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Cal Co Water Board Says Grand Jury Wrong

Questioning the accuracy and fact-finding methods of grand jury members, Calaveras County Water District directors approved an official response Wednesday to accusations and recommendations included in the investigative panel´s 2003-04 report.

A motion to submit the response was approved on a 3-1 vote with Director Don Deem dissenting and Director Jeff Davidson absent.

The grand jury report, released July 1, cited the county´s largest water district on a number of items.

It accused CCWD administration officials of creating their own benefit package that included lifetime health coverage after two years of service, and singled out district counsel Alan Turner as engaging in self-dealing with public tax dollars.

The report further claimed panel members “received a lack of cooperation in the production of documents” and that CCWD staff censored or edited a letter before presenting it to the district Board of Directors, even eliminating the author´s name.

Director Leroy Fonceca, of West Point, said grand jury members may have had good intentions, but it was obvious why their conclusions are in the form of “recommendations.”

“They´re not very much informed or accurate,” Fonceca said. “They don´t come here and ask questions.”

He compared the panel´s report to publications such as the National Enquirer and Star, saying the grand jury makes an accusation, then drops it without any follow-up.

“They do sell newspapers,” Fonceca said.

Director Bertha Underhill also took exception with the report.

“It´s like being hit blindside,” Underhill said.

She noted that grand jury members were sent two written invitations to meet with district directors “and we got no response.”

CCWD directors approved the district´s formal reply with no changes.

On numerous occasions the district´s response states that replies were difficult to draft because the grand jury´s findings were so ambiguous.

As for using hiring practices outside board policy, Turner´s response assumes that is in reference to himself and former General Manager John Stewart.

Those positions are contracted and a matter of state law, not district hiring policies. Those officials serve at the will of the board with compensation determined by the directors.

The management benefit package was not drawn up for all upper staff officials, according to CCWD´s response, but was negotiated as part of the employment contract with Stewart and Gail Steinman, and no one else.

And Turner pointed out that he is not part of that package.

“…(C)ounsel´s contract does not include a severance package or medical benefits upon retirement,” states the response.

The alleged “censored” correspondence was given to CCWD as an anonymous letter, Turner said, and presented to directors exactly as it was received.

As for the accusation CCWD failed to produce necessary documents, the response states that only legally privileged documents were withheld, all others were “promptly provided.”

Director Deem did not support the response as submitted, saying that because the grand jury´s report was poorly worded, some of the district´s responses to that wording are not accurate.

About 10 members of the public attended the meeting. Copperopolis resident Monte Crigler was the only one who spoke about the item.

The report is meaningless, Crigler said, if the District Attorney´s Office doesn´t enforce any the findings and recommendations.

“If the district attorney … doesn´t police any of this stuff, nothing happens,” Crigler said. “Don´t worry about it. You guys ain´t going to jail.”

Calaveras Enterprise story by Craig Koscho. For more Calaveras news, click: calaverasenterprise.com