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Mesa Water District: Was $290,000 PR Consultant Worth It?

Mesa Water District: Was $290,000 PR Consultant Worth It?

By John Earl
Surf City Voice

Amidst much recent criticism in the press, the Mesa Water District‘s elaborate public relations program, along with its “branding” effort in particular, seems to have backfired (read here and here).

Since Fiscal Year 2011, Mesa’s public relations or “communications” annual budget has expanded from about $400,000 to a projected $1.4 million for FY 2014—with about $3.8 million spent since FY 2011.

One consulting firm in particular, Laer Pearce & Associates, had a strong influence on Mesa Water’s public relations approach in the past several years, especially its branding program, and rests at the center of the recent controversy.

Today the Surf City Voice begins a daily presentation of invoices from that contract which had an end cost of $209,141.40. Consulting contracts are not on Mesa Water’s website.

Looking at Mesa Water District’s contract with LP&A invoice by invoice, was it worth the price?

The answer depends on Mesa Water’s (vs. the public’s?) priorities and needs as well as the quality of the assigned work. In the following weeks, as the reader goes through the LPA invoices that Mesa Water paid, he or she can decide if the money was wisely spent or not.

LP&A started working for Mesa Water in April, 2008. In September, 2009, Paul Shoenberger, formerly a member of Mesa’s board of directors, was appointed general manager.

The contract between LPA and Mesa Water came out to roughly 1095 hours of work or 27 weeks of work at 40 hours per week if you only calculate for the lower range of the $265 – $350 per hour that LPA charged.

That would come out to a rate of $508,000 per years for the same work that Mesa Water Communications Manager Stacy Taylor–who has over 20 years of professional experience, including running her own public relations firm, theoretically could have done under a salary of $194,000 per year, including benefits.

Of the $290,141.40 paid by Mesa Water to LPA, $152,709.73 was spent on its recently terminated (re) branding program, which included nearly $29,000 spent on preparation for the District’s 50th anniversary celebration, another special VIP private party paid for with additional ratepayers’ money — in the same vein as the controversial $50,000 private party the District threw in March to celebrate completion of its so-called Reliability Facility (previously Colored Water Treatment Facility).

Laer Pearce Invoice

Work report from the first invoice to Mesa Water from Laer Pearce & Associates

The first invoice, #7598, is from April 11, 2008, to September Sept. 10, 2008. The bill is $3,450, mostly for “Meetings, Consultation and Project Support.” The Monthly Activity Report shows that the total budgeted for the “project” was $51,100 with $47,650 remaining. Also, the report notes, “$54,735 in additional funds were also proposed. The final budget yet to be determined.”

Here’s what Mesa Water, then named Mesa Consolidated Water District, got for its $3,450:

  • Attended 2/23 and 8/25 meetings at Mesa with Lee Pearl [Mesa Water's general manager at that time], Coleen Monteleone, Amanda Gavin and Adam Probolsky to discuss outreach and survey strategy.
  • Reviewed proposed survey questions from Adam Probolsky and comments from Board and staff; provided comments; prepared list of additional questions for the team’s consideration.
  • Researched and drafted memo on potential award opportunities available to Mesa
  • Sent chart of local water district rates to team with comments.
  • Discussion with Coleen Monteleone about moving forward with initial elements of outreach plan.

Click the photo thumbnail above to read the work report in detail.

For balance, the reader/ratepayer can read Laer Pearce’s justification of Mesa Water’s contract with his firm (here).

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Mesa Water Vs. the Media: 13 Possible Reasons Why

Mesa Water Vs. the Media: 13 Possible Reasons Why

By John Earl
Surf City Voice

On March 14, 2013, Mesa Water District’s board of directors passed 5 – 0 a press credentialing policy. That policy is designed to tightly control media access to public functions, like the recent VIP private $50,000 party that the agency threw for itself at ratepayers’ expense. In my public speech to the board on that evening, I speculated as to the reasons for Mesa Water’s new obsession with creating a draconian press control policy. To supplement my views expressed that night, I offer the following 13 additional, specific, possible reasons for that obsession.

  1. New Mesa Water Press Credential Policy Weeds Out Journalists and Terrorists
  2. Mesa Water District: Vanity Leads to Questionable Media Consulting Fees at Ratepayers’ Expense
  3. Mesa Water District: ‘Plz Don’t Circulate this Story!’ And Director Fisler Gets Even
  4. Huntington Beach Mayor Proposes Coastal Commission Reject of Poseidon Desalination Permit
  5. A REBUTTAL TO POSEIDON RESOURCES’ ‘FACT vs. FICTION’ FLYER
  6. Bad Branding: Mesa Water District’s Marketing Scheme Backfires
  7. ‘Nowaterdeal’: Desal Plant Opponents Will Reach Out to Thousands of Orange County Voters
  8. Can the Municipal Water District of Orange County Find A Reason to Exist?
  9. Commentary: Mesa Water Drops Fiduciary Duties as Ratepayers Pick Up the Tab
  10. Get Desal Permits Quickly by Coordinating Early & Designing a Good Project, State Panelists Say
  11. Election Sob Story: Mesa Water Directors Plot to Remove Trudy Ohlig-Hall from Office
  12. Does Mesa Water Take Your Comments Seriously? Yes, to Your Face – No, Behind Your Back
  13. Interview with Mesa Water’s Paul Shoenberger on CalDesal

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New Mesa Water Press Credential Policy Weeds Out Journalists and Terrorists

New Mesa Water Press Credential Policy Weeds Out Journalists and Terrorists

By John Earl
Surf City Voice

Mesa Water District isn’t just building colored water treatment facilities and rebranding itself or building up huge cash surpluses by raising water rates, as reported in recent press accounts, including in the Surf City Voice.

It’s also doing its part in the war against terrorism, and controlling the media and deciding which journalists are “credible” and “factual”, not the usual job of government in a democracy, is apparently part of Mesa Water’s strategy.

That’s what a small audience of public citizens learned last March 14 at a meeting of the water district’s five-member all-male board of directors.

Clueless directors accidentally use shovels to point to exact location of new water treatment facility. Photo from Mesa Water website.

Clueless directors accidentally use shovels to point to exact location of new water treatment facility. Photo from Mesa Water website.

The meeting occurred the day after a nearly $50,000 ratepayer funded private party held early in the day at Mesa Water’s so-called Water Reliability Facility (formerly the Colored Water Treatment Facility) for about 150 VIP guests, including other water buffaloes, consultants, water industry CEOs, local politicians and family or friends of directors and staff.

