Tuesday, July 16, 2013

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.

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.

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.

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?"

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!"?

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.

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."

She closes by congratulating the Register for doing an excellent job and hopes the exposure will persuade Mesa Water to change its ways.

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.

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.

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Blogger Unknown said...

It's hard when an employee "insider" redresses comments or arguments that fellow employees have made. One may think the employee is disgruntled or is overly accusatory in opposition. However, this insider addresses the arguments rather well, point by point, according to Geoff's analysis. It is my hurried opinion, but this appears to be a profile in courage.

7/16/2013 06:50:00 AM  
Anonymous Assumes facts not in evidence said...

You accusations at the end are not based on anything except your disdain for a few people in the city. If they are friends, you attack. If not ignore. And if they are friends of yours you defend.

Fisler and Dewane were not mentioned as issues in the OC Register.

You have a spending out of control General Manager a current Board member in Atkinson who spends like it is water. A former board member who was emotionally uncontrollable, requiring an investigation with adverse conclusions of harassing employees and who herself spent money on these trips like it was going out of style. And then there is Cadillac Fred. But no Fisler, No Dewane and no boy Ethan.

Yet you cast aspersions on their character because they have relationships with those you do not like.

I looked at the trash board's last meeting agenda packet and I see members trips to Sacramento, after so long on the board? And they get paid to attend a city council meeting? How much do they get paid for that? Did they stay the entire time? Who cares according to this blogger, they are against the people he does not like.

Your anger is misplaced

7/16/2013 07:08:00 AM  
Anonymous sk said...

I am very happy to see an employee speaking out about wrong doings. I hope this doesn't cost her her job. What I have seen happen is when an employee speaks out agency management gets revenge. It is too bad management doesn't listen to their employees and try to improve the situation instead of it coming to this point. If local government agencies had a hiring policy a former Director of Mesa Water may not have been appointed as General Manager. Mesa seems to have gone downhill since he was hired. Board members should pay attention to employee turn over ratios and employee morale surveys. General Managers should really listen to what their staff tells them. Managers seem to get on a power trip and will do the wrongs things just because no one is going to tell them what to do.

7/16/2013 07:31:00 AM  
Anonymous revenge, my pretties said...

I think this guy wrote the letter to protect his job. He was probably as incompetent as litvak and knows he is next. good move to write the letter, now they can't fire you without it being called revenge.
As for Fisler and Dewane: they apparently do not travel much. Yikes! they were the lowest spenders on the board by far. Yikes! They bring a lot to the FAC in Costa Mesa Yikes! They are very conservative and watch out for the ratepayers money, Atkinson and Ohlig Hall do (did)not. Yikes! I think they fly southwest most of the time, coach. Yikes! total cost of travel for district, directors and staff: 1/4 of 1% Yikes!!! The guy who wrote the letter probably is incompetent, double YIKES!

7/16/2013 08:28:00 AM  
Anonymous stavely as a ghost writer? said...

so this letter writer agrees with three other citizens and a register reporter? wow.
he seems to know what travel is necessary and what isn't. That is interesting. why should I believe him? Mesa Water says it is necessary. Now we have two different opinions. Of course, the real reason is desalination. there has been an orchestrated effort to get rid of dewane and fisler and put in new board members so they can fire the GM. good luck with that! lol. this extends to the cm dais and Genis. I read the register article. the darlings of the anti fisler/dewane crowd, Atkinson and hall, turned out to be the big spenders. dewane/fisler are the ones who watch out for the public dollars. who knew? what a backfire. so now they get this guy to write a letter agreeing with them? I like results and Mesa water has most excellent financial results. and the water rates are fair and transparent. no property taxes added, no tiered rates. me thinks this letter writer must be a loser and he knows he can't cut it anymore. so he protects his ass by coming out on the offensive. does a lot of harm to a good district and hurts all the other employees' moral. what a greedy guy he is. just leave. don't pull a stavely. on second thought, do pull a stavely since you have already done part 1 of 2.

7/16/2013 08:39:00 AM  
Anonymous fac said...

what "cavalier disregard for frugality" can you point to regarding dewane or fisler? the register sure made them look like heroes in the spending department. please show examples for each of them. you don't paint the city council with a broad brush, why water. let's look at individuals. please cite examples. thank you.

