Sunday, June 30, 2013

Of Waste And Water

NEWS FROM THE WATER AND SANITARY DISTRICTS
Things have been relatively quiet in the two special districts that serve Costa Mesa - the Costa Mesa Sanitary District and the Mesa Water District.  So, on the last day of the municipal fiscal year, I thought I'd comment on some very recent news from each - just to get your hearts pounding.

CMSD 2-YEAR BUDGET ANNOUNCED
First, last week the Costa Mesa Sanitary District passed a two year budget and fired off a press release announcing it.  I'd like to be able to refer you to the press release on their web site, HERE, but it's not posted yet.  Check back for all the details.

HEADING FOR $11 MILLION
In a nutshell, their approved two year budget includes spending of $10,741,860 for FY 2013-2014 and $10,913,940 for FY 2014-2015, and includes funding for manhole maintenance, new laptops for field staff and digital imaging of District records.  They also plan to spend $850,000 to rehabilitate their force main sewer pipes, $328,500 to install emergency generators at critical facilities and $340,500 for rehabilitating brick manholes.

RATES TO BE LOWERED
We were also told that the District, for the second consecutive year, authorized the lowering to residential solid waste rates.  The Board approved a 10% reduction, dropping the rate from $19.95 per month to $18.00, using undesignated solid waste water reserves.  Multi-family customers and commercial/industrial customers will see significant reductions in their liquid waste rates, too.

MESA WATER VS. THE REGISTER
The most fun news, however is the case of dueling articles in the local "real" media.  On Saturday Mike Reicher published an interesting piece in the Orange County Register, HERE, titled, "Water officials'meals, travel top $170,000Since this article is hidden behind the Register's paywall, I'm not going to attempt to give you all the information.  I'll give you some of the highlights, however, and let you subscribe to the online version for more.

CURIOUS EXPENSES
Reicher tells us of several instances of what appears to be significant unjustified expenses for meals and other expenses racked up by Mesa Water District officials over the past couple years - like a dinner for two in Palm Springs for $144.00.

YIKES!
Reicher says that the five directors and eight District staffers spent more than $170,000 in expenses in 2011 and 2012.  Yikes!

OPEN MEETING LAW VIOLATIONS?
He tells us that "sometimes a majority of the five board members attended restaurant meals, which is allowed by the state's open meeting laws when the event is a strictly social gathering.  He tells us, though, that the district credit cards are only for official business".  He chronicled at least two instances when a quorum of board members met a restaurant for pre-meeting meals and charged them to district credit cards.  And on and on and on.


DEFLECTION
Then, on the same day and in the competing Daily Pilot, Mesa Water District Jim Fisler published a letter that paints a rosy picture of the District, HEREIn it he tells us about our low water rates - ignoring the fact that Mesa Water has raised rates for the past couple years to jack up its bond rating.

GOOD NEWS
He touts the fact that Mesa Water provides its customers with "100% local water", not imported from distant venues.  He also talks about the exceptionally high quality of the water.  These are all good things, worthy of mention.

HEADING OFF CRITICISM
However, when I cornered Fisler at the 60th Anniversary Celebration Saturday and asked him about it, he acknowledged that he anticipated a "hit piece" from Reicher, and his letter in the Daily Pilot was intended to blunt the impact of Reicher's piece.  I'm not so sure it did, particularly when an increasing number of folks don't read both papers.

RE-BRANDING AND OTHER EXPENSES
I didn't ask Fisler about the major gaffe recently exposed by Reicher - that their expensive "re-branding" campaign for an organization that has a captive audience that cost north of $250,000 (the exact number varies, depending on who you ask) and resulted in a logo that cannot be protected by copyright, HEREThat, plus the long list of curious expenses racked up by Mesa Water, probably should make the ratepayers of  the District more than a little uneasy.  The directors of Mesa Water attempt to portray the District as being "efficient, financially sound and transparent", but the information discovered in Reicher's two recent articles paints a slightly different picture.

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20 Comments:

Anonymous The real press rules! said...

Fishler talks about results. Reicher talks about how the sausage is made. two good perspectives.
170K over two years is probably very small compared to other local government agencies but I wonder why such disparity in the spending among the directors? Fishler is 4600 dollars over two years yet two others are more than 4 times that amount. Considering the great job the water district is doing with the AAA bond rating (confirmed), lowest expenditures per capita of any water district (his words, can't verify) and getting reserves for needed infrastructure(confirmed by bond raters) I think this spending, which is about 1/4 of 1 percent of budget (my math)is probably in line with the cost of doing business elsewhere. Maybe quit using the water district as a piñata and see what the San District spends as a percentage of budget on conferences and travel, then on to the school district(tough comparison with all the employees but could be done) and see how it all ends up. Good job by both writers, things always have 2 sides.