The new anti-terrorism program falls under Mesa Water’s new press credentialing policy, which was approved unanimously by the board but had already gone through a dry run at the VIP event.

That event was previewed as a possible illegal use of public funds in a Surf City Voice story (here) two days before it occured.

The new policy requires that journalists who cover Mesa Water’s various outreach activities, like the VIP event, be accredited by the agency first. The standards are strict, carefully designed to maximize media control by Mesa Water and the amount of favorable media coverage for the district’s policies and projects.

Some examples of the convoluted, Stalinist, and probably unconstitutional policy, which was passed by the board March 14:

  • Journalists will be given credentials “on a case-by-case basis, taking into consideration such factors as: the nature of the Mesa Water activity; the outlet’s editorial focus, influence, news credibility, and reach…”
  • Credentialed journalists must present their credentials to any Mesa Water representative upon request;
  • Reporters who want to record the event must get prior approval and “must be accompanied by Mesa Water staff or have prior approval from Mesa Water Communications Department.”
  • Writers for online media must represent websites that provide “credible, factual, and original editorial news coverage…”
  • Writers for personal blogs and websites cannot get credentials.

There’s more to the two-part application, which, it says, must be filled out seven days before, but representatives for already favored (corporate) media, the Register, Daily Pilot, and Orange County radio station KOCI (which is sponsored by Mesa Water with a $13,000 contract that guarantees favorable mentions, according to a Register story), weren’t held to the new standard, since it hadn’t been passed by the board and was used as a guideline, according to Denise Garcia, executive assistant to General Manager Paul Shoenberger.

Mesa Water publicity photo exposes inner workings of water treatment facility to potential terrorist reporters

Mesa Water publicity photo exposes inner workings of water treatment facility to potential terrorist reporters

This reporter did not apply for a credential due to the principle that news content should not be determined by government officials. Also, Taylor already was familiar with my water journalism, no small part of it critical of Mesa Water, which spent hundreds, maybe thousands, of ratepayer dollars to study and to contain it.

My request to enter the grounds of the Mesa Water Reliability Treatment VIP event was denied on the spot, of course, by Taylor, who claimed that I was being excluded because:

“It’s a private event. Invite only. And this is for the supporters of the project, the people that have partnered with us to get this project built. So this is a celebratory day for industry partners and supporters of Mesa Water. We did have a couple of public events prior to this and you’re certainly welcome to come any time by appointment.”

Taylor repeatedly pointed out that I was welcome for a private tour by appointment. But the whole point of my being there, obviously, was to cover that event, which was not only paid for by ratepayers ($49,650) but was also sponsored for at least $5,550 by various water industry corporations, including Poseidon Resources, that have a potential financial interest with Mesa Water.

Knowing ahead of time that I would not be allowed to enter the event—in fact, sources at Mesa Water claimed that staff had a code word they were supposed to communicate to each other if I showed up—I called board president James Fisler to ask for one of the five guest passes he had been given by Mesa.

Then Fisler attacked my preview story of the VIP event as “so inaccurate” and said, “I just don’t know about you, John.”

Fisler was partly right.

As I noted the same day in a correction/retraction (here), the story had inaccurately stated that General Manager Paul Shoenberger had exceeded his authority to spend ratepayers’ money on the private VIP party.  But the rest of the story, that the event appeared to be a misuse of public funds, stands correct, I pointed out.

But Fisler was angry at me for other reasons, not related to inaccuracy, because I didn’t write about what he perceived to be Mesa Water’s great accomplishments, like its triple-A bond rating—the result of increased water rates and a $22 million rainy-day stash of cash with plans to double that amount.

The VIP event wasn’t a personal use of funds, he said, and, no, he won’t give me one of his five invitations because “I don’t like what you write.” Then he retracted that reason and said I wouldn’t get an invitation because the invitations are for his friends. Besides, “the flag [thing] bothered me,” a reference to my decision not to stand for the pledge of allegiance at water board meetings.

At the March 14 board meeting, Fisler explained why he supported the media credential program.

“I think that we have a very dynamic communications department outreach,” he said. “And we will be having events in the future and it’s very important that we have a process in place to control who is on property.”

The press credential rules do not prevent reporters from filming, like I was doing at that very meeting, he said. “This is about events where we are controlling the size of the crowd, perhaps, or a list of invitees. And I think it’s a good policy to have.”

Then, Director Shawn Dewane took Fisler’s reasoning a huge step further, citing national security as another reason for Mesa Water’s new press credential policy. “Critical water infrastructure is controlled under federal law called Presidential Homeland Security Directive Number 5,” he said.

Mesa Water District webpage photo (taken from time lapse video) could fall into the wrong hands.

This Mesa Water District webpage photo (taken from time lapse video) could fall into the wrong hands.

“Water infrastructure projects fall under the directive,” he continued, “and it is in the best interests on the public at large that people are generally not allowed to walk around public infrastructure projects like this [MWRF] and photograph critical public infrastructure facilities and be able to display them however they might and broadcast that around the world. I believe that the District discussed this several years ago and that this policy is in compliance with that.”

Actually, Directive Number 5 says nothing about protecting national security by excluding journalists from lavish parties thrown for water district officials and their friends, but says that the federal government will help state and local authorities “manage domestic incidents by establishing a single, comprehensive national incident management system.”

Dewane’s grandiose concern for preventing a terrorist attack at the Mesa Water Reliability Facility contrasts with all the photos and video images of the MWRF that clutter the agency’s website (see photos on this page)—for all the world’s would-be terrorists to see—and the Facebook photo of the testosterone saturated Dewane himself aiming what looks like an AK 47 at, one presumes, imaginary journalists or other likely terrorists.

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Mesa Water District: Vanity Leads to Questionable Media Consulting Fees at Ratepayers’ Expense

Mesa Water District: Vanity Leads to Questionable Media Consulting Fees at Ratepayers’ Expense

By John Earl
Surf City Voice

The Mesa Water District spent hundreds, if not thousands of dollars preparing its general manager and communications manager for a thirty minute interview with this reporter and researching my background, according to invoices obtained by the Surf City Voice under the Public Records Act.

The invoices are only four from a total of 30 received by Mesa Water from the consulting firm of Laer Pearce Associates between October, 2008 and December, 2012 for “branding” and general public relations and marketing assistance. But they help show the District’s obsession with its public image ever since Paul Shoenberger became its general manager in 2009 and hired Stacy Taylor as its communications manager in 2010.

That obsession became a costly exercise in vanity paid for by Mesa Water’s ratepayers.

Laer Pearce Associates invoice report

Laer Pearce Associates invoice report. Click once or twice to enlarge.