7/16/2013 08:48:00 AM  
Anonymous pipefitter said...

sk: "her" job? it's a dude according to Geoff. get on board with the facts presented in his posts. this is one of many. we know you are a disgruntled, *ncompetent , ex employee. Yikes. I hear very little employee "turnover" (they ARE reducing staff, but not replacing so this is not true "turnover") and high morale is rampant at the district but thanks for the spin. fiddling while burning ring a "Bell"? yes and general managers really should listen to what staff tells them to do. Brilliant! yikes!
And in hi post, Geoff apparently doesn't think much of a water employee who just drives a truck and fixes some pipe. very nice Geoff. yikes. classwarfare?

7/16/2013 09:59:00 AM  
Anonymous Showtime said...

Wow, the Rig-trolls are out in force today!

West and the Current/OCR must have hit a nerve.

Isn't this the part where Napoleon or some minions do a big distraction routine?

Teachers and baggage clerks watch out! "Bumper" Mensinger might start screaming at you to get attention off his little friends..

7/16/2013 10:12:00 AM  
Anonymous the real mccoy said...

if you think travel is not customary or normal in the public sector you are mistaken. yet it gets a "yikes"? check out travel at all government levels. it is there, big time. do I agree with it? no, not all of it. one must pick and choose what is worthwhile. but some dude from laguna beach or this guy who wrote the letter are NOT the ones to make the decision. when I saw the register story, on front page no less, I thought the perps in the pictures had gone to jail, had used money for prostitutes, booze, or faraway foreign travel. to my surprise it was just normal stuff, over TWO years nonetheless. I wonder why it was on front page? very strange indeed. looks like the writer had a hit in mind, one year total wouldn't look bad enough, so he expanded to 2 hoping no one would notice. I am getting fatigued by all this nonsense. sounds like a family fight, keep it to yourselves please. if you don't like desal go to Huntington Beach planning commission or city council, that is where the project is. geez. we have real issues to be concerned about, not enviro whackos latest peeves.

7/16/2013 10:14:00 AM  
Blogger The Pot Stirrer said...

A friend advised me that the writer is, in fact, a woman. I corrected the text of my post.

"pipefitter", I admire and appreciate the hard work those folks who keep the pipes flowing do for us. However, the writer of the letter in question is a person with credible, first-person knowledge about the issue at hand and was willing to tell us about it. If the issue was the condition of the pipes, then that guy on the truck is a more credible source on that subject.

7/16/2013 10:27:00 AM  
Anonymous CM4OE said...

I see the cm4rg minion crowd is out on schedule. Last week, Mooney wrote a letter saying fisler/dewane shouldn't be on City finance committee due to other board members spending money and now you come out and put a hit on them for what other district members do. why pick out and criticize by name the LOWEST spenders when worrying about district spending? makes no sense. why not look at what fisler/dewane do and attack them on THEIR actions? Can't find anything can you? IF you really want responsible government, go after the actual irresponsible ones, eh? hi robin.

7/16/2013 10:29:00 AM  
Anonymous pipefitter said...

how do you know he/she is credible? Have you met he/she? he/she may be a friend or member of cm4rg or may be correct. can't be both. but writing a letter as an employee doesn't make you auto credible. if so , every underachieving malcontent could pull this off with instant street cred? Heck, I am decent in the trenches with the pipe but I could write anything I want. should it be valid cuz I turn a valve? no bookcooker should be auto valid either.

7/16/2013 11:26:00 AM  
Blogger The Pot Stirrer said...

Well, pipefitter, let's evaluate her qualifications, shall we? According to her LinkedIn profile Saboohi Currim holds a Bachelor of Science degree from the London School of Economics and Political Science and two (2) Masters Degrees - one each from Stanford and UCLA. Before her tenure - six (6) years - at Mesa Water she was Audit Manager at the City of Torrance for eight (8) years. I'd say that pretty much qualifies her to offer an opinion on the issue.

7/16/2013 11:44:00 AM  
Anonymous pipefitter said...

oh, he/she can OFFER an OPINION for sure.
That does not make it a FACT is my point. holding degrees does not mean you are a saint and never lie. he/she can in fact be wrong. such as saying the sphere of influence is the border of CM. That is factually wrong right there. I just worked a meter at the airport! what else is incorrect in he/she letter?

