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.