Monday, October 8, 2018

[Kern County] More upsets at Rand Communities Water District

Blog note: this article references activitites of the Kern County Grand Jury.
The shifting leadership at the Rand Communities Water District took another turn this week when Carl Dorey announced he was still general manager for the small agency.
Dorey on Wednesday, and again on Friday, told the Daily Independent that decisions made by the board of directors at a special meeting Friday, Oct. 28 are not valid because the meeting was not properly noticed.
“It appears that it was unlawful because it wasn’t given proper notice,” Dorey said.
Under California’s Ralph M. Brown Act, a special meeting requires at least 24-hour notice to board members and the public. Agendas need to be posted in a place the public can easily access.
The RCWD board met at the district office in Johannesburg, but delayed the start because directors could not access either the main office or the boardroom. Efforts to contact someone with a key to the office failed.
A staff member managed to gain access to the rear maintenance rooms and the board decided to call the meeting to order on the porch before a small crowd of the public. During that meeting, the board decided to:
Swear in Bret Ballinger, who takes over the remaining two months of former board member Leon Tudyk’s term.
Appoint director Ghulam Din as the new board president
Reinstate David Williams as office manager following a closed session meeting.
Terminate Dorey as the general manager and opt to put out a notice for a new general manager.
The board had a quorum of three when the meeting started, including Din, William Liebscher and John Kittelll; Ballinger was sworn in after the meeting started. Board member Cindy Brown was absent.
Dorey, however, said that he wasn’t properly notified until around 10:30 p.m. on Thursday, Sept. 27. He added that Debbie Jones, the person he hired after he terminated Williams, had contacted Kern County officials for information and was advised to either cancel the meeting or not show up.
“I decided not to go because it would cause less confrontation,” Dorey said.
On Monday, Dorey said he arrived at the district office to find Williams and board member William Liebscher present in the office. The Kern County Sheriff’s Office had been contacted and a deputy was sent to the scene.
Dorey said on Wednesday that the deputy was placed in contact with the Kern County grand jury, who is conducting a report on the small water district. The determination, he said, was that Dorey was still the general manager and asked how to handle the situation.
“I asked to have Will and Dave removed from the office and that I had control of the property,” Dorey said Wednesday.
Dorey added that there likely would be no board meetings until the grand jury issues its report.
“There has been notice that there will be no more board meetings until the grand jury has concluded its work and issued its report,” Dorey said.
Liebscher, however, disputes the claim that the meeting wasn’t properly conducted. He said Friday that he posted the agenda in public areas 24 hours in advance, and noticed the directors by hand-delivering the agendas.
The places he said he placed them at included: the Texaco station in Johannesburg, the Randsburg General Store, and the district office in Johannesburg.
“We haven’t broken any laws. We are very careful not to do this,” Liebscher said. “Some day it wall catch with us.”
He added that the district bylaws dictate that directors be in person or by mail of any special board meetings. He had previously stated at the Sept. 28 meeting that he had called, emailed and text messaged Dorey about the meeting.
He said in Brown’s case, she was not home, so he posted it on her home door.
The Daily Independent wasn’t notified of the meeting until 11:52 a.m. that day.
“Sunday comes along and we change the locks,” Liebscher said. He confirmed that he and Williams were in the office, going through records to see where the district stood when the sheriff’s deputy arrives along with a small group of people he said decided not to attend the Friday meeting.
“Poor guy, he doesn’t know what the rules of the special district are,” Liebscher said. “He didn’t know what to do. He had Carl contact the grand jury, and the grand jury told him to have us leave and turn the building over to him.”
He said that Din “wrote and faxed a letter to the grand jury, and they called him and they told him to keep the general manager.”
He called the decision crushing.
“The grand jury has diluted our authority by keeping us that we have to keep Carl and by telling us to get out of the office,” Liebscher said.
A call to the Kern County grand jury Friday was not returned.
However, the grand jury admonishes those it deposes or speaks with from discussing what they were interviewed about. Grand jury reports operate on conditions of anonymity at times.
The small water district has seen its leadership tossed on its side over the last several weeks. The board decided in August to terminate its longstanding general manager Mike Powell, followed by the debatable dismissal of Williams as office manager.
Dorey was hired in August as first operations manager and then general manager, coming from Inyokern Community Services District.
At a meeting in August, the board debated about whether accepting a resignation letter by Williams was ethical and valid; a vote by four board members would re-instate him at an emergency meeting the next day, according to board secretary Carrie Hoerauf.
Then between the period of that meeting and a Sept. 12 board meeting, Dorey terminated Williams again.
Dorey said Wednesday that he was initially reluctant to terminate Williams, but then after some observation, decided to make the decision, and replaced him with Jones. He declined to provide further information.
At the regular board meeting on Sept. 12, the board decided to remove Cindy Brown as board president.
The board decided to form an ad-hoc committee made up of Din and Liebscher to discuss Williams’ termination and whether it violated the district bylaws. According to Liebscher, the bylaws state that the general manger can only hire and fire after consultation and consent by the board.
The board voted on Sept. 28 to re-instate Williams to his role as office manager.
Arguments over the past few months for keeping Williams on were that he was familiar with the district’s finances and should be given a chance to show whether he will be reliable. Some board members have argued that Williams’ dismissal wasn’t properly conducted and could warrant potential legal liability.
However, after the fallout from Monday’s incident, Dorey said that this isn’t the case.
“He is terminated, he cannot be behind the counter,” Dorey said Friday, adding that Jones still retains her role in the office.
In addition to leadership angst, the district has fallen afoul to rumors that circulated on social media back in August. A post went around claiming that thousands of dollars had been stolen, along with a district laptop containing information, and that there were missing district meters.
At a Aug. 16 meeting, Din clarified that there was no missing money, but that the district had been in a structural deficit for the past four years. Din would later report on Sept. 28 that the district had lost more than $280,000 over last four fiscal years, but hoped to rectify it.
Calls to Din were not returned as of Friday.
The Aug. 17 emergency meeting revealed that the laptop in dispute belonged to Williams, not the district. However, it had been used to conduct district business, including some financial matters.
An internal audit conducted by Hoerauf, the board secretary, revealed that the district’s records and documents are in disarray. Corey had reported that district customers reported errors in their billing, or had not received bills at all.
Dorey himself made recommendations at the Sept. 12 meeting to overhaul the billing system and outsource the payroll, as well as request the purchase of a new laptop. The board decided to table the discussion on those topics and form an ad hoc committee on whether those requests would benefit the district.
On Friday, Dorey said that a few things have since been implemented.
“The billing has been updated to a new system and it’s been a very smooth transition,” Dorey said. “Payroll is going to stay in house. I have full confidence that Debbie can handle it.”
He said a meeting was arranged on Friday between him and Din to hopefully hammer things out.
“I do have a feeling with the grand jury’s involvement that things are going to pull together,” Dorey said. “We are trying to get everyone to get along.”
October 6, 2018
The Daily Independent
By Jack Barnwell

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