Gleason says no on finance committee

Amid requests from member agencies, Gleason stresses GA independence

Gleason says no on finance committee 	Supervisor Mick Gleason and Mayor Peggy Breeden, at the most recent meeting of the IWV Groundwater Authority. — Photo by Laura Austin

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By BRIAN COSNER

News Review Staff Writer

The oft-discussed topic of a finance committee for the Indian Wells Valley Groundwater Authority came up again during the board’s regular meeting this month, but the idea was poorly received by Kern County Representative Mick Gleason.

“In my opinion, we don’t need it,” he said after IWV Water District Representative Peter Brown brought it up at the behest of the IWVWD’s board of directors. Authority Chair Peggy Breeden has also been directed by city council to push for a standing finance committee.

“I think it’s going to bog us down. It’s going to be an impediment to efficient movement of this group,” said Gleason.

While members of the public have been asking for a finance committee ever since the IWVGA was established as a Groundwater Authority Agency in 2015, the public, and some board members, have doubled down on their efforts as the GSA’s financial needs became apparent.

The GSA’s annual budget for 2018-2019 is roughly $4.9 million with some $900,000 covered by a $30-per-acre-foot groundwater pumping fee. Elected officials have noted that other GSAs are getting by with budgets in the realm of $2-3 million and average pumping fees less than $10 per acre-foot.

The GSA did establish an ad-hoc committee of two boardmembers to look at finances, but the meetings are not open to the public.

“I just don’t think that having a finance committee would help us in some of the instances where we have tentative, sensitive relationships in certain areas with finances attached to them,” said Gleason. “A [standing] committee is going to have to be a Brown Act-compliant body where they have to have knowledge of those relationships.

“The relationships would not develop because there are people who don’t want to comply with the Brown Act outside of our board. They just don’t want to work in the public sphere, they want to work behind the scenes. Having a finance committee would impede that on occasion.”

But a standing, public accounting of finances, and transparency in general, is what the public has been calling for. The GSA was dinged for Brown Act-compliance issues last month when attorney Keith Lemieux suggested that the board immediately cease its closed-session “pre meetings” which at times included two of the board’s “big three” voting members.

“If [the Water District] wants a finance committee and the city has been pushing for a finance committee, then something’s wrong,” said member of the public Stan Rajtora at a meeting earlier this year. “It just needs to happen.”

“I think it’s time we ask as a district and make a motion that we want a finance committee,” said IWVWD Vice President Chuck Griffin during a previous meeting. “If it gets voted down, it does. But at least we made an effort and that’s what I would like to see happen because I believe it’s imperative.”

But Gleason argued that the GSA should be moving away from relying on its member agencies – which include the Ridgecrest City Council, IWV Water District and counties of Kern, Inyo and San Bernardino – and become a more independent body.

“Well, we’re representing our boards,” said Brown.

The GSA’s level of autonomy has been debated in the past, with proponents for more independence arguing that the authority’s singular task of creating a Groundwater Sustainability Plan is impeded if each member is beholden to their respective boards.

However, it was noted upon the GSA’s formation that the boardmembers were not directly elected to their positions, therefor are expected to be held accountable to their elected bodies. The idea of even forming an authoritative body without directly electing each member has been subject to hours of debate.

Despite past arguments, Gleason continued to assert that because of the GSA’s limited number of revenue and expense sources, as well as its singular mission, a finance committee is unnecessary.

Breeden seconded Gleason’s idea that meeting quarterly, one hour earlier than the regular meeting time, with a certified public accountant to discuss finances could fulfill the public’s desire for a committee.

The finance committee discussion took place during closing boardmember comments and members of the public were not given the opportunity to respond. See future editions for more GSA news.

Story First Published: 2018-08-24