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Does Central Basin’s New Lawyer/GM Violate Government Code 1090?

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February 13, 2024

By Brian Hews • [email protected]

Last week, Los Cerritos Community News published an OP/ED outlining how the new majority of Central Basin Municipal Water Board Members removed Art Chacon as president and removed him from crucial MWD seats, comparing it to the 2013-2016 years that ended up with a California State audit.

Deja Vu – 2024 Central Basin Board Removes Art Chacon, Acts Like 2013 Board.

It did not take long for the CB Board to prove LCCN right.

In a move that will have wide-ranging repercussions, Central Basin President Michael Gualtieri, VP Juan Garza and Directors Leticia Vasquez-Wilson and Martha Camacho-Rodriguez, with the approval from Victor Ponto their new lawyer from Santa Ana-based Burke Willian Sorenson, voted to place CB GM Alex Rojas on paid administrative leave on February 7 pending an investigation.

The four board members have been attempting to place Rojas on leave for months, but their prior attorney, Bob Baker, strongly objected, saying Rojas’ employment contract and CB’s Administrative Code required six directors, from a total of seven, to vote to put Rojas on leave.

Not satisfied with Baker’s assertion, Gualtieri, Garza, Vasquez-Wilson, and Camacho-Rodriguez, in line with their 2013 predecessors, fired Baker and hired Ponto in December.

VP Garza knows Ponto well, he was Garza’s attorney representing California Cities for Self Reliance-JPA, an organization that represents cardrooms.

California Cities for Self Reliance-JPA meeting document from Aug 2022 showing Ponto as the JPA’s attorney.

It only took two board meetings for Ponto to develop a “different interpretation,” telling the board they only needed four votes – not the six out of seven – as mandated in the Rojas employment contract and CB administrative code.

Ponto’s approval also contradicted a CB Board majority vote in July 2023. That vote mandated that if Rojas was put on paid leave – pending an investigation – that would constitute an “adverse employment action.”

With the vote the CB Board clearly defined what an adverse employment action was; and it required six director’s to take any action.

The July ’23 vote was officially recorded in CB’s minutes and approved at the next meeting by the CB Board.

According to sources, the information and the minutes of the July 18 meeting were given to Ponto prior to the February 7 meeting.

Despite the employment contract, the administrative code and the majority vote mandating 6/7 votes, Ponto told the CB Board they only needed four votes, so they moved on Rojas.

The investigation the board alluded to involves a company called Capstone, which, for over two years, the CB Board Members have alleged did no work but got paid over $700,000, “and they have the checks to prove it.”

Los Cerritos Community News has emailed the board members several times asking for the evidence, but Gualtieri, Garza, Vasquez-Wilson, and Camacho-Rodriguez have not produced any evidence, saying, “They want the audit to come out first.”

According to sources, the audit has been underway for several months, and all requests for documentation have been provided to the investigator; so far, no findings of fraud or interference by staff have been reported.

After they put Rojas on leave, Gualtieri, Garza, Vasquez-Wilson, and Camacho-Rodriguez hired Ponto, who has no experience running a large water agency – nor any kind of business background – as interim general manager.

Along with ignoring the ethical considerations, conflicts of interest, conflicting legal duties, and complete lack of experience, the board’s vote to put Ponto in as interim GM violates Government Code Section 1090.

Government Code 1090 is a law that addresses conflicts of interest for public officials and employees. It states, “1090 prohibits an employee from participating in making government contracts in which the employee within the agency has a financial interest. Section 1090 applies to virtually all state and local officers, employees, and multimember bodies, whether elected or appointed, at both the state and local level.”

“Making” a contract includes final approval of the agreement, as well as involvement in preliminary discussion, planning, negotiation, and solicitation of bids.

So while Ponto is interim general manager, he cannot offer advice or authorize any written contracts and cannot be involved in the purchase of goods or services, employment agreements, leases, or development agreements, which will bring much of the agency’s operations to a screeching halt.

Unless the CB Board starts handing out no-bid contracts….just like 2013.

Emails into Ponto went unreturned; emails into Burke Willian Sorenson partners Charles Abbott and Brian Affrunti went unreturned.

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