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Analysis: Who Can Come to the Rescue of Rio Linda?

Rio Linda Water TowerThe Sacramento Bee posted and op/ed piece this morning about the molasses-like morass that’s been destroying the Rio Linda water district for years under the sinister watch of Mary Harris and Vivien whatever-her-name-is-this-week.

Here’s my in-depth analysis of the article:

The Rio Linda water district takes dysfunction to whole new depths. It is so riven by infighting, so derelict in its duties, that it doesn’t much matter who wins the board election Nov. 2.

Yep.

The district, which dates to 1948, serves about 14,000 residents in north Sacramento County – but not well. For years, feuding and mismanagement have strangled attempts to improve service. In 2007 and again last December, the state Department of Public Health ordered the district to correct deficiencies.

Not that it’s mattered much. The citation in 2007 was largely ignored, and the ultimatum issued in December hasn’t been enforced. Thanks for nothing, CDPH.

All the election will do is set the stage for yet another round of recriminations, especially after the current board dismissed interim General Manager Mychael Cardenas Thursday night, less than a month after deposing its president. In all the disarray, residents, who deserve safe drinking water and adequate fire protection, are being held hostage.

Held hostage by five incedibly inept, irresponsible, and just plain dumb directors. These people couldn’t direct traffic on a one way street in an Amish community.

The time has come to stop the madness, get rid of the board and merge the Rio Linda/Elverta Community Water District with a neighboring utility, perhaps the Sacramento Suburban Water District.

As much as I hate to say it, the author is right. Place the district in receivership and give us some experienced management with experienced directors.

Next week, the Sacramento County Local Agency Formation Commission is expected to issue a draft municipal service review on the district, the first step to possible consolidation or other reorganization. The review, the first done on the district, was called for by the Sacramento County grand jury, which in April said that the board’s conduct had been “deplorable” and that it had wasted tax money.

LAFCO’s initial response to the Grand Jury investigation was entirely hands-off and a full denial of responsibility.

The latest fiasco is sadly typical.

Amen, brother.

The board suspended Cardenas until Oct. 31, when he leaves the post he has held for less than a year. That puts in charge general counsel Ravi Mehta, whom it retained in February. He has, to put it charitably, a checkered past. A former chairman of the state’s Fair Political Practices Commission, he was fined $23,000 in 2001 for violating the campaign finance laws he once enforced. The State Bar also issued a “public reproval” and ordered him to take an ethics course. As a lobbyist for Oracle Corp., he got caught up in the software scandal during the Gray Davis administration.

“Checkered past” must be a journalistic euphemism for “pond scum”. See here, here and here. And here. And here.

The water district paid him more than $90,000 through early September. On Aug. 30, the board took up a revised contract to increase his hourly rate from $250 to $305. Saying he had “special expertise,” it also called for him to receive a 30 percent commission for any grants or loans he helped secure.

Our water board, sorely needing funds to build three new wells, agreed to give this attorney 30% of whatever money he sources. That’s $300,000 out of every million, folks.

That could be incredibly lucrative, since the district is seeking a $7.5 million loan from the state to build three new wells, and could seek other money. That would also be illegal – as the Department of Public Health made clear to the district. In fact, the department said, it would damage the district’s chances for funding.

The CDPH was prepared to give out district $7.5m to build our wells. Not any more. Does it work both ways? Can we collect 30% from the Maharavi on money that’s he’s lost us?

After an uproar, Mehta said at a Sept. 20 meeting that he had “magnanimously” agreed to remove the problem provision and said he had no intention of claiming a finder’s fee on the loan. But he was unwilling to give up rather generous compensation ($260,000 or more) if he is fired. That clause is in the four-year contract approved on Sept. 28. So is a provision that says if Mehta is sued, the district has to pay his legal expenses. The board ignored concerns about both provisions raised by a lawyer it hired to review the contract.

See “Pond Scum

Mary Harris, the lone vote against the contract, was removed as board president during the contract fracas. She was also the only director to oppose firing Cardenas. Still, she defends the board and says there should be local control – “bickering, or no bickering.”

Mary Harris is the director that brought Ravi Mehta to our district. So, now why is she fighting his contract and reviewing his billings? Could it have anything to do with an election?

It’s impossible to find a hero in this mess. It’s up to LAFCO to come to the rescue.

Yep… but don’t hold your breath. They’ve sat idly by for years while asinine directors have taken thousands of dollars in special meeting stipends, and thumbed their collective nose at government agencies, industry associations and community watchdogs.

Rio-Linda Volunteer Fire DepartmentIt’s very sad to see, really… Rio Linda used to have a sense of place and used to be a proud rural community. In the past 20 years we’ve lost the Rio Linda-Elverta Volunteer Fire Department, the Rio Linda Elementary School District and the Rio Linda-Elverta Community Water District will be no more within a year. The City of Sacramento is taking the panhandle from the Rio Linda Elverta Recreation and Parks district, severely cutting into their operating funds. What’s next? Will we be another Carmichael or Fair Oaks, or Florin? Small towns that used to have a sense of place and pride, that are now nothing more than annotations on the map of Sacramento’s suburban sprawl?

In closing, I don;t think it really matters who you vote for in the upcoming election because the situation is too far out of control. However, if you want to send a message to the board, I recommend voting for three people that aren’t currently sitting on the board. Who knows, we might get lucky.

It’s certainly can’t get any worse.

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1 Comment

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  • So true and so disheartening. How could this be going on so long and nothing been done as of yet?

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