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In December of last year, a California State audit slammed Commerce-based Central Basin Municipal Water District (CB), citing, among other things, poor leadership and hiring unqualified staff.
Later that day, CB General Manager Kevin Hunt responded to the audit saying, “We are committed to continuing to move Central Basin toward a more transparent and effective District.”
The State Audit Report provided over 35 recommendations, but one of the first attempts by Hunt to implement one of the recommendations came under fire.
That recommendation directed CB to establish a “fully independent” Ethics Policy that included a hotline where confidential calls went directly to an independent investigative law firm.
CB’s current law firm, Nossaman and Associates chose, through a selection process, three firms to interview as the “independent investigative law firm.”
They were: Los Angeles based Harris and Associates, Pasadena based Nohemi Gutierrez, & Ferguson, and Los Angeles based Nixon/Peabody.
HMG-CN exclusively reported that two of the three law firms had, in direct violation of the selection criteria, connections to CB board members: John Harris of Harris and Associates knew CB Director Leticia Vasquez and her husband Ron Wilson and Ferguson’s executive assistant has known Director James Roybal for over 30 years.
The selection process indicated that no connections should exist between any CB director or employee, yet somehow two out of the three choices by Nossaman were connected to board members.
Hunt and Nossman’s attorney Alfred E. Smith II had “no idea” about the connections.
Vasquez and Roybal, knowing they were interviewing the two law firms prior to the board meeting, said nothing about their relationships until asked by Director Chacon during the meeting.
At the next meeting, Nixon/Peabody was chosen as the agency’s law firm.
Now, with the first opportunity to demonstrate to State lawmakers that CB is serious about cleaning up the infighting and “poor leadership” at the embattled agency, Hunt is lashing out at CB Director Art Chacon in a malicious attempt to launch a bogus investigation and discredit the long-time director.
The investigation centers around a Dec. 2015 HMG-CN article (and a quote in the article by Chacon) entitled Dirty Water: Payback Politics Put Central Basin’s Recycled Water Sales in the Toilet.
HMG-CN learned from high-level CB sources that certain members on CB’s Board of Directors were, for the sake of political retribution, blocking the implementation of large revenue generating recycled water projects for the cash-strapped agency.
Hunt was reportedly incensed at the accusation he was not selling recycled water and told the Whittier Daily News and reporter Mike Sprague that the high-level source in the article was Chacon which signaled the beginning of the “investigation.”
HMG-CN never indicated in the December article whether the sources came from inside or outside CB, or from former CB employees.
But Hunt said in the WDN article, “…Chacon was quoted making the charges (of political payback).”
Chacon’s actual quote was, “ (CB Director) Phil (Hawkins) and I have approached CB General Manager Kevin Hunt several times talking about recycled water and getting out there and approaching these customers and signing them up. But since (Tony) Perez and (former employee John) Tat have left, nothing has been done.”
Hawkins actual quote was, “Director Chacon and I are pushing for the closure of these projects, we have been doing that for months because they will bring in much needed revenue to CB. But they are being held up for political and personal reasons, and that’s just wrong.”
Hunt’s interpretation of the quotes was that Chacon was the source telling HMG-CN that certain directors were holding up water sales and is initiating the investigation singling Chacon out while not investigating Hawkins.
When asked why he was not going after Hawkins Hunt told HMG-CN in an email, “In reference to Director Chacon, I did not single him out. When I asked Director Hawkins what he was referring to in the article he said he got his information from Director Chacon.”
In a phone conversation with HMG-CN, an angry Hawkins said, “ We never even talked about that, I never told Hunt that I got my information from Director Chacon.”
HMG-CN Publisher Brian Hews said, “I never reveal my sources, that is the poison pill for a journalist. Hunt is assuming Chacon told me. Fact is, I had more than one person, both inside and outside CB, tell me that sales are being held up for political payback, isn’t it obvious? There are over 250 customers waiting to be hooked into CB’s recycled water system.”
Given Hunt’s effort to investigate who leaked the information, and that CB Directors are involved, referring the matter to the independent law firm of Nixon/Peabody for a fully transparent investigation would be judicious.
But Hunt is keeping the investigation in house, with the Ethics Committee and CB’s counsel Nossaman, instead of showing complete transparency and referring the matter to Nixon/Peabody telling the WDN that “Nossaman will determine whether CB directors prevented any potential recycled water customers from getting recycled water or if they influenced the development of a project for political payback purposes.”
An indignant Hunt told HMG-CN, “I requested the investigation because it affects my reputation and the District’s.”
But the seedy reputation of some CB Directors does not seem to affect Hunt.
Two of CB’s Ethics Committee appointees are Robert “Bob” Apodaca and James Roybal.
CB recently settled a $670,000 sexual harassment claim against Apodaca, and Roybal was in LAUSD’s infamous Teacher Jail, earning money as a teacher while taking money from CB, a violation of LAUSD policy.
Both have publicly expressed their disdain for Chacon and in 2013 both tried to eliminate the Ethics Committee so they would not be investigated.
Still, Hunt wants to remain in control of the investigation using the Ethics Committee and Nossaman. “Nossaman is the Ethics Committee’s law firm, the investigation will stay with them.”
And with good reason.
Hunt backed himself into a corner with his quote to the WDN saying, “If (the investigation) comes back and our record is clean, they can talk to the director. If you find something (political payback) happened, you’ll have my resignation in a day.”
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