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February 3, 2020

MSWD Board Meeting, January 16 & 21, 2020

It Starts Early

Link to the YouTube video at 2:38. Before new Board President Nancy Wright called the meeting to order at the Thursday meeting, Director Steve Grasha used his live microphone to announce that he had just been served a subpoena for small claims court. He quoted from the subpoena "I have asked him to stop lying about me multiple times." He told President Wright that this was her problem. New Board Vice President Randy Duncan said "She has nothing to do with that and knows nothing about it."

Then the meeting was called to order.


Public Input

Jeff Bowman commented at the Tuesday meeting. Link to the YouTube video at 5:56.

Madame President, members of the Board. Steve Grasha, during the 2018 campaign you lied and called me a pedophile and a sex trafficker. On 9/23/2019 we went to court and the court found you guilty of libel. You appealed that decision and we went to court again on 12/6. You lost that appeal and the judge wrote in her verdict dated 12/13 the following, and I quote: "The uncontroverted evidence before the court is that defendant Grasha posted libelous material on his Facebook account and under his own name and under the name of Steve Davis. Grasha posted numerous statements unmistakably referring to Bowman as a pervert or pedophile. Having reviewed the photograph, the court finds Grasha's claim regarding the photograph to be outlandish at best. Even assuming that both men are public figures, the court finds that Grasha's statements were libelous and highly damaging to Bowman and that the statements were made without any good faith and that they were made maliciously. Furthermore, it is self-evident that the statements published by Grasha would be highly distressing to their target. Plaintiff Bowman is awarded $10,000 in damages and his court costs of $75."

Steve Grasha, you have not paid me this judgement. Be informed today that I will be pursuing these monies by all legal means possible unless you pay before February third, 2020. Your failure to pay this judgement will land you back in court where you will have to produce a statement of assets and you'll ultimately be forced to pay.

To the rest of the Directors and staff in this room today: Steve Grasha has libeled MSWD. He has boldly claimed that you secretly laundered $300,000 in cash through a nondescript storefront located in a strip mall of Desert Hot Springs, and that you were doing this for years. Please realize that Grasha isn't someone speaking as the public from the podium. He is an elected official. One of you. He has taken the oath to selfishly [sic] uphold the principles of this district. [At this point Mr. Grasha attempted to interrupt, claiming Mr. Bowman's time had elapsed, but YouTube will show you that only 2 minutes and 45 seconds had elapsed. President Wright called him out of order and Dori Petee reminded them that she has the timer.]

Counsel, will you please control your Director? [President Wright said that she had called him out of order and Mr. Bowman thanked her - District Counsel did not respond.] Such a claim, that you've laundered 300,000 in cash must be taken seriously. He must either prove it or be held accountable for such an outrageous attack on the very district he has sworn to protect. Steve, I'll see you in court next Monday. Our second lawsuit.


Elections By District - First Public Hearing

Link to the youTube video at 12:48. MSWD is proceeding with changing to elections by district without waiting for any demand letter to show up from any attorney who wants to claim $30,000. Districting info can be found on the district's website at mswd.org/districting. That includes the Powerpoint presentation given to the directors at the Tuesday meeting which includes maps showing

  1. Median income
    Median income
  2. Poverty
    Poverty
  3. Renters
    Renters
  4. Overcrowding
    Overcrowding
  5. Under Age 18
    Under Age 18
  6. Same residence for at least one year
    Same residence for at least one year
  7. College degree
    College degree
  8. Latino citizens of voting age (CVAP)
    Latino citizens of voting age
  9. Just Population
    Census blocks

This hearing and the next are informational only. The second hearing will be during the February board meeting (which should be February 18). David Ely is the demographer the district has retained for this process.

If you were paying attention when the Desert Water Agency went to districts, then you know the drill. The rules are the same. There will be (at least) four public hearings. January 21 was the first. February 18 will be the second. After that, draft maps will be created, then there will be two more public hearings. All draft maps must be published at least seven days before any hearings where they will be discussed. Same for any revised maps. Maps must be published seven days before the board can adopt them.