In chronological order, the first invoice (7976), for billing period Dec. 1 to Dec. 31, 2011, under “Media Relations”, states, “Attended 12/9 meeting with Paul and Stacy to discuss Surf City Voice interview request; drafted responses to questions submitted by reporter; worked with Taylor to help coordinate interview.”

Also under Media Relations:

  • Briefed Stacy on potential upcoming KOCE interview request; discussed strategy.
  • Prepared District messaging regarding ocean desalination.
  • Drafted quote and identified photos for Water Operator magazine inquiry.
  • Reviewed OC Register, Daily Pilot and local news blogs for issues pertinent to Mesa Water; provided recommendations as necessary.

Other categories were Collateral, Event Support, Branding, Community Outreach (no billings), and Website.

True to form for most of the LPA invoices, Invoice #7976 bills $4,500.00 on Media Relations of the $5,630.20 bill total, but does not show a detailed hourly breakdown for each subcategory of work, so there is no way of knowing how much time was spent researching the Surf City Voice or other news services or how much it cost per hour (when asked to explain the incomplete billing procedures, Taylor did not respond).

Likewise, Invoice #7982 (Jan. 1 – Jan. 31, 2012) lists $3,610.00 billed for Media Relations of a total bill of $8,162.00:

  • Attended 1/4 meeting with Paul and Stacy to prepare for Surf City Voice Interview; drafted bullet-point messages for Paul’s use during the interview; prepared press release following the interview recapping the discussion.
  • Drafted memo on potential social media opportunities
  • Reviewed OC Register, Daily Pilot and local news blogs for issues pertinent to Mesa Water; provided recommendations as necessary.

Invoice #8009 April 1 – April 30, 2012), however, is more detailed. It bills $318.00 for Media Relations out of a total bill of $8,842.90 and breaks it down in detail:

  • Meeting with Stacy at WACO to discuss Surf City Voice: 0.50hrs/$265/hr for $132.00
  • Researched reporters and contact info for Stacy: 0.70 hrs $265/hr for $185.50
  • For professional services rendered: 1.20 hrs/total $318.00

Invoice #8027 (June 1 – June 30, 2012) lists $220.00 spent on Media Relations, $132.50 for reviewing a Surf City Voice interview with Paul Shoenberger (here) and $87.00 (at $350/hr) for only reading a commentary by Director Fred Bockmiller published in the OC Register.

The Surf City Voice interview (here) that LPA helped Shoenberger and Taylor prepare for was conducted in January of 2012 and subsequently published in May, 2012, and apparently raised a lot of concern before and after it was published, as a series of emails reveal (see sidebar).

The invoices represent but a fraction of the total $290,141.40 that the district paid LPA for an ongoing contract that ended in December, but they illustrate the type of services provided that, arguably, were unnecessary or could have been provided at far less cost by Mesa’s communications manager, Stacy Taylor, whose $194,000 salary is already relatively high, according to a recent story in the OC Register.

Laer Pearce Associates invoice reportHourly pay rates charged to Mesa Water by LPA ranged from $265 per hour for work by LPA associate Ben Boyce to $350 for LPA president Laer Pearce.  Assuming – only to simplify calculations – that LPA charged the lower rate, LPA did a total of 1095 hours of work or 27 weeks of work at 40 hours per week.

That would come out to a rate of $508,000 per year for the same work that Taylor, who has over 20 years experience as a senior-level communications professional, could do or that her new assistant, Ann Moreno, could do in a salary range between $70,000 to $96,000.

Pearce objects to that comparison. By email, he wrote, “I couldn’t disagree more with your conclusion that there is any validity at all in the way you manipulated our billing rate,” he wrote. “To test it, ask yourself that if we billed someone $500 for a small task, would you say we could have billed them $400,000, based on our billing rate, if it had been a really big task? It illuminates nothing because it’s not based in reality.”

Recent news stories in the Voice of OC, the Register, Daily Pilot and the Surf City Voice, have questioned Mesa Water’s increased cash reserves and public relations spending budget in particular.

Starting Friday, the Surf City Voice will periodically publish LPA’s paid invoices to the Mesa Water District in full as well as other documents related to the Mesa Water District’s Strategic Communications Plan, so that ratepayers and the general public might better determine how their public water agency is being managed.

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Mesa Water District: ‘Plz Don’t Circulate this Story!’ And Director Fisler Gets Even

Mesa Water District: ‘Plz Don’t Circulate this Story!’ And Director Fisler Gets Even

 

By John Earl
Surf City Voice

Editor’s note: See related story, here.

Getting thirty-minutes of interview time in January 2012 with the Mesa Water District’s general manager, Paul Shoenberger, wasn’t easy.

Spontaneous interviews with Mesa Water staff or members of the board of directors are discouraged whenever possible by Communications Manager, Stacy Taylor. Potentially tough or touchy media questions must be submitted to her in advance so that she can provide public answers that fit Mesa Water’s “unified voice” template.

At Taylor’s insistence, general interview questions were submitted in advance, but with my stipulation that there was no guarantee that I would limit myself to the exact wording of those questions during the interview or would not ask follow up questions.

The interview took place in Mesa Water’s executive committee room and was strictly limited to 30 minutes in the presence of both Shoenberger and Taylor and was recorded by both parties.

The main topic of the interview was CalDesal, the secretive non-profit organization that Mesa Water started—with ratepayers’ money—several years ago—and still helps finance with free labor and services even though CalDesal supposedly went its own private way—to promote ocean desalination projects and the desalination industry.

Contrary to California’s open meetings law, the general public is not allowed at CalDesal meetings nor is it generally given meeting agendas and minutes. Financial documents, the “990″ forms that non-profits are required to disclose, are also denied repeatedly to this reporter by CalDesal’s president, Shawn Dewane, who is also a Mesa Water board member.

James Fisler

A cheap shot of Mesa Water’s Director James Fisler at a CalDesal mixer. Photo: provided by Mesa Water District

At the time, I didn’t know that the entire process was being directed by a public relations consulting firm, Laer Pearce Associates, that charged Mesa’s ratepayers between $265 – $350 per hour and that hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars would be paid to LPA to prepare Shoenberger for the interview, on top of what was paid to Mesa’s communications manager, Stacy Taylor, who gets close to $200,000 a year including benefits.

Emails acquired under the Public Records Act later would reveal how cynically manipulative Shoenberger, Taylor and LPA had been and that Mesa Water officials are motivated more by vanity than a desire to objectively inform the ratepayers.

