An Insider Criticizes Mesa Water's Operations
In the July 15, 2013 edition of The Current, the Orange County Register's supplement for the Newport Beach/Costa Mesa area and tucked tightly behind their pay wall, there's a very interesting letter to the editor. But first, some context.
CRITICISM OF MESA WATER
Over the past several months Register reporters have been producing some interesting, critical articles concerning the Mesa Water District. They've ranged from criticism of travel expenses to Mesa Water's board members involvement in a desalination advocacy group, CalDesal. The folks at Mesa Water have not been happy about that attention. And, members of the public have written critical letters to the local media about those articles.
THE CONTROLLER/AUDITOR SPEAKS OUT!
Which leads us to this very interesting letter, which appears with others on page 5, below Jack Wu's extremely critical column about Newport Beach Mayor Keith Curry. The letter is captioned, "Mesa Water Travel Spending Out Of Line". Seeing that title I expected it to be yet another scathing commentary by a member of the pubic, ripping Mesa Water for it's use of public funds. Instead, what I found was a letter in full agreement with many of the Register reporter's observations and expanding on comments made by two previous letter-writers. And this letter is written, not by some guy in a truck fixing pipe leaks, but by Saboohi Currim of Newport Beach who identifies herself as the controller/auditor at the Mesa Water District for the past six years! Well, at least until this letter was published, anyhow.
"LITTLE NEED TO TRAVEL OUT OF TOWN"
Currim agreed with writer Ken Martins of Laguna Beach for his observations that business travel "is no party". She then says, "The board members and the general manager have very little business purpose to travel out of town." Yikes!
Currim, when addressing those infrequent times board members and the general manager ARE required to travel, says, 'These are not stressful business meetings but more in the nature of meet-and-greet sessions." Yikes, again! She cites a Register article by saying, "The Register asks a valid question: What public purpose is served by so much travel?"
TRAVEL PRACTICES "NOT NORMAL"
She then responds to a letter by writer David Graf, who apparently referred to the criticisms of Mesa Water board travel as "petty issues minus context." Currim states, "What Graf is not aware of, perhaps, is that the expenditures being incurred by the district are not normal and customary in the public sector." How many times can I say "Yikes!"?
IGNORED STAFF - FLY BUSINESS CLASS
She later says, "However, the Mesa officials have chosen to ignore the suggestions made by various members of staff at various times to curtail these practices." Currim then tells us that the board chose to change its travel policy to upgrade to Business Class from Coach.
EXCESSIVE SPENDING A HARDSHIP TO RATEPAYERS
Near the end of her letter Currim says, "Mesa serves an area which has many residents that are low-income. Yet the water rates charged by Mesa are among the highest in the county. The high rates combined with excessive spending on the part of officials, in my opinion, result in a significant hardship to the ratepayers."
THE CONGRATULATES "THE REGISTER"
NOT YOUR NORMAL LETTER
Holy Cow! I'm trying to recall when I last saw an actual employee of an agency openly criticize his employer - maybe former Costa Mesa Interim Police Chief Steve Staveley's letter as he left his job a couple years ago.
WILL MESA PRACTICES AFFECT THE CITY?
More than a few people have suggested recently that Mesa Water requires some close attention. Based on this letter, it sounds like they may be right. I'm especially concerned about this since two members of the Mesa Water Board - Shawn Dewane and Jim Fisler - sit on the Investment Advisory Committee for the City of Costa Mesa. That body, now heavily-loaded with supporters of the current power elite in The City, will make recommendations to the City Council about how the city's finances should be managed. I worry that they will play fast and loose with some necessarily very conservative long-standing policies. Will these men bring their cavalier disregard for frugality to The City? I guess we'll just have to watch, wait and see.