SCVWD Water District Board Members Spar, Order Audit of RMC Work

Attachment 1 Handout 2

A testy two-hour discussion Tuesday between the Santa Clara Valley Water District board and staff resulted in an audit referral to delve deeper into allegations of improper payments to one of the district’s largest consultants.

More than a month has passed since San Jose Inside published a report identifying conflicts of interests and internal allegations of improper billing by RMC Water and Environment. This summer the company signed a single-source agreement with district CEO Beau Goldie to begin work on a $800 million groundwater recycling plant. Shortly after San Jose Inside’s report, the District Attorney’s office launched its own investigation.

In a presentation to the board Tuesday, district staff said that a review of financial documents found “no irregularities” in RMC’s invoices, despite admitting that work was rushed, poorly designed and managed, and might not have complied with laws on public oversight.

As previously reported, a public records request found that a civil engineer for the district, Roger Narsim, repeatedly expressed concerns to superiors about RMC’s billing practices over the course of 18 months. Najon Chu, the district’s chief financial officer (CFO), said his team conducted a detailed analysis of RMC invoices and found no evidence of wrongdoing, although it appears the review did little more than match invoices to payments rather than confirm payment for services provided.

Board chair Gary Kremen repeatedly challenged Chu and other staff on the transparency of past decisions, including the fact that a top district deputy is married to one of RMC’s owners and has managed people who handle RMC business. Kremen also picked apart the more recent financial review, which had no independent auditors or outside experts examine RMC’s work.

“So, basically,” Kremen said, “you audited yourself.”

“Yes,” Chu said.

Quality control issues occurred on the Lower Silver Creek watershed project in East San Jose, which RMC managed as a consultant starting in 2009. Out of a total of five tasks, the final two were scrapped and left for district staff to complete. The third task was originally scheduled for $375,000 in work, but additional amendments—none of which went to the board for approval—ballooned the cost to $1.7 million.

Chris Elias, a deputy operating officer who took over the project in the fall of 2013, told the board that money was often shifted through “inter-task fund transfers” that were authorized by the previous project manager, Dennis Cheong, who is now retired. Interestingly, Cheong’s name was never mentioned in the staff presentation, yet it appears he signed off on all of RMC’s requests to shift money away from previously contracted tasks, which have since fallen on district staff to pick up the slack.

“It sounds like a rather informal process,” said board director Barbara Keegan.

“That’s one of the lessons we’ve learned,” Elias said.

Another lesson that was learned only recently is the need to further prevent Melanie Richardson, a deputy administrative officer, from conducting performance evaluations of district employees who work with RMC, the company owned in part by her husband. Richardson’s review of two unit managers’ work on RMC business was stopped in July, following inquires by San Jose Inside. Norma Camacho, the district’s chief operating officer, said that “additional precautions and steps to reinforce this separation” will be completed next month.

The district has refused to release a copy of a firewall agreement created several years ago, which did not require Richardson to leave meetings in which RMC work was discussed.

CEO Beau Goldie has similarly rebuffed interview requests for nearly two months, but on Tuesday he called the district and RMC’s work on Lower Silver Creek a “success,” despite the fact that the project remains a year away from completion and well over budget. (Federal funds were used, which could prove to be problematic when the U.S. government reviews deliverables on the project.) Goldie could not answer whether or not he and staff followed rules on public oversight.

“There are processes in place,” Goldie said. “The level of following those processes I don’t have the detail on.”

It appears the CEO had the authority to negotiate RMC contracts, but a key question is whether or not he was given the power to amend contracts and award millions more in taxpayer dollars. For now, that question remains unanswered.

Board chair Kremen and director Keegan, the only two board members to oppose $10 million in single-source agreements Goldie proposed in the spring, pressed staff with questions to get answers on where breakdowns occurred. Despite a unanimous vote Tuesday to refer to the matter to the district’s audit committee (director Dennis Kennedy was absent), board members Tony Estremera and Linda Lezotte bristled at the length and tone of the discussion.

Estremera compared the line of questioning to a “Benghazi hearing,” while Lezotte directly accused her board colleagues of sour grapes after losing a vote in May.

“Two people who disagree took their beef to the press instead of taking it to us, or even asking us about it,” Lezotte said. “That’s the shame we’ve spent all of this, the last 20 minutes, nitpicking a contract, because somebody lost a vote. It’s just, I agree with Tony, if you have questions of us, make the questions of us, not at staff. We’re the ones who make the decisions. All staff does is bring it to us. We get to ask questions, and we make a decision. Enough said.”

Keegan took exception to Lezotte’s comments.

“I had people that were concerned about this,” Keegan said. “There were many staff members that contacted the media. When I responded to the media it was people asking me why I voted the way I did and I explained that. I was not out rabble rousing. I was not out disrespecting either staff or my fellow board members. I believe that I have a responsibility to answer questions from the public and to answer questions from the press. And I think we all have that responsibility.”

Estremera serves as board chair for the audit committee, and staff says he has yet to call for the next meeting to be scheduled.

In closing remarks Tuesday, the CEO said he welcomed an independent audit while championing the staff report.

“This may sound odd, but even the issues that the media has raised really test our system,” Goldie said, “and I think what you actually find out as we have looked into ourselves, you’ll find the systems we have in place are solid.”

Those systems, of course, will continue to be examined, as the DA investigation, an internal inquiry launched in response to an employee complaint and now the audit committee continue their work.

Josh Koehn is the news editor for San Jose Inside and Metro Newspaper. Email tips or follow him on Twitter at @Josh_Koehn.

