July 1, 2011
Let the battle of the independent investigators begin.
Less than two weeks after the County Board of Supervisors released a report showing embattled Marina Coast Water District General Manager Jim Heitzman was in on a side contract with Steve Collins, a former Monterey County Water Resources Agency board member, Marina Coast’s board released its own report on Friday.
The report absolves Heitzman and implicates MCWRA General Manager Curtis Weeks as having shepherded the deal through, and County Supervisors Dave Potter, Lou Calcagno and Simon Salinas for being in on meetings, as well as County Counsel.
“Mr. Collins said that in doing this work he was taking direction given by Supervisors Calcagno and Potter and that Supervsior Calcagno was the ‘main handler,’” says the report, by James Markman, an attorney with the Los Angeles firm Richards, Watson & Gershon.
“During early January, 2010, Mr. Collins received a telephone call from Supervisor Calcagno during which Mr. Collins was told that he needed to work on ‘closing the deal’ on the Regional Project because Mr. Weeks could not get the job done,” according to the report. “At about the same date, Mr. Collins was called on the telephone by Supervisor Potter who urged Mr. Collins to work on the Regional Project.”
The report goes on to reference specific phone calls, dinners out and conversations in the car in which Collins says repeatedly he was concerned about conflict of interest rules.
Lyndel Melton, a principal with RMC, recalled a specific dinner out with Collins in which “Mr. Collins said that in doing this work he was taking direction given by Supervisors Calcagno and Potter and that Supervsior Calcagno was the ‘main handler,’” according to the report.
At a 2010 meeting, the report says, “Mr. Weeks stated that Mr. Collins should be hired to work on the Regional Project, that he would be helpful in dealing with the Ag Land Trust and others within ‘the lettuce curtain’ and that he could provide oversight on the project.”
Collins also told investigators he threatened to resign from the board but was pressured by county supervisors to stay on—and that they provided a written opinion from county counsel or a contract attorney showing the deal with RMC was not in violation of conflict of interest rules. That report was not made available to investigators.
“During an automobile trip from monterey to San Farancisco together with Mr. Weeks and Mr. [Irv] Grant], Mr. Collins was told by Mr. Grant that ‘he was fine’ and that Mr. Grant was aware of a Downey Brand ‘1090 opinion’ stating that Mr. Collins’ activites were ‘okay,’” the report says.
As the board was discussing the report, Ed Mitchell, a co-founder of the Prunedale Neighbors Group, was conducting a press conference in Salinas criticizing the “sweetheart deal” underlying the Regional Project, based on technology that he supports. The focus of further investigation, Mitchell says, should be not on Collins but about which officials were in on the RMC deal.
“We need quick and transparent investigations by the independent investigator and the District Attorney,” Mitchell says—though he takes issue with the Remcho report for having been commissioned by Weeks.
The county’s Remcho report "raised inaccurate and misleading inferences regarding Marina Coasts's role,” said Bill Lee, Marina Coast board president, in a statement. “Neither General Manager Jim Heitzman nor any other official of Marina Coast violated Government Code section 1090 [the law prohibiting public officials from having a financial stake in their agencies’ contracts].”
The county’s report says that the Collins-Marina Coast-RMC agreement could put the water purchase agreements supporting the entire project in jeopardy. But Lee disagrees, and said, “The time within which the project agreements can be challenged in a court of law has expired.”
The Marina Coast board received the report Friday and voted 4-1 to release it to the public.
“While the investigations continue, Marina Coast reaffirms its commitment to the Regional Desalination Project,” Lee said. “There is strong evidence that project failure would expose the County to an economic, environmental and health and safety disaster of unprecedented proportions.”
The report also says that Collins and Weeks jointly formed a private business entity, Collinsweeks Consulting, LLC in January 2010, expressly for seeking a contract with the County Water Resources Agency to manage the Regional Project.