They will be using census date from 2010 to determine the population of the districts. The most populous district cannot be more than 10% larger than the least populous district. The population of the entire district (as of 2010) is 37,572, so an ideal district would have 7,514.4 residents. We are 53.4% Latino, 36.1% white, 6.5% black and 2.2% Asian. If you count only adult residents or only citizen residents, the ratios change.

The numbers in each colored block on the median income map is the actual median income in that block. "Overcrowding" for the purposes of the map means more than one person per room in a residence. The College Degree map counts any college degree from Associates degree on up. The Census Block map (which is labeled "BG Population") simply shows the total population in each census block.

Director Grasha raised the point that two people surnamed Sanchez have run for the MSWD Board, but were not elected. He then pointed out his high vote total, saying "The idea that people didn't have a fair shot at getting elected seems to be to be not accurate." Unless Mr. Grasha now identifies as Latino, his point seems to be that electing yet another white man to the MSWD Board somehow means districting is not necessary. He went on to say that he now opposed districting unless "People get down here and ask for it."

If the MSWD Board waited to do anything until the public came in and asked for it, they would be doing nothing. At a lot of the board meetings I'm the only member of the public present. Sometimes one or two others show up. If there's any demanding, it's usually for improved customer service.


Board of Directors Handbook

This was discussed in detail at the meeting on December 17, 2019. A few minor revisions were made based on input from the Directors. Director Grasha recused himself from this vote, saying it was subject to litigation. I'm not aware of any litigation around the handbook itself. The subpoena Director Grasha received concerned his behavior not the handbook.

Approved 4-0.


Mid-Year Budget Review

Link to the YouTube video at 14:23. Staff requested an increase in the legal budget of $250,000 and in consulting services of $120,000. Director Grasha asked to know "exactly" what those were for, with an emphasis on "exactly." Finance Director Matt McCue said he could not give an exact explanation, but that perhaps the General Manager could add some detail. Mr. McCue said it had to do with CGMA, meaning the lawsuit against DWA. General Manager Wallum pointed out that was a closed session subject. Director Grasha demanded to know how it could be "out here" if it's a closed session item, obviously failing to understand that ALL budget items are approved (or disapproved) in open, public sessions, not closed sessions. [Welcome to California, Steve!]. District Counsel began to explain, but Director Grasha interrupted him to say that he had attended closed session and he never heard about a budget increase [see my earlier point about budget items being reserved for open session]. Attorney Pinkney explained that they are working on a settlement with DWA. If it is settled, then the expenses won't be so significant. But if the settlement falls apart, it's difficult to predict the expenses.

Director Grasha said that hiring a consultant was both a personnel and policy issue and the board should know what it is. General Manager Wallum said the consultant is Hunt Thornton and they are doing financial analysis in relation to the suit with DWA. The attorney said that the Presidents and Vice Presidents of the MSWD and DWA boards are negotiating the settlement without anyone else present, including legal counsel. Mr. Grasha said "So Randy Duncan is deciding the future of this district without the input of the five members of the board?"

Mr. Grasha's question was answered with a No from General Manager Wallum, President Wright and the attorney, in that order. Attorney Pinkney began to explain further, but Mr. Grasha interrupted him to say "How did it happen, because I can count to three." The attorney asked to be allowed to finish his statement. He went on to explain the board gave him direction at the last closed session and now they will have a meeting based on the direction given in closed session. Mr. Grasha said that having "inexperienced" board members negotiating "is completely outer space." He accused Vice President Duncan of "inventing" the idea of negotiating this way.

Changes in the personnel classification plan also required an additional $94,823. Those changes include elimination of the Administrative and Government Affairs Specialist position and the addition of an Assistant General Manager position. The total number of FTEs remains at 49. Costs allocated to capital jobs have been reduced by $64,620. The net increase for the operating budget then comes to $400,203, a 2.6% increase.

The board had given direction to the General Manager to get an Assistant General Manager at his last evaluation by a board...a meeting that Mr. Grasha did not attend. Mr. Grasha asked if the board "approved" a new position during that evaluation (evaluations take place in closed session). The answer was of course not. During the evaluation, the board instructed the General Manager to get an Assistant General Manager. This item before the board today, the budget revisions, would, in effect, approve the new position, but that seemed to go over Mr. Grasha's head.