7/16/2013 11:51:00 AM  
Anonymous the world is flat said...

pipefitter: it is a she. she has many advanced degrees. she has worked at the district for 6 years. are YOU telling us that she doesn't even know the boundaries of her own company after 6 years? she wrote what they were, the city of cm, period. if it is written then it is true! Your website says different so maybe go correct it and put in the right boundaries as she says they are. cut out the unincorporated areas, the airport, and the parts of Newport you guys claim and get it correct per the letter writer! you can't fool us any longer.

7/16/2013 01:55:00 PM  
Anonymous sk said...

pipefitter - Mesa has lost several key employees. I never knew any reporting that says employees leave when morale gets too high. If you take some time to do some research you will find the number one downfall of managers is not listening. I question who between us is incompetent. At least
I stick to the subject and possible solutions not name calling.

7/16/2013 05:28:00 PM  
Anonymous results matter said...

**WILL MESA'S (WATER) PRACTICES AFFECT THE CITY?** (dewane/fisler on finance committee)

you mean ending up with things like an AAA bond rating and the lowest expenditures per capita of any water district in OC? and fully funded pensions?

gee, I don't know. sounds bad.

7/16/2013 06:57:00 PM  
Anonymous No Bridge and Happy said...

The Cadillac was rented for 39.90 per day. It was an upgrade because the reserved car was not available when promised. Subsequent trips were in an Impala, which was what was requested.
The cost of travel by rental car was less than airfare plus subsequent ground transportation.
All these verifiable facts were provided to the Register.

7/16/2013 07:16:00 PM  
Anonymous dude, get a life said...

What we are saying is that certain ex-sanitary directors shouldn't drink and try to post...yikes! facts are your friend.

7/16/2013 08:31:00 PM  
Anonymous pipefitter said...

sk: from what I hear Mesa Water has upgraded several key employment positions, hardly a loss. People come and people go everywhere. You have moved to new employment in the past? Were you a key loss to them? As long as the new employees are as good or better than the old ones there is no "loss".

7/17/2013 06:42:00 AM  
Anonymous sk said...

pipefitter - you and I have different information regarding new hires at Mesa. Maybe you are getting your information from the management who isn't listening and is presenting a fa├žade for the public and the Board. Or maybe you are a new hire at a local govt agency. In any case, there is a substantial cost of training new hires and important historical company information is lost when employees leave. A manager with the attitude "any employee can be replaced" will never be successful because their employees will always move on.

7/17/2013 07:28:00 AM  
Anonymous giving alf fitz said...

maybe sk is getting her information from very unreliable and biased sources. she is no insider and any insider who feeds her negative stuff is by definition a malcontent.

7/17/2013 11:02:00 AM  
Anonymous We're paying attention said...

Why the hell is the public putting ANYONE at Mesa through the Harvard program? The fact that a part-time, elcted director fed at that trough is even more offensive. These guys have completely lost focus and need to be reminded what their role is at the next election.

You have a fixed amount of time to demonstrate that you are fiscally conservative stewards of the public trust. Fire Shoenberger, stop with the wasteful spending, fire your PR department and get back to the water business.

Or, don't, and reap the whirlwind at the next election.

7/17/2013 01:07:00 PM  
Anonymous Steve Smith said...

If travel is questionable, there is a simple way to curtail it. All those who travel on the public's dime should be required to complete a report stating where they went, with whom they met, what was discussed and, most important, they must state the potential benefit to taxpayers and the follow-up plan to achieve that benefit. It is what I proposed for the school board in 2011 when their travel was unjustified. Will either panel do it? Not likely, because it requires accountability and bureaucracies resist it. It also seems to me in this day and age that certain conferences are dinosaurs; that technology can SOMETIMES replace on-site visits and be just as effective. Don't hold your breath for this, either.

7/17/2013 02:43:00 PM  
Anonymous elipsical popsicle.org said...

Steve Smith: Fisler and Dewane get it. very selective on conferences. usually one per year. Atkinson goes to everything. They all do report back about he conference though, that is covered.
as to "paying attention": hopefully they don't listen to you. you sound like you want to ruin the finest water district in OC going by results. u just dont' like how the sausage is made in the water world. Fisler dewane, and temianka shoeins next time they run. very popular. Atkinson? who knows. he blew it big time.