Before the interview, their goal was to limit and control the questions as much as possible. After publication, the main goal was to contain the interview and to marginalize this reporter, while violating copyright law (republishing the story without permission), even though LPA president Laer Pearce and Taylor both agreed that the edited interview was fair and accurate.

An email from Taylor to Mesa Water directors and staff, and to LPA, for example, stated, in full:

  • Greetings: The attached story ran on the Surf City Voice blog on May 28, 2012. I purposely did not share the link to the post & removed all Surf City Voice links from the story. If you wish to share this, please do so using the attached instead of going to the website. I have also pasted the story below. So far, I found that Aquafornia (blog) has posted this story & it will probably be posted by OC Voice soon (I will let you know). Also, there is only one reply to this story as follows below the story. All in all, I think this turned out as good as can be expected from this type of media opportunity.

In another, earlier, email, Taylor wrote, “Plz (sic) don’t circulate the story link I sent you since doing so will add to its ‘popularity’ on the web (each click on the link will increase the story’s web ranking). Instead, I will capture the content for sharing. Please feel free to contact me any time re. this.”

Curiously, Ron Wildermuth, Director of Public Information and Conservation at West Basin Water District where Shoenberger had served for years as assistant general manager, was also included in the emails. “Good job,” he wrote to Shoenberger, “This is about as hostile and biased an interviewer I have seen in a while. You stuck to your points well.”

But Pearce praised the interview story.

“John Earl admits he is not objective, but insists he writes objectively,” he said. “On is (sic) story, I have to agree. He let his biases show, but told the CalDesal and Mesa Water stories fairly. Of course it helped that Paul tied everything to Mission and was not swayed off the core messages of the district.”

Although Pearce misunderstood my theory on journalistic objectivity (namely, that any reporter who claims to be without bias is either deluded or a liar, and that acknowledgement of that bias first and foremost to self helps facilitate honest, in-depth reporting), the objectivity he shows in his review of my story is also praiseworthy, despite the excessive cost to Mesa Water’s ratepayers.

Mesa Water Director (and current board president) James Fisler, was both complimentary and critical:

  • Very good job Paul! No dodging, just telling it like it is and sticking to Mesa’s message and priority of providing water. Good questions by Earl and good answers by you. Shows Mesa Water is on top of it’s (sic) mission. Earl’s only attempted “gotcha” of people at mixers is a poor attempt. Business and chambers have mixers all the time. They are very important parts of getting business done and learning new things by networking. Again, great job.

Fisler was referring to my photos of him and other directors at a CalDesal mixer-meeting attended by about 100 water officials, consultants and representatives of the desalination industry, but nobody from the general public.

In another email later that day, Fisler added:

  • “…If it was supposed to be a hit piece or something it failed miserably. I need to get a picture of Earl eating a donut at WACO.”

Fisler was expressing a grudge against this reporter that he still holds to this day. Writing under the pen name “nogrowther” on the Orange Juice blog, he lashed out at me over a year ago for publishing the detailed objections of Irvine Ranch Water district director, Peer Swan, to the Poseidon ocean desalination project proposed for Huntington Beach.

Fisler bitterly complained that I didn’t say the pledge of allegiance at water Municipal Water District of Orange County (MWDOC) meetings, that I was unkempt in appearance and that I liked to eat the donuts that are left out at MWDOC meetings for water buffaloes like him.

Eventually, Fisler’s “gotcha” wish came true, about a year later at the recent (May) joint-meeting of MWDOC and the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California (MET) held at the MWDOC board room in Fountain Valley.

I was sitting in one of the plebeian seats at the back of the room, directly opposite of the speaker’s podium, next to Debbie Cook, watching a presentation on MWDOC’s $120,000 video screen by MET’s general manager, Jeffrey Kightlinger about the Sacramento Delta. We need to spend billions of dollars fixing the Delta levies and to build a big double-barreled tunnel to import more water to southern California, he said.

Kightlinger was predicting the disastrous consequences to California’s economy of a Delta broken to pieces by a 100-year earthquake – coming any day now. Suffering from acute sleep deprivation, I desperately walked over to the refreshment table to help myself to a glazed twister.

“Anything to stay awake,” I thought. “Must…help…save…the…Delta.”

Out of the 100 or so water buffaloes present, only Fisler seemed unable to pay attention to the important message and had become obsessed, as I lifted the doughnut, with watching me like a hawk from one of the big black MWDOC directors’ seats behind the dais.

Smelling blood, the upcoming Delta catastrophe apparently gone from his mind, Fisler approached me.

Standing over me just a few feet away, dour faced, he shyly snapped a couple of photos of me holding my doughnut on a plate and kindly offering it up to him. He still didn’t laugh or even smile.Then he walked back to his seat where, perhaps, his attention returned to more important matters.

One other interesting tidbit found in the exchange of emails is a missive from Poseidon’s VP, Scott Maloni, an important member of Mesa Water’s inner circle of close friends. Always angry over my critical reporting of the dreamed of but still elusive Huntington Beach ocean desalination plant over the years, he refuses to answer my media questions and long ago banned other Poseidon CEOs from doing so. In his email to Shoenberger, he wrote:

“Paul – As I’ve told Kevin Hunt [former general manager at MWDOC], John Earl is not a journalist; you don’t owe him ‘transparency.’ Nothing good will ever come out of engaging him and he’ll never be someone you can trust or befriend. Best to ignore him or have your staff handle him.”

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Posted in Headlines, Mesa, MWD, MWDOC, Poseidon, Water Boarding1 Comment

Bad Branding: Mesa Water District’s Marketing Scheme Backfires

Bad Branding: Mesa Water District’s Marketing Scheme Backfires

By John Earl
Surf City Voice
Analysis and commentary

Lately, the people who act like they own the Mesa Water District, namely its five-member board of directors, general manager, and communications manager, have been learning a hard lesson in democracy; that, no matter how much of the ratepayers’ money they spend to make themselves look good or how cleverly they spin their “unified message” to shield themselves from transparency by the water agency’s real owners (the ratepayers), their days of reckoning will come.

Since late 2008, Mesa Water has spent over $290,000 on a consulting firm that charged $265-$350 per hour, according to invoices, to help the agency create a new name and logo for itself (a process called re-branding) in order to “enhance Mesa Water’s visibility and positive recognition” and to create a “unified look and voice” among directors and staff.

Since Fiscal Year 2011, Mesa has budgeted $3,831,232 through FY 2014 ($1.4 million for FY 2014 is tentative) and has already spent an estimated $1,053,465 on its Strategic Communication Plan.

