Eye On Modesto

Thoughts and observations about Modesto and Stanislaus County

Archive for the tag “Nick Blom”

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 Watches, Ball Four Called on Water Rate Increase

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

By Emerson Drake

We’ve attended some very strange MID meetings but the wrangling of today’s meeting ranks right at the top.  The discussion topic was the water rate increase of 10% max. and the farmers’ water allotment of 36 inches for this year.  Extensive discussion had taken place in prior meetings and most MID watchers believed this vote was a no-brainer slam dunk.

But as usual just when you think you have a hand on the  issue, reality smack you in the face. First Glen Wild mistakenly put forth the idea the Citizens Water Committee, which has been looking into potential system upgrades believed necessary to our canal system, was going to make rate recommendations too.  Board President Nick Blom pointed out the Committee wasn’t there to make current rate increase suggestions. Director Paul Warda, a walnut grower,  made a motion to support both staff recommendations as is. But surprisingly, this was met with silence.  The recalcitrant coalition of Directors Tom Van Groningen and Glen Wild, who have been consistent  in their opposition to anything the majority of the directors try to accomplish, were doing a silent version of whistling and looking around while the President was waiting for a second. Another  example of their ongoing attitude came later when Paul Warda made a motion to pass the small consent calender.  He was again met with silence prompting him to ask if he had “pissed someone off.”

The dynamic duo of Van Groningen and Wild, who had been in control of the MID Board for all of all of 2012, lost control in January, when Nick Blom became President and Larry Byrd became Vice President with the support of Paul Warda. But recently they’ve become like a teenagers sulking when they don’t get their way and making mischief.

Because of behind the scene maneuvering, Director Byrd remained silent instead of seconding Warda’s motion 0n the water rate increase and allotments.  So NOTHING happened.  Unbelievable but true.  After the meeting none of the Directors wanted to address the issue.

Could Tom Van Groningen and Glen Wild  be attempting to create an issue for anyone running for these two lame duck’s seats?  A straw argument since they refused to even vote for the 10% increase.

Another question that came up was why MID spends ratepayer money to fund publications which run fluff pieces on politicians in Modesto. Can it be the $1,000 contributions given to Van Groningen and Wild are being repaid to the Chamber of Commerce by buying ads in magazines that support candidates of the Chamber’s choice?  In Modesto politics one hand often washes the other.  We have consistently  made  inquires to find out how MID decides to spend our money but so far we are being met with silence.

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.

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