Gail Fry -Contributor
After the resignation of West Valley Water District Directors Dr. Clifford Young and Kyle Crowther, directors Michael Taylor, Channing Hawkins and Greg Young are left standing to fill the two vacant positions shaping the district for years to come after 4 years of infighting between board members, substantial employee turnover, litigation, and an unfavorable audit by the State Controller as previously reported in The San Bernardino American News.
On November 8, 2021, West Valley Water District (WVWD) Director Kyle Crowther, representing division 1, submitted his resignation letter to the district explaining that he was accepting an out-of-state job opportunity. Two months later, WVWD Division 3 Director Clifford Young on January 3, without an explanation, emailed his resignation from WVWD to its general manager Shamindra “Rickey” Manbahal.
When asked by The San Bernardino American News about the reasoning to appoint rather than elect their replacements, WVWD Directors Michael Taylor and Greg Young both agreed that due to the timing of the upcoming an election, holding a special election would be very expensive to its ratepayers.
Angela Garcia was appointed to replace exiting division 1 director Crowther at its January 14th, meeting, the vote was unanimous. Garcia, a professional engineering geologist with a bachelor’s degree from California State University Fullerton and master’s degree from California State University Los Angeles in Geology and over 20 years of government agency experience, is married to Fontana City Council’s Mayor Pro Tem Peter Garcia.
“It’s an honor to be trusted with serving and representing the public in the management of our world’s most critical resource: water,” newly appointed WVWD Director Garcia said addressing the board and its attending ratepayers. Garcia promised WVWD Ratepayers that her priority would be to reach out to her constituents and ensure the district is utilizing all resources to assure water reliability as water demand rises and ability to find water supply is getting increasingly difficult.
Garcia will face an election challenge this year as required by Government Code Section 1780(d)(2), when a director (Crowther) resigns in the first half of his term of office.
WVWD has posted a notice of vacancy on its website for former director Dr. C. Young, and is asking persons in division 3, interested in filling the vacancy, to submit their letters of interest and resumes. To be considered for the position, persons need to be a registered voter, a resident of Division 3 and submit their letters of interest and resumes no later than 5:00 p.m. on Wednesday, February 9 at the WVWD Offices located at 855 West Baseline Road in Rialto.
Director Greg Young informed The San Bernardino American News that Dr. Clifford Young has been experiencing health issues coupled with the death of his wife a year ago, he decided it was best to resign, While Director Michael Taylor provided a different explanation revealing that he found out that Dr. C. Young had sold his home and may not be living in the district. Both Young and Taylor acknowledged C. Young had missed several meetings recently.
When it comes to appointing directors, Director Michael Taylor told The San Bernardino American News he wants someone with honesty and integrity, the most important qualities in a WVWD director. Additionally, Taylor will ask applicants their reason for wanting to serve, looking for someone who appears to want to take care of the people they represent, acknowledging that you really don’t know a person’s intentions until they start making decisions.
Looking back at WVWD has gone through over the last few years, Taylor observed that if a director has the wrong intentions, they can cause quite a bit of damage while they are in office, cautioning ratepayers to be careful when voting.
In this year’s 2022 election, ratepayers will be voting for their representatives in WVWD’s division 2, currently held by Taylor, division 3, formerly represented by C. Young and division 1, previously held by Crowther and currently held by Garcia.
According to Director of Government & Legislative Affairs Naseem Farooqi, Water Code Section 71254 and Government Code Section 1780, provide the method for which vacancies for special districts are to be filled, which provisions show vacancies will be filled by a “qualified” resident of the division.
Director Greg Young informed The San Bernardino American News that WVWD through its directors Dr. Young, Dr. Taylor, Mr. Crowther as well as director Channing Hawkins, together developed a plan to address the district’s issues raised in the June 2020, audit by the State Controller’s Office. Director G. Young pointed to its former manager Clarence Mansell as the source of the issues raised in the state audit.
As a positive development for WVWD, Director G. Young credited Congresswoman Norma Torres with helping WVWD obtain needed funding on a project that will increase the capacity of the district’s Oliver P. Roemer Water Filtration Facility by 16 million gallons per day in order to address the district’s future water needs coming from rising peak summer demand and housing developments planned north of Rialto and Fontana expected to be built in the next two years. G. Young is excited to have Garcia join the WVWD board describing her as a terrific asset for the district.
Director Taylor told The San Bernardino American News that since Dr. C. Young is no longer on the board, the remaining board members have been able to join together as a team and relationships have improved. Taylor views the addition of Angela Garcia to the board as huge benefit for WVWD due to her education and experience in the water industry. Taylor recalled that WVWD’s former general manage Clarence Mansell always had nice things to say despite the disagreements between board members and employees during his time with the district.
Director Taylor wanted to assure WVWD’s ratepayers that things are better at their water district, the district’s finances are great, and from what he could tell from WVWD’s employees, they all love their work, and are committed to perform their work at the highest level for the ratepayers they serve.
While the State Controller’s Office did find some things the district didn’t do right, Director Taylor acknowledged, and specific board members were named, directors who are not board members now, the state just provided recommendations instead of assessing the district with punitive damages.
After the State Controller’s Office arrived at the district office, WVWD participated and obtained the Special District Leadership Foundation’s District Transparency Certificate of Excellence program in June 2020, where special districts have to accomplish specific requirements to attain basic transparency, website and outreach requirements.