Final selection for Mesa Water District's new logo. Photo: Public Record

Final selection for Mesa Water District’s new logo. Photo: Public Record

Besides that, there is Mesa Water’s stash of rainy day cash, $22 million currently—funded by a 25 percent rate increase over five years that started in 2009—with plans to almost double that by 2016.

Against that backdrop, Mesa’s days of reckoning started to arrive about a month after its communications manager, Stacy Taylor, threw a private bash for VIPs (regular ratepayers not welcomed), meaning other water district officials, consultants, selected politicians, industry CEOs, and personal friends or family of Mesa’s directors and carefully selected members of the corporate press.

This reporter was specifically banned from the event for reasons that I will report on later. But I previously reported about the event as a likely illegal misuse of public funds (here) and I stood outside of the entrance taking photos and doing video interviews.

The private VIP party was to celebrate the recently completed $20 million upgrade of the Colored Water Treatment Facility now re-branded as the Mesa Water Reliability Facility. As Mesa’s PR team expected, the Daily Pilot and OC Register dutifully wrote glowing reports about the facility (here and here) without a peep about the arguably illegal misuse of $50,000 plus in public funds that were used for the private event.

Logo considered by Mesa Water District. Public Records

Logo considered by Mesa Water District. Public Records

To Mesa’s re-branding crew, the event was the successful result of years or work and hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of Strategic Plan put to the test. Everything had been planned perfectly, right down to the invitations, valet parking, refreshments, musical entertainment and, most important, the press coverage.

What could go wrong now?

After all, the Daily Pilot’s coverage of Mesa Water never amounted to more than slightly rewritten Mesa press releases, exactly what you would expect from a local “throw away” paper.

And the Register, exposed by the Surf City Voice on several occasions (here and here) for its conflicted coverage of the proposed Poseidon desalination plant (a pet project of General Manager Paul Shoenberger and the Mesa board of directors), would publish the occasional perfunctory article on rate increases, grand jury reports, pension and salary issues, but had paid scant attention to Mesa Water’s numerous transparency problems.

But a local activists (read here), growing in number, are upset by the lack of transparency among Orange County water districts in general and in particular the dogmatic support by some of those districts, including Mesa Water, for the Poseidon ocean desalination plant proposed for Huntington Beach. They have been reaching out to voters, local elected officials and the media with their concerns.

They were inspired by the persistent watchdog activism of former Huntington Beach mayor Debbie Cook and the late Fountain Valley mayor Gus Ayer. And many of them resent the slanted and sparse news coverage by the Register and Pilot given to water management issues.

Logo considered by Mesa Water District. Public Record

Logo considered by Mesa Water District. Public Record

The Surf City Voice regularly covers “water boarding” in Orange County, including Mesa Water, and has been monitoring the branding issue since last summer when it was briefly brought up within a story (here) about attempts to discipline former Mesa director Trudy Ohlig-Hall.

Investigative reporters Nick Gerda of the Voice of OC online and David Nazar on Real Orange on PBS SoCal have also paid extra attention to water boarding shenanigans overlooked by the Register and Pilot. Earlier this month Gerda (here, here, and here) and Nazar (here) were first to report in-depth about Mesa’s huge cash build-up and its excessive PR spending.

Then the Register, trying hard to come out of a post 2008 recession/depression slump and to reverse its reputation as a do-nothing paper, published reporter Mike Reicher’s story on April 12 ridiculing the MWRF party and exposing Mesa Water’s branding program.

Noting the event’s over all costs, including $1,500 worth of cookies shaped like water drops, Reicher wrote that, “Last month’s unveiling of a revamped water filtration facility is just a small example of Mesa Water District’s lavish spending on marketing and communications.”

Reicher’s story pointed out that Mesa’s PR/marketing budget is ridiculously high compared to other similar sized or even much larger Orange County water districts. Mesa’s extra cash reserve and the relatively high salary paid Mesa’s Communications Manager, Stacy Taylor, were also reported and the usefulness of the branding program was questioned.

Logo considered by Mesa Water for "rebranding." Public Record

Logo considered by Mesa Water for “rebranding.” Public Record

What really got the latest round of extended news coverage of Mesa Water out of the starting gate, however, was a guest commentary published (here) March 27 by Jay Litvak, husband of Glynis Litvak who had recently resigned from her position in Mesa’s finance department amidst a grievance process she had officially started against her boss, Paul Shoenberger.

Considering Mesa Water’s strenuous efforts to raise its PR profile in the water community and to make itself look good, as well as the massive build up of unrestricted and non designated cash, Litvak wondered if the agency was trying to make itself look good to a potential buyer—which could lead to its privatization and immunity from California’s open meeting law, known as the Brown Act.

The question stirred up a hornet’s nest and got a quick response from readers, including a defensive response (here) from Howard Hull, a political crony of Mesa Water’s current president, James Fisler, but it has yet to be answered by Mesa Water or the press.

Litvak’s commentary in the Pilot was an open invitation for the paper to be the first to expose Mesa Water’s budgetary peccadilloes in-depth. The Voice of OC and the Register took Litvak’s bait but the Pilot remained grounded, however.

Instead, the Pilot’s coverage of Mesa Water’s latest scandal (here) was reduced to a roundup of the superior news reporting provided by its competitors, a roundup that nonetheless revealed the paranoid and tortured rationalizations of Fisler in reaction to Mesa’s critics.

Mesa’s critics, he told the Pilot, come from a “small circle,” half of whom are outsiders. As for the district’s aversion to coming into the digital age of transparency with video and audio streaming of its meetings, Fisler must have had an incredulous facial expression when he said: “We don’t get any feedback from that. I don’t think we grow as fast from that.”

When a government body resorts to blaming outside agitators, it’s a sure sign of desperation and disconnect from its constituents. .

Native American entertainment provided at Mesa Water's private party, paid for by $50,000 of ratepayers' money. Photo: Mesa Water website.

Native American entertainment provided at Mesa Water’s private party, paid for by $50,000 of ratepayers’ money. Photo: Mesa Water website.

And Civics 101 tells us that the more hidden a government body is from public view (video and audio streaming could only broaden that view) the more likely it is to abuse its power.

Allow a government to stockpile large piles of unneeded and unrestricted cash behind a veil of secrecy – fortified with a perpetual propaganda machine – and it’s only a matter of time before the Bell starts ringing, and I don’t mean the Liberty Bell.

The main architect of Mesa Water’s risky quest for public greatness and influence is its General Manager, Paul Shoenberger. But Shoenberger almost always had five eager accomplices, without whom he could not have proceeded.

