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December 19, 2019

MSWD Board Meeting, December 17, 2019

This is a report about the meeting of the Board of Directors of Mission Springs Water District on December 17, 2019. All directors were present. No votes were taken during this meeting.

My full-length audio recording of the meeting is available here [YouTube].


BOARD HANDBOOK UPDATE

General Manager Arden Wallum introduced Robert Deloche, a consultant who was hired to put together a draft Board of Directors Handbook based on policies that are already in place.

The draft copy of the MSWD Board of Directors Handbook is available here (PDF, 1.7MB).

Mr. Deloche gave some background on how long the work on this handbook had been going on (since 2017) and explained that the board could approve the handbook at this meeting or wait until their next regularly scheduled meeting in January. Director Grasha asked him how he came up with that "timing." "The way you just put it, it sounded like we have to approve it at the next meeting." Mr. Deloche answered no, saying they could put it off until any date they liked.

Then Mr Grasha asked Mr. Deloche what other agencies he had worked with on a similar activity. He answered that he was currently working on one for the City of Pomona. Mr. Grasha asked if he had done one for West Valley Water District (Rialto). Mr. Deloche answered, "No, I offered to do one for them, they asked me to do one..."

Director Grasha interrupted him to ask if he had done work for them. Mr. Deloche said he had.

Grasha: And what's happened since then?

Deloche: They didn't follow it.

Grasha: Right. Is that right?

Deloche: Mmhmm.

Grasha: Or they did follow it and the place collapsed. In fact, the General Manager is dead and everybody in the agency was fired and then the Board of Directors nearly turned over 100% since then and just two weeks ago because of this kind of...

Director Nancy wright: What does this have to do with this?

Grasha: Because that's what this stuff creates, okay? This agency has existed for nearly 70 years without this kind of monkey business going on, and suddenly there's an election and now we gotta get him, so we create 21 pages of rules that...

Wright: You don't know what you're talking about.

Grasha" Excuse me ma'am, but I've been around for a long time. I know what's going on here and...

Wright: You heard him say we've been working on this since '17.

Grasha: You're fully welcome to pass this as it's written. But as it's written it will turn one board member against four board members, and four board members, three of them are up for re-election and let me promise you, as a result of this, it won't be a pretty election.

President Randy Duncan: All right. You know, if you keep that up we're going to stop the meeting again until you compose yourself. I'm not going to take this crap again.

Grasha: I'm completely composed. I'm telling you what you have to look forward to as a result of this. Okay? Now, carry on.

Duncan: This is going to kill people?

Grasha: Just let it be known that it's...

Wright: Okay, you don't like it. Fine.

* * *

Later in the meeting, after Director Grasha had been escorted from the building, Mr. Deloche explained what had gone down at the West Valley Water District, so I will break with a strict chronology and give you that info here.

He said, "West Valley Water District originally solicited proposals to do this. They were having a change in the Board of Directors. They had a general manager who had been there for 40-some years, in perfect peace and harmony. But there was change in the wind. They elected not to create a board handbook and establish policies and procedures and guidelines. The board majority changed. The board president reached out to a couple of us and gave them proposals and asked us again, how quickly could you put something together? We don't do these quickly. You can see how much effort went into this. And so nothing was ever done, the board's majority changed and it's been somewhat chaotic ever since. I will tell you I was retained to do one piece of it which we did here early. And in a public meeting I read verbatim from state law the authority of the board and the authority of the general manager. And in state law, the general manager has the authority to hire and fire employees. He's the CEO of the company. The board president, at that time - new - said 'no way, no how, if I want to walk into an employee's office and discipline them I want to do that, I don't have to check with the general manager, if I think they should be gone then I'm gonna get rid of them, I don't have to get approval from the GM first.' And I looked at the attorney, walked over and gave the attorney a copy of the section - I forget what it is right now - in the water code and the board president asked the attorney to go to Sacramento and change state law.