WVWD Director of Government and Legislative Affairs Naseem Farooqi shared the district implemented live streaming of its Board of Directors meetings on YouTube and Facebook, where they can be viewed by its ratepayers anytime, and to address COVID-19 pandemic concerns, WVWD began live streaming their meetings on Zoom to provide access to its ratepayers.
Instructions for its ratepayers to watch and participate in WVWD’s meeting via Zoom are posted at the beginning of each meeting agenda and ratepayers have three options to provide public comment; via the Zoom website/application, using the telephone number with the access code to call, or submitting comment via email to WVWD’s Board Secretary Peggy Asche at firstname.lastname@example.org.
When reviewing WVWD’s meetings section of its website to locate a link to view district meetings, The San Bernardino American News noticed the link is in blue on a blue box making it difficult to see. The link to watch: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UC-3Rt0eCPDeVCy2Z1xms_CA/videos
Farooqi assured the ratepayers that WVWD is committed to being transparent and accessible to its ratepayers.
After the State Controller’s Audit and recommendations, in October 2020, WVWD implemented 10 major reforms including strict accounting and financial reporting standards, revised board policies and procedures manual, and approval of new projects to address the district’s need for sustainability and efficiency in its water processing infrastructure.
Additionally, the WVWD board decided to approve and establish the Inland Empire Water Career Pathways Program to offer the training and critical skills necessary to work at the district which will provide jobs opportunities to local students and residents.
In late 2017, issues at WVWD came to a head when members of the board pointed fingers at each other accusing each other of abusing power, misappropriating public funds, nepotism, discrimination, employee intimidation and conflicts of interest while district management staff directed their accusations at then WVWD President Clifford O. Young, Sr. of “improper spending and hiring practices.”
This led to WVWD former Director Dr. C. Young, Chief Financial Officer Naisha Davis and Assistant Board Secretary Patricia Romero in February 2019, to file a whistleblower lawsuit alleging financial improprieties against WVWD directors Taylor and Crowther, general manager Mansell, Jr. former assistant general manager Ricardo Pacheco, risk manager Deborah Martinez and several law firms and individuals.
On September 17, 2020, the whistleblower lawsuit filed in Los Angeles Superior Court as case no. 19STCV05677 was essentially dismissed when the court ruled that the Whistleblower Plaintiffs failed to establish how their lawsuit would be better for exposing the financial impropriety at WVWD compared to what the Controller had already accomplished in finding the financial impropriety at the District through its audit of the district.
Based on court records, Whistleblower Plaintiffs were never held responsible for payment of Defendants’ legal fees and costs totaling $50,878.40, and there are no further court filings.
On December 1, 2020, the law firm Albright, Yee, and Schmit, APC (Plaintiffs) filed a complaint against Dr. C. Young, Chief Financial Officer Davis, Assistant Board Secretary Romero, and the law firm Zweiback, Fiset, & Coleman, LLP, and its attorneys, Michael Zweiback, Rachel Fiset and Erin Perez-Coleman (Defendants) for bringing the frivolous whistleblower lawsuit.
In response to Plaintiffs’ complaint, Defendants filed a motion to strike the complaint. In a July 26, 2021, ruling, the Court upheld Plaintiffs’ cause of action for malicious prosecution, while denying the Plaintiff’s causes of action for abuse of process, defamation, negligent interference with economic advantage, and intentional interference with economic advantage.
The court’s decision is now being appealed by both parties. On September 24, 2021, Defendants appealed the court’s decision. On November 10, 2021, Plaintiffs filed a cross-appeal opposing Defendants.
Separately, several former WVWD employees filed lawsuits against the district, some of which are ongoing.
WVWD reached a severance agreement with Mansell for $459,000, settled with former WVWD Director Clifford Young for $16,000, reached a settlement through mediation with its former general manager Matthew Litchfield, and settled with former WVWD Executive Board Secretary Shanee Smith in a claim of harassment and discrimination involving Dr. C. Young for $68,000, and settled with former CFO Marie Ricci in a claim against Dr. C. Young alleging unfair hiring practices for $52,000.
All in all, WVWD’s General Counsel Robert Tafoya estimated the total amount paid out in settlements to various former employees was approximately $900,000.
On January 17, 2020, WVWD’s former Chief Financial Officer Naisha Davis filed a lawsuit against WVWD and Clarence Mansell for harassment, discrimination and retaliation in San Bernardino Superior Court, in which a further trial setting conference has been scheduled for March 24.
On October 26, 2020, WVWD’s former board secretary Romero filed a lawsuit in San Bernardino Superior Court for wrongful termination, trial has now been scheduled for March 26, 2023. In a conversation with WVWD’s General Counsel Robert Tafoya, Tafoya said the district does not plan to settle with Romero.
On June 3, 2021, WVWD’s former Water Resources Manager Nadia Loukeh filed a lawsuit against WVWD, Dr. Clifford Young and Patricia Romero for wrongful termination in San Bernardino Superior Court. On February 8, the court will hear a demur by WVWD former board secretary Romero and hold a further trial setting conference. A demur does not dispute the truth of the allegation but claims it is not sufficient grounds to justify legal action.
On July 23, 2021, WVWD Asset Manager Diana Gunn filed a complaint against the district in San Bernardino Superior Court alleging wrongful termination. A further trial setting conference has been scheduled for February 18, 2022.