So, if Mesa Water’s multi-million dollar PR makeover continues to backfire, expect its elected herd of water buffaloes to do what any other semi-respectable elected political body would do to save itself– find a scapegoat and send him packing.

The way things are going now, Paul Shoenberger should probably consider himself re-branded.

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Retraction and Correction: Mesa Water Spent Public Money on Private Event, But GM Did Not Exceed His Authority

Retraction and Correction: Mesa Water Spent Public Money on Private Event, But GM Did Not Exceed His Authority

By John Earl
Surf City Voice

My story published yesterday (Mesa Water’s Celebration: Misuse of Public Funds?), about Mesa Water’s plan for a private celebration utilizing public money, contained one very important error: it strongly implied that the Mesa Water board had not approved of $49,650 in labor and materials costs for the event.

The implication drawn from that incorrect assertion was that General Manager Paul Shoenberger had exceeded his authority in funding the event. In fact, he was carrying out the orders of the Mesa Water Board of Directors which approved the expenditure of funds for the private celebration at its Nov. 27 board meeting.

My incorrect assertion was based on my interpretation of remarks made by Director Fred Bockmiller in a phone interview and printed in the article. Bockmiller told me that the board had not voted to make the event private and then said “I don’t believe there was ever a vote on it being an event.”

In fact, the event was listed is listed in the official minutes of the Nov. 27 board meeting as a “VIP event” and the board did vote to fund it 3-1-1, with Director James Atkinson voting no and Director Trudy Ohlig-Hall absent.

In my late night rush to finish the story by early morning, I should have slowed down long enough to double check a key element of the story. It was a careless error on my part. I sincerely apologize to the Mesa Board of Directors, to General Manager Paul Shoenberger in particular, and to all my readers.

The other key element of the story—that public funds were used to fund a private event, creating at least the appearance that Mesa Water had broken state law—still stands.

Sincerely,
John Earl
Editor/Surf City Voice

Posted in Headlines, Water, Water Boarding2 Comments

Mesa Water’s Celebration: Misuse of Public Funds? Ratepayers Pay Thousands for ‘Private’ Event

Mesa Water’s Celebration: Misuse of Public Funds? Ratepayers Pay Thousands for ‘Private’ Event

By John Earl
Surf City Voice

Editor’s note: Part of this story has been retracted and corrected. Please see that retraction and correction (here) before reading this story. Thank you.

The Mesa Water District Board of Directors will throw a $49,650 VIPs (and selected press) only “private ceremony” to celebrate the completion of two years of renovations on its Colored Water Treatment Facility, according to an official announcement tucked deep within the district’s official website and a purchase order obtained by the Voice.

But the closed event suggests that either the board has trouble controlling its general manager, Paul Shoenberger—who is the everyday boss of the district but is supposed to follow board policies—or in complying with California laws that prohibit using public funds for personal purposes, or both.

The $21 million facility—started in 2000—removes an amber tint, caused by an ancient redwood forest, from part of Orange County’s groundwater basin. But the treatment has a cosmetic effect only because the water supply, despite its color, is already completely safe to drink.

The celebration, funded primarily by ratepayers, Mesa documents show, but co-sponsored by various private water industry concerns too, promises a select group of invitees to three hours of plant demonstrations, tours, Native American music, and food and beverages, as well as “recognition from notable elected officials.”

Sources inside Mesa told the Voice that Gov. Jerry Brown, Costa Mesa congressman Dana Rohrabacher and State Senator Allan Mansoor had been invited. The press release promises only a “commendation from Governor Brown and other U.S., state, and local government and water representatives,” however.

The event will be held this Wednesday from 1 – 3 p.m. at the facility, located at 1350 Gisler Avenue in Costa Mesa.

The press release brags that the facility, recently renamed Mesa Water Reliability Facility, makes Mesa Water the second water district in Orange County that doesn’t have to rely on more expensive water imported from northern California or the Colorado River.

It’s “the largest accomplishment in Mesa Water’s history since its formation in 1960,” the official press release says.

But members of the general public will not be allowed to join in the expensive celebration that they are paying for unless given a special invitation by the whim of Mesa officials.

In the spirit of old-fashioned political patronage, board members can invite five guests each.

Since the celebration is advertised by Mesa Water as a private event, however, it has at least the appearance of illegality on its face.

“The starting point for any analysis concerning the misuse of public funds begins with the principle that public funds must be expended for an authorized public purpose,” says the Office of the Attorney General of California.

But even if the event has been scheduled for a public purpose, which the PR indicates it has not, “A public official possesses only those powers that are conferred by law, either expressly or impliedly.”

The purchase order for the Colored Water Treatment Facility renovation celebration, approved by Communications Director Stacy Taylor, presumably under the consent of General Manager Shoenberger, at $49,650 (for labor and materials), exceeds GM’s spending limit—set by the board by resolution—of $25,000.

But not only didn’t the board approve of Shoenberger’s overspending his limit on the celebration, it never voted to make the event private or to even have it at all, according to Mesa Water Director Fred Bockmiller.

“It’s something that Mesa staff wanted to do,” he said. “And this is the way they wanted to roll out various roll-outs of the Colored Water Treatment Facility,” now known as the Water Reliability Facility. “I don’t believe there was ever a vote on it being an event.”

Bockmiller said that he sees nothing wrong with holding a private event paid for with public funds.

It’s not unethical, he said, and other water districts, like the Orange County Water District when it opened its ground water replenishment (sewage recycling) program, do it too.

Like at OCWD, public tours of Mesa’s Water Reliability Facility are likely to follow, he indicated. And, the press release also indicates, tours are available to the public by appointment.

Water board critic and former Huntington Beach Mayor Debbie Cook agrees with Bockmiller that other water districts act the same way, but she sees different implications from that fact.

“This board is demonstrating a reckless disregard for ratepayer money: They act in ignorance of the law, and they exercise no control over their CEO,” she told the Voice by e-mail.

Photo: Paul Shoenberger by the Surf City Voice

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“The sad part is they are just one more bad actor in the water industry.”

 

Posted in Headlines, Water Boarding4 Comments

‘Nowaterdeal’: Desal Plant Opponents Will Reach Out to Thousands of Orange County Voters

‘Nowaterdeal’: Desal Plant Opponents Will Reach Out to Thousands of Orange County Voters

By John Earl
Surf City Voice

A growing number of county ratepayers, inspired by the late Gus Ayer, and opposed to a plan by Poseidon Resources Inc. to build an ocean desalination plant in Huntington Beach, have a message for the Municipal Water District of Orange County (MWDOC) and its 28 member agencies:

No more secret negotiations or deals with Poseidon and don’t make us pay an additional $5 billion in local water bills—$8,500 per ratepayer—over the next 30 years for water that we don’t need.

