Saturday, December 22, 2018

[Kern County] RCWD begins work on grand jury recommendations

JOHANNESBURG – Rand Communities Water District met for a special board meeting Wednesday at the district office, finally diving deeper into the Grand Jury report.
All board members seemed to be in good spirits, the three new members becoming more comfortable in their roles on the board. At the last meeting, the boardroom was packed with nearly 30 people in it and hardly enough seats for everyone attending, while this meeting had only eight people present.
RCWD ran into its first obstacle while discussing the first recommendation that the Grand Jury made: “The Kern County Auditor should perform a detailed audit into questionable accounting practices within the RCWD.” Secretary Carrie Hoerauf found that the audit could take up to six months to complete, automatically making it impossible for the RCWD to meet the requirement of completing all recommendations within 120 days.
The board is hoping that by having Hoerauf start the audit process early on and working with the auditor to help it find the documents it needs that the grand jury will allow the board to have an extension to finish the audit so RCWD can be compliant.
Many documents from 2016-2018 had been removed, records were found to be sparse and improperly filed, and there was a lack of detailed record keeping for tracking the production and sale of water, according to the grand jury report.
“The grand jury report is not to be taken lightly. We are being accused of mishandling funds, and what we find is what we find, good or bad,” Vice President Ernest Napolis said.
The second item in the recommendations is that RCWD should develop a cohesive working relationship within 60 days of the grand jury report being released. It has been requested that Secretary Hoerauf and Office Manager Debbie Jones be allowed to request access to ACWA’s website, so they can access the workshop and team building portion and set up a Team Building Training Session for some time in January.
Phase 2 of the Arsenic Mitigation Project, which will require a Project Manager, was also discussed as a part of the grand jury report. The main focus was appointing someone from the board to reassure that RCWD does not lose the $3.2 million grant, while it searches for a Project Manager. President Cliff Kennedy was appointed by the board and will be contacting the California Rural Water Association as soon as possible to reassure it does not lose the grant money.
Updated orientation packets were also among the recommendations, which the RCWD has already completed. Orientation packets were handed out during the board meeting to all members. The index of items includes: Form 700, Ethics Training, Special District information, a copy of the complete water code with information on how to access it online, a complete copy of the Brown Act, and Robert’s Rules of Order (a five-page cheat sheet on basic rules).
Random drug testing is going to be implemented to be in compliance with the report, as well as updated job descriptions including salary ranges. This will be the job of the future General Manager. The ad for the new General Manager has been drafted and will be posted soon; however, until a General Manager is hired it has been decided that Napolis will be the primary point of contact for employees who have questions or concerns and Kennedy will serve as a ‘backup’ if necessary.
Company vehicles are already being used instead of personal vehicles, and on the rare occasion that an employee has to use a personal vehicle, a proper receipt and reimbursement system has already been implemented. Employees are also going to start keeping a detailed log for company vehicles for accountability.
This log will also be used to determine whether getting gas in Ridgecrest is the most viable option or employees should be getting it locally in Johannesburg. The gas in Johannesburg is more expensive than Ridgecrest and may be a conflict of interest because Director Ghulam Din has personal financial interest in the gas station. Din recused himself for any voting regarding this matter.
A discussion was held regarding metering at the well and Boosters 1, 2 and 3, and water to individual tanks. Napolis will ride along with Garrison Miles Clair and take photographs to see what is being metered so the board can start the process of maintaining records for all metered water produced and sold.
Handshake deals have already been terminated, including the most notable Northwind deal. Northwind pays one cent per gallon at Well 1 and two cents per gallon at the hydrant. The water is unusable for personal use because of the high arsenic levels that are in the water. Will Liebscher was upset that the contract was not brought to the previous board before being signed by the interim General Manager. The bylaws stipulate contracts to be signed by the Board President and Secretary, though this was a signed agreement and is still in good standing. Liebscher knew about the handshake deal prior to this board meeting.
The board also approved the purchase of a website in order to be transparent and should be set up by the next board meeting. The website should include board minutes and agendas, organizational charts with salaries, and yearly P&L summaries, according to the grand jury report. Another change the office is making, not at the request of the grand jury, will be switching phone/internet contracts in order to save $40 a month, or $480 a year.
RCWD agreed to purchase a backup booster, which will cost it $5,000. It was noted that this was a necessary purchase because if the current booster that it has goes out, it will be without water for an extended period of time.
RCWD has agreed to meet twice a month for the next three months in order to continue making progress towards being in compliance with the grand jury report.
“We gotta do what we gotta do to get this done,” Director Tom Williams said.
The next board meeting will be Jan. 9, 2019, at the Rand Communities Water District Office at 7 p.m.
December 21, 2018
Ridgecrest Daily Independent
By Lauren Jennings

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