After reading about the firing of CCWD General Manager Mitch Dion in late May, I was disappointed to read CCWD was hiding behind the veil of confidentiality in justifying their decision.
I don’t think many will accuse me of overreaching my bounds when I say CCWD is probably the most despised organization in Calaveras County.
It’s not like they just cried poor and raised rates 70% against public opinion or shelled out $82k in a severance package for a “vote of no confidence.”
Despite the hilarity of missteps perpetuated by this organization, nothing is more infuriating or egotistical as the justification for the firing.
Is it a coincidence that this meeting happened to be behind closed doors and none of the information could be shared? Possibly, but my intuition says hardly.
Instead of taking the open approach and easing ratepayer fears, which I think CCWD could use at this point, they decided to take the covert way out.
In response to the firing of Dion, President Scott Ratterman said in a previous Enterprise article, “It’s real tough to be transparent on those two types of issues (closed session and personnel matter).”
According to the Ralph M. Brown Act passed in 1953 that regulates public agency meetings, CCWD is well within their right to have a closed meeting in regards to personnel decisions, but was this the best way for them to proceed?
With an organization in the public’s spotlight of disdain and a high-turnover rate for this position, it seems it would make sense to justify their firing.
Think about it, if Dion really screwed up, wouldn’t it be in the best interest of CCWD to let the ratepayer know?
At this point, any good publicity for this agency is as good as gold. A little transparency and openness would be a breath of fresh air.
CCWD could have the best reason in the world to fire Dion, but intellectually, their chosen path doesn’t lead to that conclusion. It doesn’t even lead to a strong reason to fire him.
This is an organization that said they had no funds left to make critical repairs on an aging infrastructure and they desperately and immediately needed to pass rate increases to cover those costs.
But see, CCWD didn’t do any of that. In fact, they rather release to the press that his severance package is at least $82k not counting any other expenditures.
Why would CCWD rather burn $82k and risk further public opinion wrath than state why they fired him?
Is it overreaching to speculate there is a power struggle between factions within CCWD? I think not, given quotes and disagreements between board members over the firing.
The most convincing reason for me is the upcoming election.
Many of the current Board directors are up for reelection this coming November. With many fighting for their political lives due to the unpopular rate increases, firing Dion provides them with an out, a scapegoat.
The Board knew they were fighting a losing battle with the rate increases; so if you can’t control the dialogue, change it.
Firing Dion allows the current Board members to have a dialogue that they are in this position because Dion strong-armed them into voting for the rate increases.
This gives the Board of Directors a new narrative to pitch to their constituents that can pass the buck and rid them of any accountability.
As a tactic, it might work, but if one delves into CCWD’s history a little, we find they have had eight general managers in 10 years.
How can an organization have such a great overturn over personnel for one position?
A completely plausible solution is that the Board is awful at identifying talent and keeping it. Or, the CCWD GM position is merely a stepping-stone to an end at a bigger water agency.
For an organization that gets a large majority of their operational funding from the ratepayers, CCWD owes its ratepayers a justification for their actions. How can citizens begin to trust an organization that continually stabs them in the back?
In terms of public relations, if CCWD really wants to be a responsible organization that uses ratepayer money appropriately and regain the trust of their customers, then the current path they are taking is diametrically opposed to where they should be going.
None of us will ever know which one of these questions, if any, is the real culprit without an investigation into the bowels of CCWD.
With an overwhelming majority of ratepayers currently displeased with CCWD as a whole, it is only a matter of time until someone launches a full investigation on how an organization can be this incompetent for so long.
To me, it’s a nut worth cracking.