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Central Basin Water General Manager Tony Perez ‘Waterboarded’ by the Roybal Three

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The Roybal Three: [l-r] Leticia Vasquez, James Roybal, and Bob Apodaca are trying to fire GM Tony Perez [below] and remove current Board President Phil Hawkins.

By Brian Hews

Chaos has officially broke out at the dysfunctional Central Basin Water District as multiple Board meetings have been scheduled, cancelled, and then scheduled again by the “Roybal Three,” Director’s Leticia Vasquez, James Roybal, and Bob Apodaca, to fire current GM Tony Perez and remove current Board President Phil Hawkins from his presidency.

Sources tell HMG-CN that morale at the besieged Commerce agency is said to be at an all-time low.

The Wednesday 1:30 meeting was called for on Tuesday to “discipline and dismiss” current GM Tony Perez. Board President Phil Hawkins, disgusted with the one agenda item aimed at firing Perez, added agenda items to the 1:30 meeting.

Later in the day, the 1:30 pm meeting was cancelled by the Roybal Three and moved to 2:30 pm with an additional agenda item of removing Hawkins as Board President.

The removal of Hawkins is believed to be in retaliation for calling a second meeting exposing the corruption of the Roybal Three and their intent on destroying the agency.

When told of the meeting, the firing of Perez, and the removal of Hawkins, L.A. County Supervisor Don Knabe told HMG-CN, “Frankly, the behavior and dysfunction at the Central Basin is absolutely out of control.  I am concerned about their ability to perform their primary function – maintaining water availability and services to the constituents we represent.  So today, the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors approved my urgency motion to request a comprehensive state audit of the Central Basin and put a contingency plan in place for another agency, or even our own Public Works department, to take over.  We cannot put more than 2 million people in 24 cities and unincorporated Southeastern Los Angeles at this kind of risk because of the outrageous and bungling behavior of this Board.”

Earlier this year, Apodaca abandoned the dysfunctional group, voted to remove Roybal as Board President and supported fellow Board Member Arturo Chacon in nominating Director Phil Hawkins as President.  As a result, the agency enjoyed a brief period of stability yet continued to suffer from previous poor policy decisions made by the misguided former majority.

But the temporary accord did not last for long.

At its regular Monday meeting, the Roybal Three used the District policy of three Director calls to set a Special Meeting for the purpose of conducting an “evaluation” of the performance of General Manager Tony Perez.

After a marathon 2 1/2 hour closed session meeting, a meeting that Director Chacon and President Hawkins left, the three board members that participated in the review recessed and announced that the remainder of the evaluation be continued at another special meeting on Wednesday.

After the meeting, Vasquez and Apodaca told another news agency they “denied any intention of firing the General Manager.”

However, Wednesday’s 2:30pm agenda meeting specifically states “Public Employee Discipline/Dismissal/Release.”

President Phil Hawkins and Director Arturo Chacon did not participate in Monday’s evaluation segment of the closed session meeting stating that the evaluation was illegal and that due process had not been followed.

According to Hawkins, “when Tony Perez comes back and sues us for not honoring the terms of his contract and for not following a legitimate process, Art and I once again won’t be to blame for the Roybal Three stupidity.”

General Manager Perez, an accredited engineer with a distinguished 22-year career at the Metropolitan Water District, was hired in April 2013 and was awarded a five-year contract with Central Basin.

Perez became the first General Manager with engineering credentials to run the besieged water wholesaler in more than two decades.

He is credited with orchestrating the largest water sale in the agency’s 60-year history to former rival the Water Replenishment District and for stabilizing the District’s shaky finances.

He recruited two well-respected senior management-level staff members and was in the process of laying the groundwork for a major recycled water project in the City of Huntington Park that would provide the agency with a solid revenue stream for years to come.

However, Perez also faced the reality of navigating the waters of corruption and controversy surrounding the Roybal Three.

According to former Central Basin candidate and Norwalk Planning Commissioner Scott Collins, “Perez was walking a daily tightrope dealing with Apodaca’s perversion with sexually abusing women which resulted in Central Basin’s insurance recently settling a well-established case of sexual battery for $670,000.”  Collins added, “If you were Perez, could you work with a man like Apodaca knowing two other Central Basin Directors actually witnessed him sexually assaulting his own stepdaughter on District property?”

According to President Hawkins, his decision to hold a second special meeting was driven by his desire to expose the true reasons why the Roybal Three were plotting to fire the General Manager.

Hawkins told HMG-CN, “My meeting’s agenda listed three items that highlight the real reason Tony’s head is on the chopping block.  Under my direction as Board President, I directed the General Manager to look into three issues which included the leaking and forging of federal subpoenas of which Leticia Vasquez is the prime suspect, the potential criminal fraud committed by James Roybal while he collected payment from Central Basin for attending meetings while also collecting a salary from the LA Unified School District and abusing the terms of his lengthy Teacher Jail incarceration, and finally, how much the District was spending on Leticia Vasquez’s frivolous Qui Tam case.”

Hawkins went on to explain that an audit released just days ago of legal fees associated with Central Basin’s handling of Vasquez’ whistleblower case has cost the ratepayers over $270,000 as of June.

Ironically, HMG-CN learned that Apodaca supported all three investigations before he went back to Vasquez’ and Roybal’s side.

HMG-CN contacted Director Art Chacon who predicted that the Roybal Three would take the cowards way out and boycott Hawkins’ meeting to avoid discussing the three items he asked to be addressed.  “I guarantee you that after Perez is terminated and those three bring in their political hack to be their yes-man, all three of those investigations will vanish, but not while Phil and I are still on the Board.” stated Chacon.

Chacon questions why Apodaca would flip-flop and betray Hawkins who has always treated him with sincere respect.  “Bob and I are up for re-election and in my opinion destabilizing the District to this extent and directly defying L.A. County Supervisor Don Knabe seems like a death wish to me, he must not be as concerned about the election as I am,” added Chacon.

Insiders have speculated that former assemblyman Rudy Bermudez is a top contender to replace Perez as is San Diego-area water manager Amy Chen who is rumored to have close ties to WRD Board Member and Carson City Councilman ‘Little’ Albert Robles.

Sources have also suspected that Pico Water District General Manager Mark Grijeda, a close ally of Roybal, is also being considered.

Former Central Basin Assistant General Manager Ron Beilke laughed at the notion that Grijeda would be considered.

He stated that while he served on the Pico Rivera City Council, public works staff and city leadership repeatedly questioned his competence while noting that Pico Water District was one of the only water providers in existence that did not have a connection to an alternate source in case of emergency.

“Pico Rivera City Hall, the Sheriff’s Station, El Rancho High School were all among those who risked losing water service if Pico Water District’s systems failed and they didn’t have access to an emergency connection,” stated Beilke.  “Grijeda in his ignorance would fill his Board’s head with “takeover” conspiracy theories to convince them to reject an interconnection with the city’s water system…that’s not the kind of mindset a General Manager of a real water district needs to possess,” added Beilke.