6/30/2013 07:33:00 PM  
Anonymous inqiring mind said...

I can't get behind the paywall . who had that expensive dinner you mention? was it dewane and fisler? thought so. definitely not Atkinson or Ohlig Hall, they are for the ratepayers. Bet dewane and fisler are the top spenders overall too. lowest would be Atkinson and Hall I bet. Feeny has been calling out dewane and fisler rightfully all along. I thought it was just her friendshop with Hall. Now we got them! dewane and fisler are too close to desal people so it figures they are the wasteful ones.

6/30/2013 07:38:00 PM  
Anonymous Man Bites Dog! said...

sounds like the district IS transparent, maybe too transparent, to let this out. I know they are efficient and financially strong and have done us right by getting us all local water supply and raised water rates less than other districts. Newport raised them 40% over same five year period our company did 25%.
FRONT page OC Register for going to conferences and spending 27 dollars on a seabass lunch? wow, a little too excited?Front page? Really. When ALL the Board of Supervisors are on FPPC investigation and it is buried in back sections? Where is the 15 dollar cocktail, the 100 dollar bottle of wine? The women? The trips to Australia to see how their desal works? They flew on jets?
Yawn.

6/30/2013 07:54:00 PM  
Anonymous YIKES said...

So Fisler was sporting a beard this weekend, huh?

6/30/2013 08:30:00 PM  
Anonymous The Biggest Spender said...

Hey Fis!
What's with the branding and dinner money? Close to $700,000.?
Do you spend the same way when it's Valerie's money?
No? Then why when it's the ratepayer's dime?

Man, you're starting to physically look like Riggy and Mensy.. Coincidence?

6/30/2013 08:37:00 PM  
Anonymous Fis and Fitz said...

Where's cost-cutter Fitzy on this Fisler scandal? Isn't he the head of CM Tax?

You'd think the lad would be all over this saying "Fisler hasn't eaten since 1961.."

170K for dinners?
Seriously?
That's our family's food budget for the next 15-20 years!

6/30/2013 08:41:00 PM  
Anonymous sk said...

I do agree $170,000 is a relatively small amount of the budget but I also think Ruth Chris is a bit much to ask ratepayers to provide as a meal. It is kind of like a leaky faucet, just a little drip everyday that slowly develops into a big expense if overlooked for too long. And the San District needs to come up with a transparency in hiring policy that includes Board approval of new hires.

6/30/2013 08:41:00 PM  
Anonymous Golfcarts into Food Carts said...

Will Morello and McCarthy be marching on Mesa Water after all these revelations?

Will Fisler resign and get a job at Hometown Buffet?

6/30/2013 08:45:00 PM  
Anonymous cmratepayer said...

Fisler and Dewayne do the least work. Some of the expenses involve travel, conferences and study that is not a lot of fun but helps improve the district. It's hard work.
Some of the other spending is just stupid. Rebranding? The PR gal’s salary-wow! 50K private parties that the ratepayers pay for? I resent that. I take 5 minute showers, my lawn exists on severe rationing, and I don’t flush the toilet every time so I can save on water bills, and here they are flushing my money away

7/01/2013 02:05:00 AM  
Anonymous behind the orange paywall said...

Inquiring mind: hate to disappoint you but the expensive meal was NOT dewane and fisler! In fact, they are the lowest spenders over two years (by many thousands). Feeny fooled you apparently. The expensive dinner? Atkinson and Ohlig Hall ! You know, the ratepayers friends against the OCGOP boyz. they only got dewane for a 27 dollar meal and 60 cents in mileage and pinned nothing on fisler. In fact, Ohlig Hall spent more than Dewane, Fisler, and Bockmiller COMBINED, and Atkinson beat that combined number by another 20%. haha Good job by the OCGOP boyz. (except they flew on a jet apparently according to the author, they need to use propeller driven planes in the future). and "branding" was not 500K, Mr. YIKES, but a little over 200K over more than 4 years. logo was under 20K, not 500K(all on the transparent website of the efficient district). facts are friends. Shout out to Sandy, Robin, Merle, Debbie, and John: careful what you wish for, karma is a bi**h.

7/01/2013 05:28:00 AM  
Anonymous there was one? said...

Reicher is the new Erin Brokovich! (although failed to expose any tainted water, brown act violations, destroyed documents or gift of public monies but still a good effort to try) Congrats. 85K a year in spending is definitely front page news.(it goes down to 63K/yr if you take out Atkinson and Ohlig Hall spending=oh wait, Ohlig Hall already was taken out=one to go)
But how about the NMUSD spending 90K in a couple of DAYS, not years, on a conference recently? hopefully that is next story. that is taking $$ from the children. You go Erin !