[chuckles all around]

"So the board president...obviously that never happened - won't happen. So that board president is now in the minority."

Ms. Wright asked how long ago this had happened. Sixteen years ago was the answer. Mr. Deloche added, "I don't know anybody that died."

Now to return to our regular chronology.

* * *

Mr. Deloche explained that the Board Handbook would be just one piece of the district's codified rules and regulations. He then proposed to go through the 16-page handbook (19 if you count the title page and table of contents) and review every part. GM Wallum said that district counsel had already reviewed and made revisions to this draft. A copy of this draft had been sent to each of the directors about three weeks ago. Mr. Deloche said no changes to the draft had been made since then.

When he got to section 3 "Culture: Vision and Core Values," he began to explain that this section was developed in a discussion with the attorneys under the direction of the General Manager.

Grasha: Were there any board members involved in that?

Deloche: No.

Wright: They're involved now. You tell us what you don't like about it in a minute.

Grasha: I understand this is staff's wet dream that's being presented to us and I just want the board to understand that this is a slippery slope and you will fall on a banana peel. It will split your heads open. All of you.

Duncan: But to answer your question, yes, the President and Vice President [Russ Martin] helped in putting this together.

Wallum: And the board did get involved with the mission, vision and values.

Duncan: This is a compilation of everything that we already have. This is not new. This is not created.

Wallum: Three years ago we started this.

Grasha: There's not one word of anything similar to this in the current code or you would have used it already. Not one word.

The meatier part of the handbook begins with section 4 "Authority, Role of the Board of Directors and General Guidelines." Mr. Deloche had just gotten to section 4.02 "Responsibilities of Office" when Mr. Grasha asked "I noticed in here it talks about the responsibility of Directors to go through the President only. [Raising his voice] The President of this board refuses to accept emails from a Director. How is that going to work, exactly?"

Wright: Can we wait until we get to that part?

Grasha: If you're going to play games here, let's have it all out there.

Wright: Just be organized while we do this.

Grasha: This is nothing organized about this. It's a hit job. You're just not very good at it.

Duncan: Steve, if you're here just to disrupt the meeting please leave.

Grasha: The Director's not leaving.

Duncan: If you would like...

Grasha [raising his voice] The duly elected Director is not leaving.

Duncan: Don't start this shit today.

Grasha: [voice still raised] The appointed Director is welcome to do whatever he wants.

Duncan: Thank you, since I...

Grasha: That's never won an election in 14 years.

Duncan: 14 years on the board. 14 years on the board. Don't start this shit today.

Grasha: [yelling] That's my point. And it comes to an end in 10 months.

Duncan: Oh, I'm trembling.

Grasha: I know you are, that's why you're writing this.

Duncan: Let the consultant do his job. If you don't like it when your turn for comments come around you can reply...

Grasha: Whoever votes for this will not be on the sleigh car. [? that's what it sounded like]

Duncan: Oh, I know, I know. You're so important.

Grasha: [normal voice] Glad you noticed.

Vice President Martin raised a point when Mr. DeLoche got to item 6 under section 5 "Role and Responsibility of the President and Vice-President of the Board of Directors" which says "The President acts as the ceremonial head or representative of the District at various civic functions. In his/her absence the Board may designate or appoint another member of the Board to fulfill this role." Mr. Martin said he thought that if the President were unavailable, those duties should naturally fall to the Vice President. The Board would not usually have the time to call a meeting and designate a replacement.

Grasha: Well, how does a Director that's not allowed to...as I understand it, this doesn't allow a Director to contact anybody on the staff in any way.

Deloche: No.

Grasha: That includes the General Manager that all communications from Directors need to go through the President.

Wright: Which number is that on this page?

Grasha: I don't know. I stopped reading when I got to it.

So this is as far as Director Grasha got in reading the draft handbook.

