IVCSD manager says calls for board to resign are premature

Samantha P. Hawthorne
Staff Writer
2/8/2014
 
Over the last two years the Indian Valley Community Services District board of directors has been hearing accusations that its former general manager, Leanna May Moore, committed fraud.

Now that the Plumas County district attorney has charged Moore with embezzling more than $380,000, many residents are calling for the board members to resign.

In January a group of Indian Valley community members argued that the board was negligent in its supervision of the GM.

Although he said he understood where the community members were coming from, the district’s current GM, Jesse Lawson, said he believes their reactions are hasty, given a trial has yet to commence. 

“We still live in America and everyone has a right to due process,” Lawson said. He said it is not the board’s responsibility to run the district, but only to create and follow policy. 

“Not only is the person who committed the crime yet to have been found guilty, the board has been labeled guilty by public scrutiny as well as being held accountable for unfounded accusations,” Lawson said.

Lawson explained that he and the board have been working on ways to make sure the district’s accounting has checks and balances. 

“The accusation illuminated some weak points in our system,” Lawson said. “Instead of aggressively making changes by removing the currently elected board of directors — which is what some community members are vying for — we are aggressively making changes within the district in order to be proactive and help reduce the possibility of something like this happening again.” 

He said several steps have been taken in order to take liability and temptation away from the general manager and the board.

A third-party bookkeeper is now in charge of the district’s finances. Every month, the bookkeeper, John Breaux from Barnard and Associates in Quincy, attends the finance committee meetings to review the financials with committee members. 

Lawson said he takes the financials created by Breaux and reviews them at the regular board meetings. He said the only thing he does with the financials is suggest different formats in order to make them easier to present to the board.

An auditor was also hired in order to catch up on the required annual audits that were several years behind. Lawson said that at the end of this year the district will be all caught up. He said the auditor communicates directly with the board of directors — not the GM.

The district has also secured a separate post office box for the board that is only accessible to members. This box will used by the bookkeeper, auditor, insurance company and legal counsel in order to communicate with the board, and warn members if the GM has not followed through with any bills or important business. 

The board is currently in the process of scrutinizing its own policies during regular ordinance committee meetings. Lawson said results should not be expected immediately, however. “It is a lengthy process to change policy and requires multiple public meetings before they can be adopted,” he said.

A small amount of money was budgeted this year for training and education, which the board has been taking full advantage of. In order to make a more educated board, Lawson said he will be increasing the training budget for this next year.

“It is important to the board members, the IVCSD crew and the community that we have a board that knows what they are doing and is educated in the process,” Lawson said. “We are not interested in maintaining only the minimum legal requirements — we want to have an exceptionally educated board.” 

In November, Lawson and the current board chairperson, Brad Smith, attended a five-day course entitled “How to be an effective board member.” The rest of the board took a condensed version of that same class Jan. 30. He said the board will take more training classes as time progresses.

Lawson said he is also working on making the district’s actions more transparent. All minutes recorded for the district since it was founded in 1974 are being imported into its website. 

“Finding all these minutes was a challenge,” Lawson said. “They were not organized and several years were missing. They are now all in one spot and available for the public to look at in the office. Walking in the archives was like walking into a public library that had no shelves — books were all over the floor.”

Volunteer Tanya Henrichs is scanning and uploading the minutes into the computer. She currently has years 1974 – 79 completed. 

“It is a tedious process and I am very grateful for her time,” said Lawson.

Lawson said he has studied the history of the district through its monthly meeting minutes dating back to 1958, when the Greenville Sanitation District was established. He has plans to create a complete timeline of the district’s history, and will have it available to the public.

“While reading through the minutes it became obvious that a small group of people can make big changes,” Lawson said. “Sometimes even if a group has good intentions they act from an uninformed position and, because of this, make honest mistakes.” 

He said through his readings he noticed where the same mistake was repeated several times. “You cannot learn from history if you are not aware of it, which is why I went through the minutes and why I am posting them for others to do the same,” he said.

By IVCSD staff and volunteers being prepared with the knowledge of the past, Lawson said he is confident that they can improve the district for the future.

With the improvements made so far, Lawson said district money is no longer disappearing and labor costs are only 60 percent of what they were budgeted to be. He said those two things have enabled them to finally purchase replacement trucks for the district — both of which have been needed since 2011 when the trucks started malfunctioning. 

On another positive note he added, “Even with all the turmoil that has happened over the years — staffing levels being as low as they were and finances being as a uncertain as they were — we have been able to improve the water and sewer system infrastructures within the district, reduced water losses by huge amounts and installed two new wells and a state-of-the-art membrane water treatment plant.”

Lawson said because of the hard work and dedication of the staff and board of directors, the district has been able to maintain services for the community and Indian Valley has not had a boil water notice since 2008. 

“No one has been found guilty of embezzlement, so people need to slow down in their actions to remove the board,” Lawson said. “No one blames anyone for being upset over the whole situation — it is understandable.

“The board has acknowledged that changes need to be made and we have put systems in place to prevent this from happening again.

“It is important that the same mistakes are not made again; by making the information available and accessible to the public, those mistakes will be less likely to be repeated.”

 


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