Thirty-years is the time period in which the water agencies that contract with Poseidon would be required to pay for Poseidon’s desalinated water, whether it is needed or not, according to the water purchase agreement (WPA) made public by MWDOC in January.

The buyers “will agree to take (on a ‘take if delivered’ basis) [56,000] acre-feet per year of Product Water (the ‘Committed Amount’),” the WPA states. And if the buyers don’t take that amount of water, they will, “nonetheless pay Seller a per-acre foot charge to be set forth in the Contract…”

The WPA is not final, but it is the culmination of a decade-long relationship between MWDOC, its water agencies, and Poseidon.

The opposition group, heralding online as www.nowaterdeal.com, plans to spend tens-of- thousands of dollars to inform other ratepayers in high propensity voting areas of the county about Poseidon’s proposed “take or pay” contract, asking them to urge their local elected officials not to sign it.

Nowaterdeal is a coalition of members of Residents for Responsible Desal and other local ratepayers, including members of the Surfrider Foundation, League of Conservation Voters, and Orange County Coastkeepers, who at least until now had been fighting an uphill battle against Poseidon’s well financed lobbying efforts and a marketing campaign (largely unquestioned in the county’s major daily newspaper) that depicts its desalination plant as a future fallback point in case of prolonged drought or a natural disaster that would disrupt the flow of water to the public.

Poseidon would risk private investor flight without the guaranteed income, but take or pay would be risky for ratepayers if, as happened in drought drenched Australia, if the desalination plant were to sit idle due to lack of need. Currently, the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California (MWD), which sells water to MWDOC, has more surplus water stored up now (enough for 2.5 years) than ever before—testament to the ability to create backup reliability water without Poseidon.

Ocean desalination’s high maintenance and construction costs—and much higher energy costs—make it too risky, nowaterdeal says. Stuck with higher water rates and an idle desalination plant, ratepayers would fall into a rate trap. “As rates go up, people use less water” and “lower demand results in even higher rates, with fixed costs of the entire system spread over fewer units of water.”

Pimping2

Gus Ayer: MWDOC is pimping for Poseidon and should be eliminated. Photo: John Earl

The high cost-prediction is from information provided by Poseidon in the WPA and factors in conveyance and maintenance costs. With an inflation rate of 3.5 percent factored in, that means an estimated cost of $1,795 per acre foot for the desalinated water, compared to $285 per acre foot for local groundwater and $835 per acre foot for imported water, nowaterdeal says.

Acknowledging the higher cost of desalination, Poseidon VP Scott Maloni recently told the OC Register that Orange County residents have to ask, “What is the value of that reliability to them?”

But the underlying push for desalination plants along the California coast by the desalination industry and other development related business interests is not about drought relief alone, as MWDOC/MWD director Brett Barbre pointed out at a recent MWDOC committee meeting.

Barbre supports the Poseidon project and a smaller, less controversial, desalination project envisioned (but far from certain) for Dana Point in south Orange County. He also thinks that ratepayers throughout the county should have to pay for both projects on the basis that they would benefit everyone, even in water districts that say they don’t want or need the water.

“I believe that desal is not only for reliability. It’s also for growth,” he said. “And there are folks on the environmental side who don’t want any growth and they think if you don’t build water projects you can conserve your way to provide enough water for everybody. And that’s not ever going to happen.”

Although most of Poseidon’s opponents have always been concerned about the environmental effects of ocean desalination, the main focus of their current campaign is economic, while advocating for the development of proven and much cheaper water sources, including the Orange County Water District’s (OCWD) groundwater replenishment system, capturing rainwater, and conservation.

To start, the group will focus on about 50,000 voters in 14 north county cities, including Anaheim, Brea, Buena Park, La Palma, Orange, Newport Beach, Santa Ana, Seal Beach, Tustin and Westminster.

Twenty Orange County water agencies had signed non-binding letters of intent or memorandums of understanding with Poseidon to purchase, cumulatively, over 80,000 acre feet of water each year. Since those non-binding agreements expired in June, 2011, not a single agency has yet to renew.

Correction 02/05/2013: Eighteen agencies have signed Letters of Intent that have no expiration date, according to Karl Seckel, MWDOC’s acting General Manager. Those agencies, with the exception of Fullerton, are slated to participate in “working group discussions” regarding Poseidon during the 2012 fiscal year. Four other agencies are participating in working group discussions but have not signed LOIs. Participation in working group discussions is contingent upon signing a confidentiality agreement with Poseidon, but not all agencies that signed an LOI signed that agreement. The MOUs, which one presumes carried more weight, have all expired.

As Poseidon works to form an agreement with MWDOC and its member agencies, it requires all parties involved in project discussions to pledge absolute secrecy at Poseidon’s whim.

That lack of transparency and the overall elitist/exclusionary attitude at MWDOC and other OC water agencies, including their secret and arguably illegal meetings with Poseidon–all observed by a growing number of citizen spectators at water board meetings, as well as the company’s financial support of an ethically challenged hit piece in the recent Huntington Beach City Council campaign, have inspired Poseidon’s opponents, not only to challenge its political hegemony with a renewed vigor but to question the nature of Orange County water management as whole.

A temporary setback occurred for nowaterdeal when its chief strategist, former Fountain Valley mayor Gus Ayer, a master at crafting successful political campaigns in Orange County, died last week.

Earlier in the month, at a recent joint meeting of MWDOC and OCWD, Ayer praised the latter for its groundwater replenishment program and overall good management, but accused MWDOC of “mission creep” and “pimping for Poseidon.”

He also questioned whether MWDOC should exist.

“It’s time for OCWD to take a very close look at taking over these [MWDOC’s redundant] functions and eliminating MWDOC,” he said. Ayer expanded on that theme in a column written just before his death and published in the Surf City Voice.

Ayer’s untimely death saddened his colleagues but his upbeat attitude continues to motivate them.

“Gus’s last words to me were ‘Give them hell’”, recalled former Huntington Beach mayor Debbie Cook, who, during the past two years, has actively campaigned for greater transparency in water management.

“That was his way of saying that, if we don’t participate in democracy, we deserve the inevitable results. Nobody can replace our friend’s skill set, but he sparked a fire that emboldens us to carry on.”

 

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Can the Municipal Water District of Orange County Find A Reason to Exist?

Can the Municipal Water District of Orange County Find A Reason to Exist?