7/17/2013 06:03:00 PM  
Anonymous fiscal mistake said...

Steve. I believe state law requires at least a verbal report. Quality of report is flexible. And likely board policy requires out of district travel approval.

7/17/2013 07:25:00 PM  
Anonymous bad news, haters said...

Perry spent 4K in ONE YEAR on meals and conferences, Fisler 4.6 in 2 years. Scheafer spent 5.4K in ONE YEAR, and Ferryman 2.6K in ONE YEAR. YIKES!

7/18/2013 06:25:00 AM  
Anonymous Steve Smith said...

eliptical popsicle: "Reporting back" is not the same as holding these people accountable for spending our money at/on conferences and meetings. These reports must include a clear and concise description of the follow-up required to achieve the benefits to taxpayers. Further, at each meeting, attendees should provide updates on that progress. Do this and in short time, we will learn whether any of this travel is worth the tax money.

7/18/2013 11:01:00 AM  
Anonymous by the numbers said...

Dear Bad News for Haters

how much did Fitzpatrick spend in his last year?

7/18/2013 11:29:00 AM  
Anonymous bad news, haters said...

$1329.17 is Jim Fizpatrick spending total. He was the lowest spender on the board. this is provided for "by the numbers" question.

7/18/2013 02:42:00 PM  
Anonymous so what? said...

hey "bad news". You left off one thing: the sanitary directors have nothing to do with desalination, or at least Sandy hasn't mentioned them or their business practices during her councilmember comments. you quite conveniently left that off your numbers report, how do you explain that? you need to report on that and follow up with weekly reports to show why you didn't until "WE" know you are spending your time wisely and whether reporting numbers is really worth it. Shortly we would find out if it is worth you waking up at all. Steve Smith will make that determination for us. shame on you! you know full well this report is about spending at the water company and no other government entities. No one asked for comparisons from you.

7/18/2013 02:53:00 PM  
Blogger just wondering... said...

As we speak, Dewayne is trying to sell his desal program to H.B., and get them to buy only his desal water. Guess what...?? The prices are very high. I suspect Costa Mesa is the next one to pay the elevated prices for desal water. I know, I know, we were told by someone with no name that wouldn't happen, but it appears they lied.

7/18/2013 03:30:00 PM  
Anonymous Crazy Thinking said...

Can't trust a conservative like Fitzpatrick. Spends the least and fights to lower rates allowing market forces in a competitive bid.

7/18/2013 08:05:00 PM  
Anonymous clean house now! said...

"crazy thinking": at least Fitzpatrick isn't on the finance advisory committee at city hall! and his fellow directors spent your dollars to boot him off San District board. there is a god! bad enough the 2 low spenders at mesa water who brought an AAA bond rating and lowest expenditures per capita spending (that terrible duo of Dewane/Fisler that makes Geoff nervous that they will bring the same to the city)are still on it. Sandy should address this at councilmember comments asap before they ruin the city. of course, the committee will miss out on some "ideas" from them. no loss there.

7/18/2013 08:51:00 PM  
Anonymous Remember in 2014 said...

Maybe Fisler will run for city council.

He could beat Katrina. She quit city council. She has done nothing but alienate more people.

The school board is an important governing body the council will work with and Katrina has made enemies.

Fisler is known and respected by all such bodies and has built regional relationships that are and will benefit Costa Mesa.

Katrina is nothing but an anti candidate. Costa Mesa deserves better

7/19/2013 09:35:00 AM  
Blogger Dorite4ever said...

Another rate increase for Mesa customers is in being planned...this time adding $34 to apartment buildings, schools, most businesses that have multiple units in the same building....for back flow devices.
For the uninitiated , back flow devices are those big pipe like devices that you see outside all strip malls and buildings other than single family residences. They prevent water from flowing back into the distribution system once it has entered the users pipelines. These devices are required by law and help keep our water system safe. To get properties that are already burdened by the cost of installing these devices, paying to have them tested, paying to maintain/fix them should something go wrong, paying for repairs when parts get stolen and then to be charged monthly for a device that the property owners keep to help all citizens is really shocking. It is not like the District needs any more money.

This increase is being planned next week at the Engineering and Operations Committee meeting. I would suggest folks try and make their voices heard about this. The meeting is on Tuesday July 23rd in the morning.

7/19/2013 01:17:00 PM  

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