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Central Basin to Alter Admin. Code in Direct Conflict of 2015 State Audit, Can Terminate GM With Only Four Votes

March 24, 2024

By Brian Hews

Central Basin Water VP Juan Garza quoted in Whittier Daily News article, “Garza stressed that Rojas would be able to return to duty if the [Capstone audit] findings determine that [everything] was above board. We are confident his return would be successful once the results are finalized and [the auditor’s] findings demonstrate our agency and its operation have never been compromised under Rojas’ leadership…….”

It started in December of last year when the CB Board’s “majority”, consisting of President Michael Gualtieri, VP Juan Garza, who was appointed, not elected, and Directors Leticia Vasquez-Wilson and Martha Camacho Rodriguez was rebuked by their former attorney, Bob Baker, for trying to place General Manager Alex Rojas on leave for alleged crimes.

The majority cited L.A. District Attorney indictments against Rojas related to his time at Bassett Unified, which used, in large part, a questionable report by Los Angeles-based attorney Francisco Leal.

Rojas has vehemently denied all charges.

An investigation by Los Cerritos Community News found that the L.A. County Office of Education never ordered the Leal report. 

In addition, Bassett Unified used the questionable report in a civil lawsuit that the District lost… and lost badly.

When notified about the report and Bassett’s humiliating loss in court, the District Attorney “had no comment.”

The board is also questioning the hiring of a firm called Capstone, the subject of a current audit, which they alleged was a fake company that received $700,000 from Central Basin for “doing nothing.”

Ask Baker…. Then Fire Baker

Attorney Bob Baker advised that protections in Rojas’ contract required the support of six of seven board members to take any “adverse action” against Rojas.

Not getting what they wanted from Baker, the board majority fired him and hired Victor Ponto of Burke Williams Sorenson. Eschewing Rojas’ contract and CB’s Administrative Code, Ponto told the majority what they wanted to hear; that they could place Rojas on leave using only four votes.

Following Ponto’s advice, on February 7, 2024, the majority voted 4-1, with two board members absent, to place Rojas on leave.

New Information

Whittier Daily News….. “Garza stressed that Rojas could return to duty if the findings determine that [Capstone] was above board…..”

As of the publication of this article, the Capstone audit is not complete, so there are no “findings.” 

In addition, Los Cerritos Community News has been told, off the record, of circumstances that will affect the entire situation.

And it is a good bet that the board majority is aware of the new circumstances; on its March 25 agenda is Item 5E which will allow a four-vote majority, not the current five-vote requirement, to fire any CB GM. 

Item 5E: “Amendment to Administrative Code Article 1.5 of Part 3, Chapter 1. Termination of General Manager and Appointment of Successor. Recommended Motion: Staff recommends that the Board of Directors amend Article 1.5 of Part 3, Chapter 1 of the Administrative Code to remove the requirement of a four-fifths vote for termination of the General Manager and replace it with a simple majority vote.”

If they vote to approve, the majority will be throwing out the 2015 California State Audit recommendations of a 4/5ths majority to fire the GM; recommendations meant to stop “the toxic politics and actions of the board that were creating chaos for the agency and costing the taxpayers millions in settlements and lawsuits.”

In addition, Rojas’s removal will violate his employment contract, which mandates 6/7 board member votes to terminate. This move will be settled, costing CB ratepayers millions, or end up in court, which is exactly why the State Auditor demanded the 4/5ths vote to remove a GM.

VP Juan Garza, the apparent spokesperson for the majority, wrote after several emails questioning the change of the Code, “Alex Rojas is not being terminated from his employment tomorrow. [March 25]. The investigation continues, nothing else has changed. The item for potential amendment of our admin code tomorrow is completely independent of Alex Rojas.”

As exclusively reported by LCCN last Friday, Garza and the majority will vote to hire Elaine Jeng as GM of Central Basin on March 25…..the agency now carrying two salaries totalling $544,000 with thousands more in benefits.

In addition,

  • George Alvarado says:

    I’ve started reading LCN since they did a great job of opening the public eye to the LA Assessor office.

    Since then, the site has devolved into carrying water for favored politicians and name-calling others. There’s no doubt corruption is embedded in LA politics, but it’s very disappointing to see a site and publisher that made a name based on anti-corruption and become corrupted and involved with back-room dealings.