Editor’s note: Gus Ayer, the former mayor of Fountain Valley, was probably Orange County’s top progressive political strategist and activist. He passed away on Feb. 13, 2013. At that time he was about to unveil a major grassroots campaign to inform the county’s water ratepayers and their elected public officials that the nearly $1 billion ocean desalination plant proposed for construction in Huntington Beach was unnecessary and would cost about $5 billion extra over the next 30 years. That campaign, which he played a major role in organizing, is still underway. He submitted this column to the Surf City Voice a few days ago.

Analysis and Commentary
By Gus Ayer
Special to the Surf City Voice

Sometimes it’s fascinating to watch a public agency as it flounders around trying to find a reason to exist.

Lately, the Municipal Water District of Orange County (MWDOC) is flailing like a beached whale.

After a Brooke Edwards Stagg OC Register article exposed the secretive nature of negotiations with Poseidon Resources for “Take or Pay” contracts on January 22, MWDOC scrambled into damage control mode.

  • Their General Manager was terminated after a hastily-called special Executive Session on February 1st, and is now relegated to a back room until his contract expires a few months from now.  Meanwhile an interim General Manager takes over his duties.
  • A press release linked to the term sheet of the Poseidon’s proposed “Take-or-Pay” contracts and a report on the costs of new pipeline projects was released and posted on Poseidon’s website. Sadly, it lacks the details that would allow any accurate analysis of the long term costs of the proposed plant.
  • MWDOC  is coming under increased scrutiny as a grassroots coalition begins a major public outreach program  to advise ratepayers how much they will pay for expensive desalinated water they don’t need.
  • IRWD Director Peer Swan publicly chastised them at a recent meeting for ignoring all of the efforts that had been made on a regional level to provide for water reliability, warning that they were recklessly advocating a project that would become a “stranded asset”
  • Simmering disputes between different regions of the county threaten to erupt again, which would lead for another round of talks about cities seceding from MWDOC or just eliminating this agency and their bureaucracy.

Just What is MWDOC?

The hierarchy of Water districts can be confusing.

We pay our water bills to local water agencies, including many individual cities, independent agencies like the Irvine Ranch Water District, and even one privately owned water company, Golden State Water.

One regional agency manages our groundwater supplies (Orange County Water District).

Another super regional agency manages imported water for most of Southern California, the Metropolitan Water District, commonly known as “MET”.

Then we have MWDOC, which was established in 1951 to administer purchases of imported water from Met on behalf of smaller Orange County cities and unincorporated areas.  MWDOC’s original role role was just as a middleman between MET and 16 small cities with a population of around 80,000.  Three cities (Anaheim, Santa Ana, and Fullerton) were big enough to buy water directly from MWD.

In the boom days after World War II, MET was seeking customers to buy the water from the Colorado River Aqueduct. Orange County developers were looking for more water to meet the demands for swathes of development that would replace agriculture and ranching.

What Does MWDOC Do?

MWDOC has seven elected directors. They appoint four directors to the MET board. They share a headquarters building with the Orange County Water District in Fountain Valley.

MWDOC holds seven redundant meetings a month, each of which guarantees a $221.62 daily payment to each of its seven directors, who typically  attend all committee meetings and also receive benefits and health insurance.   Directors also travel, with a budget over $30,000 a year to attend local, state and national conferences (not including their meeting payments).  If you are one of the directors appointed to MET, you also get paid to attend MET meetings.

In a recent year one director, Director and MET rep Brett Barbre was paid $51,859 for attending 242 meetings and also cost rate-payers $17,435 for benefits, including pension and health insurance.  This wasn’t his day job. He also is a lobbyist for clients like trash-hauler Athens Services.

In an OC  Register Watchdog  http://taxdollars.ocregister.com/2010/03/05/when-brainstorming-costs-nearly-500000/52647/  article, he is described as a “political operative,”  and campaign finance records show that Barbre was paid $20,000 plus expenses for consulting on Troy Edgar’s 2012 campaign for State Assembly.

MWDOC’s Mission

In addition to doing the accounting for MET purchases and sending four people to attend meetings of MET’s 51 person board, MWDOC has struggled to expand its mission to include:

  1. Administering Water Efficiency grants for Orange County cities trying to do the bare minimum of effort under statewide mandates.
  2. A few education programs
  3. Sponsoring breakfasts, dinners and seminars where vendors, consultants and lobbyists can hobnob with elected officials, all subsidized with ratepayer funds and agency staff time.

MWDOC and Desalination

MWDOC directors seem determined to play in the world desalination: turning sea water into drinking water, although MWDOC has no construction management experience and no experience in operating water systems. We might attribute this ambition to their sense of impotence with the bigger players, boredom, or the need to justify their existence. Beware of arrogance combined with incompetence—it often leads to disastrous outcomes.

It’s unclear that MWDOC has any legal authority to undertake any efforts in this area.

Historically, the cities and water agencies that belong to MWDOC have chafed at their budgets and MWDOC’s financial management.  The underlying tensions became so high several years ago that South County agencies looked at seceding from MWDOC to form their own agency. In a settlement agreement, MWDOC committed to a new compact that made several changes,

1.)    MWDOC agreed to change the way it billed for its services to lower costs for South County agencies.

2.)    MWDOC agreed to a specific list of services that they would undertake and differentiated between Core and Choice services

3.)    MWDOC agreed to listen to South County agencies regarding appointments to the MET Board.

4.)    MWDOC agreed to reduce their bloated reserve funds.

Under this agreement it’s very clear that spending on desalination projects is listed under the Choice category, where cities have a right to participate. Although Director Brett Barbre speaks about changing what’s in each category, the actual agreement signed by the cities has no mechanism to do this. Barbre favors placing ocean desalination in the Core category, but any attempt by MWDOC to redefine Desalination projects as core projects would likely lead to renewed secession attempts or lawsuits.

Calls for Abolishing MWDOC

How many water agencies do we need, each with their own expenses for directors and their benefits, lobbyists, consultants and public relations staffs? MWDOC directors recently discussed a project to renovate the exhibits in the hallway that they share with OCWD, with a budget of $1.3 million dollars plus staff time.

The Orange County Grand Jury recommended consolidating water agencies to reduce costs and provide services more efficiently. Others have recommended that MWDOC reduce its role back to the simple accounting functions it was originally designed to achieve, with its other functions transferred to other agencies with a strong record of success, like the Orange County Water District and the Irvine Ranch Water District.

We think that’s a great idea. MWDOC has outlived its usefulness and their continued mission creep wastes the ratepayers’ dollars and creates mischief. MWDOC’s functions can easily be absorbed into other agencies and it’s time to start a process to sunset this relic of a bygone era.

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