Saturday, July 4, 2009

Imperial County Grand jury report raps IID over practices

Keith Matheny • The Desert Sun • July 1, 2009

Imperial County's civil grand jury criticized the Imperial Irrigation District's management and policies in a new report.

“Our investigation has been unable to identify a clear chain of command; (and) the budgets and policies of the IID are so labyrinthine that they tend to bog down into a bureaucratic mess,” a portion of the grand jury report states.

IID officials sharply defended the agency, noting several inaccuracies in the grand jury report and calling its nonspecific allegations of corruption “sinister.”

“It's a very vague report — there's not a lot of substantive items to respond to,” said IID legal counsel Jeff Garber.

IID provides water to farmers and residents in Imperial County, as well as electricity there and to residents in eastern Coachella Valley.

About 60 percent of the agency's 145,000 energy customers are in the Coachella Valley.

The grand jury questioned whether managers and employees at IID are adequately following the direction and policies provided by the agency's elected board of directors.

The grand jury noted that IID middle managers and some employees seemed to drag their feet on some board directives “in order to wait out the terms of service of elected officials, and perhaps even allow these requests to be forgotten, rather than to act on them,” the report states.

The grand jury report called for the IID board to commit to running the agency, “rather than allowing decisions to rest with and information to filter through a single general manager who is unelected and unaccountable to stakeholders.”

IID officials took exception to this recommendation in their initial response to the grand jury report.

“The board is not elected to ‘run' the district, a task for which it is unsuited and ill-equipped to carry out,” the response states.

“The general manager, who is charged by the board to ‘run' the district, is the board's agent; in fact, he is its only employee.”

The grand jury also recommends developing a “reinvented,” externally audited annual budget that is “zeroed-out” each year and “clearly grounded in fiscally responsible computations.”

Additionally, the grand jury recommended IID limit its use of outside consultants with “close ties to competing water agencies,” and to reinvest in “local expertise.”

The report also called for an Imperial County Civil Grand Jury review of IID every year, and asked for community members to come forward with relevant information for the grand jury regarding IID.

In its response, IID officials strongly objected to the use of the word “corruption” in the grand jury report, without any specifics on what was considered corrupt practices.

“If evidence exists of corruption at IID, it has not been shared with the district or included in this document,” the agency's response states.

“To employ such a term in the preparation of its final report is, at best, careless and imprecise; at worst, it is reckless and impugns the integrity of an organization that has served the public interest for nearly a century.”

Randall Carson was secretary of the 2008-09 fiscal year grand jury that developed the IID report, and is the foreman of the new grand jury, which will be seated today.

Carson said the corruption issue is part of the current grand jury's ongoing investigation of IID.

“If and when we disclose any instances of corruption, it would be through the proper channels, through the district attorney or perhaps through other law enforcement agencies,” he said.

Though IID officials are highly critical of the grand jury's report, at least they are talking about the issues, Carson said.

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