Mr. Grasha asked what the salary range would be for the Assistant General Manager. It will be from $220,000 to $272,000. Mr. Grasha asked how many positions pay more than that. The answer was none. Mr. Grasha disagreed, asserting that the General Manager makes more than $220,000. Both Mr. Wallum and Ms. Wright simultaneously answered "No." Ms. Wright explained to Mr. Grasha that they were looking solely at salary, not at the total compensation package. Mr. Grasha said that Mr. Wallum was making more than $300,000. Again, Ms. Wright tried to clarify the difference between salary only and total compensation. Then Mr. Grasha asked "Are we actually going to try to pretend that he's not making over 200 grand a year?" "I am," was Mr. Wallum's response. "Close to 215," he added. Mr. Grasha said he thinks a lot of people make more than $200,000/year.

The capital budget also needed increases totaling $127,000. Those increases are $17,000 for new construction meters, $25,000 for effluent filtration preliminary design review at the Horton plant, $50,000 for the regional urban water management plan and $35,000 for the San Gorgonio Pass Groundwater Sustainability Plan.

Approved 4-1 with Mr. Grasha voting against.

Link to YouTube video at 50:43. After this vote, discussion moved on to the following item, but after a few minutes Mr. Grasha seemed moved to explain his vote. Mr. Grasha said it was wrong to add personnel to the budget in secret. President Wright pointed out that it was not in secret, it was discussed by the board (with Director Grasha present) the previous Thursday in the study session, and on the day of this meeting it was voted on openly and publicly. Mr. Grasha claimed the evidence of the secret meeting was sitting in the audience. I have no idea what he might have meant by that. The additional position that was authorized in the budget vote not five minutes prior was for an Assistant General Manager. No Assistant General Manager was hired in those few minutes. The district does not have an Assistant General Manager. Mr. Grasha was raising his voice. President Wright called him out of order and offered a 5 minute recess so that he could control himself.


Ordinance Amending the Policy on Discontinuation of Service Due to Nonpayment

This reflects changes that are mandatory under state law. Service could not be discontinued before 60 days of nonpayment. Partial payments and payment plans (up to 12 months) may be accepted. The fee for reconnection during normal business hours will be $50; during nonoperational hours it will be $150.

Approved 5-0.


Correspondence

This is the part of the agenda where the board can discuss correspondence the district has received. There was none to discuss this time, but at the Thursday study session Director Grasha said "I have a litigation that I'd like to refer to legal counsel for defense." President Wright responded, "We're not done with the board meeting yet." Attorney Pinkney said he would take a look at it.

Mr. Grasha's request was agendized for closed session discussion at the Tuesday meeting. Both Mr. Grasha and VP Duncan recused themselves from that meeting. The remaining three board members voted 0-3 on providing MSWD counsel to defend Mr. Grasha.


General Manager's Report

Well 28 has been taken completely out of service. Water from that well required uranium treatment, so it was only used as a backup well. Now the uranium treatment has been removed, saving the district a big chunk of money.

About 1,200 water meters have been replaced. That's 10% of the project.


Director's Comments

Link to the YouTube video at 1:40:18. At the Thursday study session VP Duncan said that the papers served on Director Grasha were a personal matter between the two of them, but he had a statement to read which described as his "opinion in defense of the district." He read...

