Tuesday, November 22, 2011

(San Joaqin) Sanitary district counters key grand jury findings

By Keith Reid
Record Staff Writer
November 08, 2011 12:00 AM

WOODBRIDGE - The Woodbridge Sanitary District has responded to a critical June report out of the San Joaquin County grand jury, denying that the district has falsified reports to the State Water Resources Control Board or was involved in payroll fraud, but also saying it will implement some new policies to better monitor district spending.

A scathing nine-page San Joaquin County grand jury report released in June blasted general manager Luis Ching for engaging in payroll fraud, falsifying State Water Resources Control Board records and nepotism. The report also criticized the elected board of directors for being "uninformed" on the issues.

The Woodbridge Sanitary District, which serves 3,500 customers over 188 acres in northern San Joaquin County, issued a seven-page response to the allegations signed by board president Douglas Colucci. Ching would not respond further when contacted by The Record.

"It's a constant work in progress as far as implementing the policies," Woodbridge Sanitary District Attorney Mia Brown said. "We've responded to all of the allegations and implemented or have drafted forms (for procedures) in regards to everything recommended."

The payroll fraud allegation stemmed from a report that an employee was paid $1,260 for 36 hours of work that he didn't perform so that he could turn the money over to another employee who couldn't be formally paid because he was getting disability benefits.

That allegation was denied in the district's response, saying the employee that did the work was paid for his time "and no check was issued improperly."

The district also denied falsifying quality control reports or failing to document sewage spills that were reported by customers. In both cases, the district said "The district does not find support for this finding in its records, no such records were requested by the Grand Jury for inspection, and therefore the District is unclear upon what evidence this finding is based."

In the case of the water quality control reports, the district said employees did find that three full months of records regarding dissolved oxygen levels in the district's water treatment system are missing. The district is filing a police report in regard to the missing documents in the event they were stolen.

The grand jury also alleged the district engaged in nepotism/favoritism in hiring and paying employees. The grand jury report said relatives of district management were paid as much as $25 an hour more to do the same work as nonrelatives. The district made it clear it will not hire relatives of employees.

"The district's personnel manual does not allow for the hiring of relatives of present employees," the district's response states.

In other areas, the district said it has begun a process of tightening up its operations and fiscal management with new procedures for credit card use and employee-training manuals.

The district has also created new policies to review water readings and spills and to better monitor public complaints.

Brown said the district's response is likely the end to the grand jury's report.

"The grand jury that performed this investigation is disbanded. The next grand jury can take it up if they wish," she said.

Contact reporter Keith Reid at (209) 546-8257 or kreid@recordnet.com. Visit his blog at recordnet.com/lodiblog.


No comments: