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Central Basin President Gualtieri Says ‘He Will Not Resign Seat’ Despite Assembly Bill Mandate

Michael Gualtieri

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May 1, 2024

By Brian Hews

Fireworks erupted yesterday at Central Basin Municipal Water District’s (CB) Special Board Meeting, which ended with a defiant President Michael Gualtieri, who is appointed and not elected, stating, “I am not leaving until 2027,” despite a retirement letter from Gualtieri’s employer, La Habra Heights Water, that, under AB 1794, mandates he vacate his seat.

Gualtieri is also under investigation by the Fair Political Practices Commission.

Gualtieri’s actions mimic Trumpian-type politics, with Directors Martha Camacho-Rodriguez calling Gualtieri and appointed Director Juan Garza “dictators” and Leticia Vasquez-Wilson saying, “our board is not acting like a democracy.”

They have the actions to back their words; Gualtieri is the Board President and has “ultimate authority” to place—and remove—items from the agenda, and he has indicated he, with Garza defending him, will not let a board reorganization vote be placed on the agenda.

Gualtieri is appointed to the CB Board by purveyors and must be employed by a purveyor inside the district. According to AB 1794, once an appointed director retires from employment, he/she must vacate their CB seat.

But Gualtieri had a different view, saying, “There is an Attorney General’s opinion about me resigning, and I am not resigning; I am staying until 2027.”

After the meeting, Los Cerritos Community News asked for the AG’s opinion and immediately received a document from Irvine-based Burke Williams Sorensen attorney, Zachery Lopes.

But the opinion was not about Gualtieri’s situation, it was an opinion about a 2018 incident involving the city of Huntington Park who proposed candidate for a purveyor-appointed CB board seat; the candidate was disqualified for living out of the district.

Gualtieri was not mentioned anywhere, in direct contradiction to his statement at the board meeting, “There is an AG Opinion about me saying I can stay.”

During the heated exchange, Vasquez-Wilson and Camacho-Rodriguez accused Gualtieri and Garza of manipulating the agenda to stall the board reorganization.

Camacho-Rodriguez  stated, “Contrary to what you say, this board is Six Heron (Garza’s company) plus one with Michael Gualtieri. Both of you are following personal agendas. The rest of the board wants to do right by our constituents; you don’t.”

Garza, who was late arriving and seemed more interested in his phone-text messages for most of the meeting, was quick to find the CB Administrative Code (on his phone) that gave Gualtieri the power to dictate all agenda items.

Directing his comments squarely at Camacho-Rodriguez and Vasquez-Wilson, Garza stated, “Under Section 3.3, paragraph A,  one, i, the president shall have final approval on the contents of the agendas for all regular, special and emergency meetings of the Board.”

As Garza was reading, Gualtieri could be seen looking over at CB General Counsel Victor Ponto several times.

An angry Camacho-Rodriguez snapped back, “Stop man-splaining me Director Garza, I want to look at the whole area of section three, I don’t need someone to clarify what I said, we need to address where it says everything is run by the president.”

After several tense discussions, the board agreed to place a review of section three on its May 20 agenda. Director Art Chacon pointed out that Gualtieri would officially retire on May 4, so he should not be at the meeting.

That’s when a defiant Gualtieri, looking directly up at the camera stating, “I am not leaving May 4, I have an AG opinion about me, I am not leaving until 2027.”

LCCN has reviewed the AG opinion and is still awaiting a definitive answer from attorney Zachery Lopes.

In an email, Lopes seemed more interested in defending Gualtieri’s interests than his client, Central Basin. 

Lopes told LCCN, “You requested a copy of the AG Opinion discussed today. We provided that. It provides the AG’s position on the application of Water Code 71267. Yes, the opinion also discusses quo warranto pleading requirements – the context of why the opinion was issued in the first place – one of which is the AG’s determination that the legal issue presents “substantial questions of law and fact” which allows the “realtor” to file a quo warranto action in superior court.”

The “substantial questions of law and fact” Lopes referred to relate to the person nominated by Huntington Park and then never considered for the CB Board seat because they did not live in the district.

The disqualification led to Huntington Park’s request for the AG’s opinion, which granted Huntington Park “leave to sue.”

“The substantial law and fact” in the opinion had nothing to do with AB 1794’s mandate that Gualtieri vacate his position after retiring from his employer.

It was the opposite, the AG opinion stated that the district should NOT be the decider and the decision should be left to the purveyors.

A day after the meeting, Director Leticia Vasquez wrote CB attorney Victor Ponto, “California Government Code governs how purveyors can serve on the Central Basin Municipal Water District board. Director Gualtieri has informed our board of his retirement commencing May 4, 2024 as general manager of the La Heights County Water District. Due to his retirement, he will no longer be serving on our board. 

“However, for some strange reason at our recent special board meeting, Mr. Gualtieri adamantly insists he will be staying as a member of the Central Basin Board of Directors in spite of his retirement and separation from his employer. He proceeded to lie to the Board by stating he obtained an attorney general opinion opining he was lawfully entitled to continue on our board.

“Yesterday, I contacted California Attorney General Rob Bonta to obtain a copy of this purported opinion, and I was informed that no such opinion exists. 

“Mr. Gualtieri’s conduct is very concerning and I believe a board discussion and possible action is warranted to address this issue. I am interested in adding this matter for discussion to the agenda for the special meeting being held May 6, 2024.” 

But will Gualtieri let Vasquez’ request on the agenda?