Thursday, June 2, 2011
On Friday, two San Francisco Bay Area attorneys who specialize in stupid public official tricks are slated to go in to a room with the Monterey County Board of Supervisors and hand over the results of a six-week investigation into the stupid public official tricks of Steve Collins.
Collins, a former Monterey County Water Resources Agency board member appointed by the Grower-Shipper Association of Central California, was forced to resign in April after revelations that he was being paid by an engineering firm while advocating for that same firm to get a $28 million contract on the Regional Water Project.
What Karen Getman and James Harrison of the San Leandro firm Remcho, Johansen & Purcell will tell the Supes is anyone’s guess. But Getman helped write a book titled Conflict of Interest and Public Life, Harrison specializes in the California Political Reform Act, and the firm itself is well known as an expert in financial reporting, conflicts of interest and the use of public funds.
Their report likely will make for interesting reading.
Here’s a note for the Supes: We want the report. The whole report. Not a sanitized-for-the-public version of Getman’s and Harrison’s findings, as several supervisors have suggested will eventually be released, but all of it: How Collins came to work for Walnut Creek-based RMC Water and Environment on getting the desal project through the California Public Utilities Commission (a description of Collins’ work that comes to the Weekly straight from the mouth of Lyndel Melton, an RMC founder and principal). Why the Marina Coast Water District, a partner in the three-headed hydra driving the $400-million desal project, neglected to mention that RMC was billing the district for Collins’ work. How much exactly was he paid by RMC? His form 700, the “statement of economic interest” that forces public officials to reveal sources of income, states he made more than $100,000 through his work for RMC; while some sources have said the amount reached $150,000, other sources say the number is even higher than that. (“You should ask him for his tax returns,” one source suggested. “Oh, if only,” I thought.)
The Fair Political Practices Commission launched an investigation into Collins’ contract on May 18. It’s not that the FPPC lacks the ability to smack officials around when they do stuff like double-dipping; it’s just that their version of smacking around usually amounts to a fine. In rare instances, according to its own website, the FPPC will file a civil lawsuit against violators.
But now it appears the Monterey County District Attorney also is going to dive into water world, at the request of the Supes. In late April, Chief Assistant District Attorney Terry Spitz told the Weekly that the DA’s office was standing by and waiting for County Counsel Charles McKee to pull the trigger and ask for help. If the Getman/Harrison report identifies that Collins violated Government Code Section 1090, the District Attorney’s office is the enforcement authority, Spitz says; the report could not only trigger an official investigation, but prosecution of Collins, Marina Coast and RMC – depending on just how dirty the contract was, and how much influence Collins was able to wield on getting RMC all that cash.
Government Code 1090 prohibits a government official from making or influencing the making of a contract with the government in which the official has a financial interest, McKee explained in an email.
Depending on the Getman/Harrison report, there’s a perfect opportunity for the Board of Supervisors to clean house and start over. Blow up the contract with RMC, chop off the heads of the desal hydra and start again with a process that is as clear and clean as the water the county hopes the Regional Water Project will produce. Have them tell Marina Coast Water that the little things – like the conflict of interest training sessions that Marina Coast board member Howard Gustafson stomped his little feet over and said he would no longer attend – are not optional if they’re going to partner in a nearly half-billion-dollar project.
“This could be a good time to go back to the drawing board and amend this project so it’s better for the ratepayers,” Supervisor Jane Parker says. “It’s an opportunity to begin again and make the Regional Water Project really work.
“We know enough to know the whole project needs to be reconsidered,” she adds.
Yes we do, Jane. Yes we do.
MARY DUAN is the Weekly’s editor. Reach her at email@example.com