Director Wright asked about item 11, "The President regularly communicates with the General Manager and keeps other Board members fully informed on matters of District business." She wanted to know how this was to be done. Due to the Brown Act the President could only share this information at public, agendized board meetings. (And at a board meeting, you might as well get those updates from staff.) Ms. Wright suggested that the item be rewritten to say that the President should communicate with the General Manager regularly to stay updated, and that the General Manager would update the board at noticed, agendized meetings.

Mr. Deloche had gotten to section 6 "Principles of Behavior and Performance Expectations of the Board of Directors", item 2, which read "The Board values a visionary, constructive, high-energy work environment, and the District, and its constituents benefit from that environment."

Grasha: As long as it is met with no resistance from the President.

Duncan: What is your problem today?

Grasha: I'm just parroting what he's saying. He's telling us how we're all going to get along well, but we don't, and it's not a level playing field around here. It hasn't been since I got here because you have never approved of my being here for some reason.

Duncan: Have I ever disapproved?

Grasha: Often, at every meeting.

Duncan: You know what, it's not pertinent to this.

Section 7 is "Board of Director's Interaction and Communication." Mr. Deloche read item 2:

Board members will direct comments to the merits of issues and items before them through the Board President, while refraining from personal attacks against other Board Members, the General Manager, members of the public and District staff. If a Board member has a grievance with another Board member, he/she should first discuss it privately with that person. This should always be done in compliance with the Brown Act. If the matter is unresolved, the Board member should go to the General Manager and the General Manager can seek resolution of the issue.

Grasha: For instance, if I ask him, you know, how does it feel never to have won an election in 14 years, would that be a personal attack?

Wright: That's not a thing you can decide right now.

Deloche: I don't think that's for me to decide.

Grasha: Well, that's what the board majority wants to be able to vote on. That's the problem. This allows...

Wright: How do you know what I want to do?

Grasha: Because you're doing it.

Wright: We're going over it. We're going over it. We haven't voted on anything. Just sit there and listen and put your comments...if your comments are constructive on this that's great, but so far they haven't been.

Grasha: That's just what he pointed out. I was just asking a question, a for instance.

Wright: Well, tell him which part you would like to have changed. How would you like to have it changed? Tell us.

Grasha: I think that the majority shouldn't use anything like this as a weapon because it will split the board in such a way that there will be no way to conduct...

Wright: In here. In here. [gesturing at her copy of the draft handbook] If you don't have anything constructive to say, Steve...

Grasha: [steadily raising his voice] ...the board meetings between now and 12 months from now until there's an election and the voters get a chance to hear all of the nonsense you guys in secret [yelling] you spent $300,000 of district money to infect the public and the lady gets questioned by DA and she takes off to Mexico.

Wright: That's your opinion. So let us hear your opinion on this when we get to the part you don't like.

The discussion continued on a more substantive level as directors discussed how item 2 would actually work in practice. Ms. Wright explained that it would be voluntary action for a Director to go to the General Manager, and no Director would do it unless he thought it would help. She emphasized that this just a guideline.

Grasha: The whole thing would be used against minority of the board and that's not cool. And the minority of the board raises up, just like they did over in West Valley and the staff got two...they've been through two entire staffs.

Wright: We're not West Valley.

Grasha: [raising his voice] Everybody got fired and then they hired a new staff and they got fired and the only guy left over there is the target of the original policy.

Wright: Lower your voice. Lower your voice. Okay, that's interesting trivia.

Grasha: [voice still raised] Well, go read it!

Wright: I'm not concerned with what another district does.

Grasha: People are dying over there because of this...

Wright: [unclear]...trivia!

Grasha: Well, it's not trivia. It's fact.

Wright: It's trivia to me.

Grasha: [raising his voice more] ASK THE DEAD GUY'S WIFE IF IT'S TRIVIA!

Wright: Oh, my god!

Mr. Deloche said that individual behaviors could not be policed beyond certain parameters. He offered to work with the General Manager and District Counsel to come up with some language to clarify how members of the board should try to work out differences together first, and then they may take it to the General Manager.

