On The Money: Rio Linda Water Woes
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(CBS13) Insults, infighting and a dysfunctional water board – that’s what the Sacramento County Grand Jury found in the Rio Linda – Elverta Water District.
(See Grand Jury report here: http://www.sacgrandjury.org/reports/10-11/RioLinda-Final%202011.pdf )
The Grand Jury said the fighting reminded them of the famous feud between the Hatfields and the McCoys – two warring families from the 19th century who sparred along the border between West Virginia and Kentucky.
But in Rio Linda, it’s a war over water. Rio Linda resident Mike Redman noted, “The water seems to be so bad, we don’t even drink it.” Redman told CBS 13, “We use it for bathing but we don’t drink it.”
High arsenic levels forced the Rio Linda – Elverta Water District http://www.rlecwd.com/ to shut down some of its water wells. But the bigger problem is water pressure – a Sacramento County Grand Jury found pumping levels so low that fire departments must bring their own water trucks to a fire.
“They don’t have the necessary pressure to put out the fire,” said Grand Jury foreman Don Prange.
The Sacramento County Grand Jury also discovered a bookkeeper had charged thousands of dollars in personal expenses to the district’s credit card.
On The Money asked Grand Jury foreman Don Prange what the travel junkets included:
“Hawaii was one spot,” Prange stated. He then added, “There was (also) a ticket to South Africa.”
The Rio Linda – Elverta Water District identified the bookkeeper as Elizabeth Myers – and CBS 13 visited her former Rio Linda home, but learned she has since moved out of state. The case has been turned over to the Sacramento District Attorney.
Myers’ attorney, Costa Kerestenzis sent a statement to CBS 13 saying, “Ms. Myers denies that she engaged in any wrongdoing. Ms. Myers has appealed her termination and has filed several legal actions regarding this situation and is eagerly awaiting the adjudication of these actions. Ms. Myers is confident that once these matters are adjudicated, the true facts will come out and she will be vindicated.”
Meanwhile, the grand jury found the Rio Linda – Elverta Water District has more than $150,000 in unpaid bills that are 90 days past due.
“Where did the money go?” Vivien Johnson wondered out loud.
The Rio Linda – Elverta Water Board member told CBS 13, “We certainly didn’t spend it.”
“So you don’t know where the money went?” this reporter asked Johnson.
“Nope” she said.
The Rio Linda – Elverta Water District hired and fired two general managers in the past year –
And one of them is now suing the district: https://services.saccourt.com/publicdms/Search.aspx
The water district has been paying legal counsel Ravi Mehta, $150 an hour to serve as an interim manager.
“While I understand that from an outside point of view that seems like an exorbitant amount of money to pay for someone in that position,” said Courtney Caron.
The Rio Linda – Elverta Water Board President told CBS 13, “He is the only person who has been stable as far as a continuing relationship with the district for the past several years.”
But the biggest problem the grand jury found was open warfare between water board members.
Vivien Johnson told CBS 13, “I think we have a couple of uninformed, immature board members that want to consider this district as their own private little water district.”
Board President Courtney Caron responded, “I would like to think it is not her intention to stir things up but it inevitably has happened.”
The grand jury calls it a “legacy of dysfunction”.
“They are constantly embroiled in some heated argument, whether it’s with the employees or the managers that they have or a bookkeeper,” Grand Jury Foreman Don Prange told CBS 13.
“I don’t think we had any more dysfunctional board than any other board around,” stated board member Vivien Johnson. She told CBS 13, “We just happen to be a little bit more vocal.”
The board is tackling the water pressure problem by drilling a new well, with a plan to add two additional wells in the future. The district has also hired a new general manager, who will start in June. Residents hope it will provide some stability.
But what about all the in-fighting going on at the board?
Rio Linda resident Mike Redman told CBS 13,” That’s been going on for several years now because they’re been through many managers.” Redman then added, “But our bills keep coming.”
And those bills are going up. Ratepayers will soon be shelling out about $6 more every month for the digging of new wells to improve water pressure. http://www.rlecwd.com/home.php
The Rio Linda – Elverta Water District serves about 15,000 people.