Friday, December 7, 2018
[Kern County] Rand Water District is a circus, Grand Jury reports
The residents of Randsburg, Red Mountain and Johannesburg forwarded a citizen’s complaint to Kern County’s Grand Jury, accusing RCWD of cronyism, nepotism and inept business practices – and the Grand Jury agreed.
After allegations were posted on social media and complaints were made to Kern County in late August about stolen water meters, a computer and thousands of dollars, the Grand Jury started investigating the claims.
Debbie Jones, who is now the RCWD office manager, is one of the residents that filed a complaint with Kern County Controller’s office.
The Grand Jury conducted a thorough investigation over three visits and published its findings in an 11-page report released on Tuesday.
The document titled “Award Winning Water Right Down the ‘Proverbial’ Drain,” details years of money mismanagement, poor business practices, and missing documents.
In March 2018, a commissioned water consultant was hired to review the overall operation efficiency of the District. The Grand Jury interviewed with the consultant, who abruptly quit after a couple of weeks, saying he “found the District to be a circus” and that, “he wanted no part of it.”
The financing and accounting section of the report showed a continuous decline in revenue from 2016-2018 and that the RDWD has relied on grants to stay solvent.
During this time, board members did not review the District’s financial records and approved performance bonuses and benefit packages to employees, adding to the deficit.
This section of the document also points out that no one on the board has inquired about a $3.2 million grant that was made available to them, money what was supposed to go towards repairs for the system’s deteriorating infrastructure.
From 2016-2018, the Grand Jury found that there were documents that had been removed, and that records were sparse and improperly filed.
Jones confirmed this in August when she was temporary office help, before she was officially hired. “All the paper records for everything in 2017 are gone,” Jones said. Employee records were also missing from this time.
Out of the records that the RDWD did have, the Grand Jury found that there were duplicates and that scanned documents did not match check registers and invoices.
During one of the board meetings, a member boasted to the committee and said, “I don’t have a meter and never receive a water bill because I take water from friends and neighbors”. The Grand Jury found and confirmed that billing records support this claim.
Another issue that the Grand Jury noted was that the prior General Manager would routinely partake in “handshake deals” for outside water sales. These sales have no outside records and there is no way to track the revenue or water sold during these transactions.
The RCWD was found to be in violation of the Brown Act, because board members were conducting business outside of public board meetings. There was another incident in October, where the board members did not give 24 hours notice before holding a meeting.
“The issues will be addressed and fixed during the next board meeting,” Jones said. The next board meeting will be held on Dec. 12.
The RCWD must develop a working relationship within the next 60 days, must respond to the presiding judge of the case within 90 days, and meet all recommendations listed in the report within 120 days.
Should RCWD not meet the requirements, they will be placed in receivership through the State Water Resources Control Board.
December 5, 2018
Ridgecrest Daily Independent
By Lauren Jennings