Grasha: As an example, let me try this out as an example. Very interesting. Because it came up down the road, West Valley. I gave up my district credit card because I didn't it to appear that I was abusing it. In West Valley, one of their directors gave up their district credit card because he didn't want to appear that he was abusing the company credit card. [raising his voice] Because he did that, and now the allegation is held against him that he is using his personal credit card so he can rack up mileage, air mileage or some kind of thing. As if using your personal credit card somehow is injurious to the district and he shouldn't be allowed to do that. And I'm very uncomfortable with where this goes.

Wright: In our district, the secretary does all the reservations for us.

Grasha: [raising his voice more[ The secretary is out actively trying to remove me from office.

Duncan: All right, that's your personal opinion.

Grasha: [yelling] NO, IT's NOT! IT"S NOT. IT'S A FACT! OKAY?

Duncan: It's not a fact.

Grasha: IT IS A FACT. AND SHE'S OUT THERE ON THE INTERNET PROMOTING MY REMOVAL FROM OFFICE.

Wright: Okay, we can talk about...Steve!

Grasha: [still yelling] AND THIS IS THE PERSON THAT I HAVE TO GO TO...

Duncan: We're going to take a break. [gavels]

Grasha: IF YOU THHINK THAT THIS IS GOING TO EASE UP...

Wright: We can talk about your internet stuff too, but we don't.

Duncan: You need to control yourself, Steve. This is a business meeting.

Grasha: Why? [yelling again] YOU DON'T LIKE IT WHEN I INCH AHEAD IN MY ARGUMENT. I'M TRYING TO APPEAL TO TWO DIRECTORS HERE, NOT YOU BECAUSE I KNOW WHERE YOU'RE GOING.

Duncan: Settle down. Settle down.

Grasha: OKAY? YOU'RE GOING TO BE OUT THERE ON THE CURB WITH BOWMAN [which he pronounced like "bough-man" rather than "bo-man"] IN 12 MONTHS.

Wright: Who are you talking to?

Grasha: [still yelling] THE QUESTION IS WHETHER HE WILL BE ON THE CURB AND HE WILL BE ON THE CURB BECAUSE I'M GOING TO FINANCE TWO CANDIDATES, MINIMUM, I MIGHT FIND THREE AND THAT'S WHERE YOU'RE GOING BECAUSE OF YOU AND YOU. [it was completely unclear to me who he was directing his statements to] JUST SO EVERYONE KNOWS WHAT'S COMING.

Duncan: STOP. RIGHT NOW! KNOCK IT OFF! GROW UP! TAKE YOUR PILLS. WHATEVER IT TAKES TO MAINTAIN...

Grasha: THIS ISN'T INDIAN WELLS AND THE DESERT SUN HAS ALREADY TAKEN THEIR BEST HIT FOR THAT FORTY GRAND YOU PAID THEM, ALL RIGHT?

Wright: Oh, my goodness.

Duncan: My gosh. You need to read this.

Wright: Yeah, you need to read it.

Grasha: [at less than a yell] Like I said the other day, I've been doing this since high school. I know how this play ends.

Duncan: This is your first elected seat. Don't tell me you've been doing this since high school.

Grasha [voice raised] I've been involved in politics since high school. I've removed lots of people, including judges, members of Congress, multiple people.

Wright: [laughs]

Grasha: Nobody has ever survived.

Duncan: Your résumé is so impressive. Knock it off. Let's get back to...do you know how disrespectful this is to our consultant?

Grasha: I want the two directors who's most at risk over this to understand where they're going. And it's because of you and because of her.

Wright: Are you done?

Grasha: No!

Duncan: Can you be an adult for one meeting?

Grasha: I'll give you another one. The first time I met him [here we was referring to Mr. Deloche] I asked him what he did for the district. His mouth fell open, his face turned pale, and [yelling] HE DIDN'T ANSWER! AND IT'S BECAUSE HE WAS DOING THIS.

