his future nest?  And now the kicker…employing Gary through Gualco will cost MID an extra $36,135 per year if he gets his raise.  But since it became public his first “special” arrangement goes away but a second one, almost a secret one, delivers the goods.

 

The only way we can see General Manager Scott Furgerson originally supporting  this or pushing forward with this semi-clandestine arrangement is if MID Directors John Mensinger, Paul Campbell, and Stu Gilman are on board.  Which opens the door to another question…what other secrets or surprises are we in store for?

“The House” Panics and Takes Down The Infamous Video

By Emerson Drake  

The House Modesto take Three:  We’ve all heard the bluster from Pastor Glen Berteau and others regarding his and the church’s endorsement of Stu Gilman for  the MID Board.  The Pastor claims they’ve done nothing wrong and that all the attention for violating IRS regulations and the Johnson Amendment he and the church has been receiving is unjustified.   We’ve done nothing wrong he’s stated.  Yet the good Pastor refuses to go on camera or return our phone calls

But it has become obvious that both the church and the Pastor have blinked.  When you go to the link to the sermon we provided in an earlier story you’ll find that  “This video has been removed by the user” sign on their YouTube page.  If the video proves their innocence why did they remove it?  Sounds like they’re trying to hide the smoking gun.  Last Sunday, 11/5,  we couldn’t help but notice the live 11 am service was a rerun from the week prior.

Channel 40 out of Sacramento finally caught wind of the scandal and has run with the story.  Our only surprise it that it took so long and that others haven’t followed.

This endorsement by a church, a nonprofit 501(c)(3), brings shame on Stu Gilman, his supporters, The House, and all of Modesto.  If you want to endorse candidates for political office pay taxes like the rest of us.  You shouldn’t  pretend to be a church if you’re going to act like a political organization.

 

Complaint Filed Against The House

By Emerson Drake  

The Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF)  has filed a complaint against Modesto’s ‘The House’.  IN it they allege  The House, being a 501(c) (3), violated I.R.S regulations.  And we believe they violated  the Johnson Act, but that would be for another arena.

Why Pastor Glen Berteau choose to go against the law is something only he can answer.  He has not returned phone calls.  Here is the complaint click on it to enlarge:

 

We don’t believe ANY non-profit 501(c)(3)s  should be endorsing candidates. Both the church ‘The House” through the law, and the candidate (Stu Gilman)  by the ballot box, should be held accountable.  How about you?

Why This MID Election is Important to You

By  Emerson Drake  

Having gone to Modesto Irrigation District (MID) meetings regularly for more than ten years, researched their past, and following them with interest for more than twice that time, that there is no doubt that this election is crucial to MID’s and our future.

When you start to talk about MID people’s eyes have a tendency to glaze over after about 30 seconds, that is unless you are talking to them after they pay an electric bill during a hot spell when they have been using their air conditioning.   The fact is that MID was mismanaged for years by Tom Van Groningen (1993-2013) ,his cohorts on the Board and Allen Short, MID’s General Manager, during those same years.

A short look at MID’s history of business decisions shows an absence of, shall we say, critical thinking. It’s been suggested more than once if they’d flipped a coin instead of being led around by the nose or making the decisions themselves  they could have saved us about $500 Million dollars by the simple chance of the flip. From the geothermal fiasco, to a potential garbage burner to the overpriced (by 30 percent)  McHenry Ave solar farm contract north of town, it was one debacle after another.

Another fact is that a small group of business people led by Bill Lyons, yes the Bill Lyons of Mapes Ranch that wanted to sell our water to San Francisco, have controlled MID’s Board for this same period.  Bill has written checks for $5,000 to his special MID candidates (2 per election)  during contested election years. While his business partners, this year both developers and farmers,  took care of the third MID seat to the same fiscal level. His most recent beneficiaries were Paul Campbell and Jim Mortenson.  Campbell was elected and Mortenson was defeated by Jake Wenger four years ago.

So after they drove into almost $1 Billion dollars in debt what happened next?  Well first of all Larry Byrd, Nick Blom, followed by Jake Wenger two years later,  were elected to the MID Board.  Secondly the cost of natural gas plummeted.  This gave us the profit that people point to.  And what was the prudent course to take?  They started to pay down the debt.

Just as most of us learned as we matured you can’t live off of credit forever so the MID Board did the prudent thing.  It’s not sexy but it is necessary, you have to pay down the debt.  In the past MID, since they aren’t governed by the Public Utilities Commission, had the ability to our raise rates whenever they felt like it.

Our electric rates have been the same since 2011 so if you are feeling the effect of a high electric bill it means you used, like most of us,  a lot of electricity during the 31 days of 100 degree heat recently.

Now we’re faced with the decision of who to elect to the MID Board.  Both men are church going family men and business men.  But politically speaking that’s where the similarity ends. Stu has aligned himself with developers like Paul Zagaris, George Petrulakis, Mani Grewal, and special interest groups like Bill Lyons and company.  Jake has aligned himself with his friends, family, and the average working family.  Stu is a johnny come lately that admits to knowing little but what he’s read in the Bee, and has a penchant for making promises he can’t back up.  Jake has been fiscally responsible when it comes to being our voice on MID and is the most available person I’ve ever known in politics.  As an example if asked a question in person or online he’ll answer it immediately if time permits, and if it doesn’t or you have more questions he’ll give you his personal phone number and either give you the answer or get you the answer to your questions.  Unfortunately Stu isn’t knowledgeable about water or MID at all.  He’s like a one trick pony that looks nice but won’t take you anywhere.

The sound decision to make is to get up off you chair or couch and make sure you vote for Jake Wenger.

 

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