For three months leading up to the October 17 study session, Mission Springs Water District was host to a team of auditors and Certified Public Accountants from the accounting firm of Lund and Guttry, LLP for the annual financial audit which was done in accordance with government auditing standards. During those three months that team of auditors and CPAs interviewed our Finance Director, Matt McCue, a CPA, accounting manager Arturo I-can't-pronounce-his-last-name [Ceja], also a CPA. They had access to our books and records, including accounts receivable, accounts payable, our checking account, our investments, loans, bonds, payroll, budget, cash flows and more. At that October 17 study session Gary Dak, a Certified Public Accountant Lund and Guttry, gave a review of that audit to the Board of Directors. He praised Matt for his impeccable records and for earning the district over a million dollars in our investments over the last year. Gary gave the district a "No opinion" for the audit which, as funny as that sounds, is CPA language for the highest grade possible. [Director Grasha attempted to interrupt at this point]. At the October 21st board meeting the Board of Directors, as it sits here today, voted unanimously in favor of accepting the audited financial statements. On December 20th, 2019, only two months after that very intensive audit, Steve Grasha wrote the following on Facebook: "Why did the Board of Directors of the Mission Springs Water District secretly launder $300,000 in cash through this nondescript storefront located in a strip mall in Desert Hot Springs? The larger question, or why did the owner of this scheme flee to drug cartel-controlled Jalisco, Mexico as soon as I started asking questions about this?" That's the end of his quote. There was some back and forth conversation between Director Grasha and a couple of commenters to which Grasha replied "Because they are on the receiving end. They have been looting the district for years." This is only two months after Director Grasha voted unanimously with the rest of the board to accept that auditor's report. The auditing team of CPAs I mentioned earlier camped out in our offices and conference rooms for three months and gave us an impeccable rating. Steve Grasha made that statement two months later and did not consult with our General Manager, the Finance Director, the accounting manager, the front end manager who handles all our cash, hasn't reviewed any of our books and records, spoke with any of the ladies in customer service and there was nothing about accounts receivable or accounts payable for the district. During the thread of conversation on Facebook Steve also said "Need to get to the truth, no matter what." Steve, the truth of the matter is you are lying. You know it, I know it, and the rest of this board knows it. [Director Grasha attempted to interrupt again.] These are my comments. [President Wright called Director Grasha out of order. Director Grasha said VP Duncan was out of order. President Wright repeated that Director Grasha was out of order, adding "Nobody bothered you during yours."] In fact, you have been successfully sued and proven to be a habitual liar in court. Twice in just the last four months. Three times if you count the appeal you lost where the judge's decision was re-affirmed. Today you've been served with another summons to appear in court and be held accountable for the statements you made to this board on December 20th and several other statements you've made over the past year. Stop lying and become a productive member of this board. You have your seat. You are a Director. Start acting like one. Stop lying about me. Stop lying about this board. And, more importantly, stop lying about Mission Springs Water District. Madame President with your permission I would like to... [Director Grasha tried to interrupt again asking "Would you deny that you wrote a check.". President Wright called him out of order.] I didn't write any check. With your permission I would like to give this to Dori and have it... [Director Grasha interrupted "Then what did they do with the money?"]

Link to the YouTube video at 1:12:33. At the Tuesday meeting Director Sewell said that Director Grasha's statements about a secret meeting are false. The meeting itself was an evaluation of General Manager Wallum (a closed session). Director Grasha had been invited to that meeting; "encouraged" is the word Mr. Sewell used. At this point Mr. Grasha began to interrupt and President Wright called him out of order. Mr. Sewell went on to say that Mr. Grasha declined coming to the meeting because he was new to the district. The decision to encourage the General Manager to hire an assistant was from yet a previous year, before Mr. Sewell was on the board. He said further, "I just want to make sure that we continue to understand that, the five of us, our decision as a whole is what..." Director Grasha began to interrupt again. President Wright called him out of order. Mr. Sewell continued, "Any decision that has been made by this board prior to your arrival, prior to my arrival, to anyone's arrival, we still stick by it until that policy changes."


Public Input

Link to the YouTube video at 1:13:54. Jeff Bowman wanted to comment on the closed session which was scheduled on Tuesday at the end of the open session. Mr. Bowman said that it appeared that Director Grasha was attempting to use the district's counsel for his personal defense. He went on to say that Mr. Grasha has been tearing down the district publicly, destroying the goodwill that MSWD enjoys in the community. Director Grasha, of course, began to interrupt Mr. Bowman's comments. President Wright called him out of order, but Mr. Grasha continued talking. Finally, President Wright asked him to leave. Then he stopped talking. Mr. Bowman continued, addressing his remarks to district counsel, saying he thought it was part of counsel's job to referee these interruptions "and to help our board navigate the waters of somebody that is not fit for public office."

Filed under California,Coachella Valley,Desert Hot Springs,Politics | permalink | February 3, 2020 at 09:56 PM

Comments

Thank you for your write up of the water meetings. I find them really informational

Posted by: SUSAN D Brush at Feb 7, 2020 9:01:05 AM

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