Wright: You have no business yelling at a consultant.

Grasha: [voice raised] I'm not yelling!

Wright: Well, what do ya think you're doing, Steve?

At this point President Duncan recessed the meeting for a 5-minute break, announcing that the police were on their way.

Grasha: See how it ends up? You guys get to decide. What you want to be here...

Wright: No, you're making the decision right now.

Duncan: It is your decision.

Grasha: We have a recording. The police can make their decision whether or not it's whatever your observation is. I think it's important to get this stuff out and this is a good opportunity.

Wright: But this is not the place.

Grasha: [yelling] IT IS EXACTLY THE PLACE.

Wright: It is not.

Grasha: THIS IS A MEETING OF THE BOARD.

Wright:That's not on the agenda!

Grasha: EVERYBODY NEEDS TO KNOW WHAT'S AT STAKE HERE AND WHY AND WHY WHEN YOU TOOK $300,000 OUT OF PETTY CASH AND USED IT TO SPREAD AROUND THE COMMUNITY ALL THESE BALONEY RUMORS AND WHEN YOU'RE ENTIRE REASONING FOR THIS LAWSUIT [probably referencing the lawsuit against DWA] COMPLETELY OPPOSITE OF WHAT YOUR PUBLIC STATEMENTS ARE MAKES YOU IN MY BOOK A CRIMINAL.. ALL RIGHT? AND THERE'S TWO INVESTIGATIONS: A FEDERAL INVESTIGATION AND A STATE INVESTIGATION. One's coming from the bottom, and one is coming from the top. You don't know where they will meet, but I promise you what you did in that [unclear] is completely inappropriate. And you and you, I am certain, led the whole thing. Oh, they'll never figure it out. Well, they did.

Wright: Paranoid.

Grasha: [voice raised] I'm not paranoid It's all public record. All you got to do is read it.

Wright: Well, it doesn't seem to be that you read much, 'cause you didn't read this agenda today.

Grasha: I stopped when I realized what it was. There's no reason to. And I'm laying it out to the board so they know what they're doing. If you want me to go, I will, I don't have a problem."

Wright: Are the cops really coming?

Duncan: Yes, I'm having the police come in and escort Director Grasha out.

Wright: Okay.

Grasha: [laughs]

And then the recess really became a recess. People wandered in and out. People looked at their phones. If you're listening to the audio recording, you can skip ahead to 48:24 without missing anything. And then the police showed up to escort Director Grasha out with no drama, leaving behind his unread copy of the draft handbook.

Someone came to the boardroom to ask if Director Grasha would be allowed at the next board meeting. The answer was, of course, yes. "As long as he can control himself," President Duncan said. Director Wright observed that it was interesting that Director Grasha had read West Valley's handbook, but not the draft for MSWD.

President Duncan gaveled the meeting back to order and apologized to the consultant, to the public (just me this day) and to Dori, the secretary. Vice President Martin said he didn't think that apologies were necessary for Director Grasha's behavior. "That's all on him," he said. President Duncan stepped out of the room for a minute to talk to the police. While he did that, Mr. Deloche explained to the board what happened in the West Valley District (as described above).

GM Wallum said he believed Mr. Grasha was being intentionally disruptive and that it was important for the meeting to proceed. "I can't see how anybody could object to setting up a standard of conduct and protocol."

VP Martin wondered if Mr. Grasha had thought the handbook would be applied retroactively to catch him up in something.

Ms. Wright said "We never really did find out which part he would like changed."

Director Ivan Sewell observed that pretty much everything in the handbook was consistent with the guidelines from the California Special Districts Association.

At about this point DHS City Council member Russell Betts showed up.