Fisler sounds like the White House Press Secretary. We don't want the bottom line Fis, we want all the details you omit. Your results may be good, but methods questionable. no more of this we have to read the bill to know what's in it. Erin will tell us what's in it. and you can be sure it is all true, it is written in ink.

7/01/2013 06:47:00 AM  
Anonymous Justice is Coming said...

Yo Jimmy Fitzy!
Get your tongue off Riggy's boots for a couple minutes and join the march on Mesa!
Oh? Your buddies can spend whatever they want? Thought so.
Hypocrite ponyboy.

7/01/2013 08:18:00 AM  
Anonymous Ratepayer said...

Obviously, there are a lot of folks posting here who have skin in the game!

Spin away - you miss the point.

This is a SMALL water district. Yes, it performs well and has been innovative, but that does not excuse the feeding at the public trough by staff and some Board members.

Shoenberger needs to go. I would assume that the folks at Harvard would have mentioned a thing or two about following established rules, policies and procedures. With a staff of 60, according to the Register, this type of culture is Shoenberger's fault.

Fisler needs to stop defending the indefensible, the spending habits are outrageous for a SMALL water district. The rebranding and public relations staff are outrageous wastes of ratepayer funds.

The board needs to remember why they are there - to represent the public - NOT protect Shoenberger while scarfing down expensive meals, renting Cadillacs and wasting $12000+ in ratepayer dollars to attend Harvard - way to go Bockmiller!

7/01/2013 08:49:00 AM  
Blogger Ltpar said...

Clearly, it appears that a few conservative, fiscal conscious Costa Mesa citizens need to stand up and run for the Mesa Water Board of Directors. They could then get the free spirit staff under control, cut up the credit cards and hold employees fully accountable. Any takers out there?

7/01/2013 12:29:00 PM  
Blogger zz said...

The conference expenses don't bother me; it's the in-town meals for Board and staff at expensive restaurants, strictly against the District's rules. And then they have the gall to bill for the time they spent dining at our expense! The ratepayers have really been taken for a ride, with no end in sight.

More serious, though,is the cash hoarding while raising rates. The water business has a very high return on investment. They have no need to raise rates. The District has so much cash relative to revenue and expenses, and they use the lame excuse that they need to have a strong cash position to maintain a high credit rating. For what? They have not announced any plans to borrow money nor do any major expansion. What are they hoarding cash for? They really should refund all the extra money they collected by the last 25% rate increase.

7/01/2013 04:13:00 PM  
Anonymous Ethics said...

sk, it doesn't really matter if the Board approves new hires at the Sanitary District or not. The GM obviously has them wrapped around his little finger. Just like City Hall, he has now hired two girlfriends he used to work with in Claremont giving them extremely high salaries and neither of them had any direct experience for their positions! It’s unbelievable. Hopefully the Board will ask their new Finance Manager, who has never even worked in an accounting department, some basic question to see how little she knows. Unfortunately, transparency won’t solve these types of problems. We’ve created a system that gives those in power carte blanche to hire their buddies instead of selecting highly qualified candidates. I guess some people have a gift for spinning the story to get what they want. Scott certainly does.

7/01/2013 06:24:00 PM  
Anonymous Rats said...

It is blatantly clear the Mesa Water Board members have no respect for the public and view them as a piggy bank to buy themselves $50 steaks at the Balboa Bay club, network with lobbyists, donors, and contractors, and attend fancy parties and conventions.

This is abuse and corruption. Mesa's line that this is just business as usual does not cut it. $170,000 over 2 years for 5 Board Members and some Executive Staff is not stnadard business, it's a BINGE! All 5 Directors must be removed as soon as possible.

7/01/2013 07:31:00 PM  
Anonymous sk said...

Ethics
Love what you had to say, but hope you are wrong and we will see a change to transparency in the hiring methods with all government agencies. Look at Mesa hiring a fellow Board member and all those questionable hires at the City. Residents don't realize how much hiring practices impact them; the impact is much more than travel and meal expenditures. I wonder how much it cost the San District ratepayers in advertising expense and staff time to recruit for the Accounting/Finance Manager position two times so they could hire who they wanted? And what about the qualified candidates that wasted their time applying and interviewing? And of course as you mentioned, the higher than required salaries offered. I recommend testing for all positions with applicants using a number rather than a name for grading so people who get to the interview process have proven they have the knowledge required. And any employee acquainted with a candidate should have no say in who is hired.

7/01/2013 08:42:00 PM  
Anonymous do as i say not as i do said...

Yo sk . i like your thinking. except you support the board who put a former board member who got beat in an election. what a shame that all those qualified people applied when the fix was in.

Why do you change your logic?

7/06/2013 03:41:00 PM  
Anonymous sk said...

do as I say - key word "qualified"

7/08/2013 06:28:00 AM  

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