  1. They don’t even touch on issues brought up in audit 2012, or treatment of staff….. nor the many other issues raised by fired workers and people still working, they as always put on a good show…………
    look into the millions plus spent in the boardroom? the contracts paid for work to be programmed on the AMX control system, that was paid but work never done, or the 200k spent already on upgrades? don’t just audit the one project(rmc), audit everything. I can bring many witnesses to the abuse, waste, treatment etc. in IT and other departments if anyone cares to ask? Why do you think they are on the 4th it manager? why does the IT manager and unit manager, not seem to know what is in the boardroom or how much has been spent? its all there in the form of purchase requests, plus there is people who can tell you what should be there. why do they want to spend 50k for video conferencing, when we bought a Tandberg system, installed per board members, but never told them it was there? i can go on and on, but just like last night, all you will get is fluff.

    HERE IS MY STATEMENT FROM LAST NIGHT Honorable chair and fellow members. I would just like to remind you, myself and
    others in the IT dept, have tried to bring the district’s problems to light from about
    2010-2011. We went to ethics/H.R, union etc, all to no avail, and finally had to
    submit info at the Board of Directors meeting 12/11/2012 when I spoke on item 1.4.
    In addition, in 2014 documentation was submitted for public record from both A/V
    techs. So you hit the nail on the head when you mentioned “real internal control
    issues at the top,” What else explains a new I.T. Deputy Sudhanshu Tikekar,
    pushing for a Audio Visual Boardroom System upgrade when he has only been
    there less than a year on October 28, 2014 Item 2.1. ( what was his influence??)
    Frank Fung -Unit Manager and George Kamenjati ( A/V Engineers report) all
    backing the upgrade with no justification and outright lies. Many documents to
    support A/V techs claims were submitted to all the Directors and Leadership Team
    at the Board Of Directors meetings. What was staffs response?… keep trying to sell
    the Boardroom A/V upgrade in 10/28/2014 Board Meeting as well as below. Through
    public information act, I obtained the audio form the Information Technology Ad Hoc
    Committee June 22, 2015 and in front of 3 Directors Sudhanshu Tikekar as well as
    the CAO pushed once again for the upgrade! I guess they take everyone for a
    bunch of fools!! In early 2012 the Boardroom Upgrade was approved by the CEO as
    reported out by George Kamenjati. This did not go to the board approval at that
    time. Since we spoke up it was retracted and more retaliation followed. The parallels
    of the RMC Contract and Boardroom A/V system mirrors how staff conducts work.
    The only difference is the abuse to A/V staff -now up to 3 people including the last
    contractor from I.T. management. This is my tax dollars also that is being wasted.
    Question : why did the Unit Manager and Supervisor of I.T. ordered work and
    maintenance to stop on the A/V Board Room system (including many other items
    that are public record now) ? The CEO AND I.T. managers have gone around or
    above there authority to lie and try to discredit the workers so they can continue to
    cover up their actions. All I ask is you look at the RMC deal as the way 70% of the
    district works, including I.T.. Ever wonder why it is still an issue after I left? I was not
    even allowed to get my personal items. Per David Cahen i would receive 1300$ for
    the rest of my missing items, they then changed there minds and said we will give
    you whats due, if you “cease and desist” with other complaints, which I will not.
    David asked for names to interview, but never interviewed one I.T tech, only the 2
    leaders of the crimes. I’m a retired employee, but was never said thank you, I have
    not received my 1300$ per David. I can supply emails, and there is tons of purchase
    records to show over 200k has been spent in the boardroom along with the initial 3
    million. This does not even include equipment that just sits in the warehouse as
    George Kamenjati and Frank Fung have no idea how to run an AV dept or utilize its
    Handout 2.3-A
    resources. Please sir take a close look. If you require pdfs, email, documents, info,
    3rd manager??? All you have to do is ask. BTW the open house this weekend did
    we outsource and rent wasting another 2500$. We have all equipment needed for
    events, but somehow its never used.. Paul Goeltz Retired Senior Information
    System Tech. SCVWD IT DEPT
    Handout 2.3-A

    • Mr. Goeltz, I for one, would like to thank you for all your input and information. I know you have put yourself under stress and scrutiny most of us couldn’t fathom. I know what it’s like to take on these folks…as I have worked in different departments and seen things I wish I hadn’t. Bless you for naming names and being so specific. I know this has been going on for years, because these types of people only get and feel more powerful and above the law the longer it goes on without being caught. I’m sorry you’ve had to pay the price financially…but as only one citizen, I am grateful to you. Hopefully the District Attorney and possible the Feds (they used to call this racketeering) really get involved and hit them via fines/restitution AND PRISON!!! Thank you again.

      • THANK YOU i will not stop till i at least get my things back and a thank you for time served, maybe even a thank you for trying to save taxpayers money, its all on record i can prove every ounce of what i say with records and people that still work there, sure its not 200 million but every dept wastes a few million in taxes.

    • All of this is criminal, and these two you mention are not the only ones. This is a HUGE misuse of power of public funds and only repayment and fines PLUS PRISON time for ALL involved (with the exception of whistle blowersts ) is the only answer. I pray the District Attorney’s Office doesnt back down and goes full steam ahead with their smartest and finest attorneys. These folks are criminals who still have the power to inflict more damage and exert their influence!! THANK YOU TO INSIDE SAN JOSE FOR BRINGING THIS TO LIGHT. PLEASE KEEP US ALL INFORMED.

  2. a full outside audit should be conducted on all RMC contracts, to ensure that billed invoices are actually for the work spelled out in the scope of services in the contract. Anything that was paid outside those scope of services should be investigated….. If District staff are now doing the work on tasks that were in the original contract, than process’s should have been put in place to ensure that money allocated for those particular tasks was not used for additional work that was outside the scope of services.
    Keep up the “dog and pony show” and maybe this will all go away ……..

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