In the discussion of section 8 "Role of the General Manager, Board Interaction with Staff and Role of District Legal Counsel" VP Martin brought attention to item 5 (under "8.02 - Board Interaction with the General Manager") which says "The General Manager is charged with handling internal District matters, including matters regarding District personnel." He said a provision needed to be added saying "Addressing allegations of illegal and/or inappropriate conduct by the General Manager shall be the responsibility of the Board of Directors."

Russell Betts left the meeting about this time.

The final page in the Board Handbook is "Commitment to Board of Director's Best Practices." It includes a list of nine statements and is intended to be signed by each Director. Here are those nine statements:

  1. I shall help create and maintain an atmosphere of professionalism, respect and civility where individual Directors, District staff and the public are free to express their ideas and strive to work together to their full potential.
  2. I shall conduct my personal business and public affairs with honesty, accuracy, integrity, fairness and respect for others.
  3. I shall keep the common good of the Mission Springs Water District and those it serves as my highest priority and focus on achieving constructive solutions for the benefit of the District and the public.
  4. I shall avoid and discourage conduct which is harmful to the best interests of the Mission Springs Water District.
  5. I shall respect the decisions of the Board of Directors, acting through its majority, including its policies and procedures, and avoid utilizing the District's financial resources in a wasteful, manner.
  6. I shall not interfere with the orderly progress of District Board meetings or the meetings of its committees;
  7. I shall not interfere with the execution by the General Manager of his/her powers and duties, or give direction, assignments or orders to his/her staff without the General Manager's prior consent;
  8. I shall be accurate and truthful when communicating as a Board Member of the District, including communications about District issues, activities and/or business;
  9. I shall treat all people with whom I come into contact in a professional and respectful manner and consistent with the way I wish to be treated by others.

IMO, Director Grasha is going to have a challenge conforming to each those nine statements. There was a discussion among board members of making the signing of this page a public ceremony so that the public could be aware if any Director declined to sign.


BUILDING DISCUSSION

Ironically, this is the part of the meeting that Director Grasha had said he was especially interested in at the study session the previous Thursday. He had said he wanted to demolish the district's headquarters building on 2nd Street. He did not say why he wanted to do that, nor did he suggest what the replacement should be.

GM Wallum said there are two issues; one is the long-term question of a new headquarters building while the other is what do with the current building in the meantime. The roof developed leaks in October 2018. Those were repaired and held up well through last winter, but more and worse leaking occurred during the rains of Thanksgiving week 2019. Currently, the mess is being cleaned up and the entire roof is covered with a tarp. The district does not yet have a reliable estimate of what it will cost to fix the roof, but there has been an estimate as high as $300,000, a price that does not include the current clean up.

Staff explained that the district has not yet gotten an appraisal of the value of the headquarters building. That will be necessary before deciding to put $300,000 into repairs.

President Duncan said that no matter what decision is made, they are going to be in the current headquarters building for at least two more years, so the building has to be repaired. But if a full roof replacement is required that means the building will be unusable for a while.

GM Wallum said that staff will gather more information and present it to the board at a future workshop.

Staff said that the company that put the tarp on the roof has had difficulties in securing it against the wind. I was surprised by this, since I've seen many larger tarp-roofs well secured against wind at Burning Man. If a lot of amateur volunteers can do it, I would expect it to be easy for a company that's in the business of doing it.


GENERAL MANAGER'S COMMENTS

During this part of the meeting Ms. Wright asked if the police had simply walked Mr. Grasha out of the building and sent him on his way. President Duncan said that it took a while; he didn't want to drive away. Mr. Grasha sat outside in his car and waited for Russell Betts to show up.

Filed under Coachella Valley,Desert Hot Springs,Politics | permalink | December 19, 2019 at 05:20 PM

Comments

We need to recall the idiot.

Posted by: Greg Sailor at Dec 21, 2019 9:53:46 AM

Ron, thank you for recording the meeting and for transcribing the recording. All people have to do is Google "Steve Grasha" or search on Youtube for "Steve Grasha" and they will find out more.

Posted by: Jeff at Dec 19, 2019 8:28:02 PM

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