When Modesto Irrigation District (MID) General Manager announced his resignation, it was reasonable to conclude he’d be off the payroll. But in an odd twist of circumstances, Short’s new job will in part be funded by the MID.
Short was a prime mover in the formation of the San Joaquin Tributary Association, which became the San Joaquin Tributaries Authority (SJTA) on May 15. MID ratepayers have a right to know how much MID money has been spent on the group and whether or not it has had a general manager previous to Short.
Short was appointed General Manager last May 15, well before the firestorm of criticism over his proposal to sell Tuolumne River water to San Francisco, and well before the news of the likely legal jeopardy incurred by the imposition of a previously little-known Falling Water Charge. More recently, a pattern of circuitous payouts through intermediaries to consultants has also aroused inquiry.
It’s reasonable for MID ratepayers to ask why an organization with severe financial problems has chosen to add an expensive layer of bureaucracy. There’s nothing wrong with forming a coalition of water districts with shared interests, but is there a need for another level of bureaucracy altogether? With Short as General Manager and former MID General Counsel Tim O’Laughlin also aboard, the San Joaquin Tributaries Authority looks a lot like a redundant and expensive outgrowth of managerial empire building.
The SJTA’s chief mission has been to oppose proposals to increase flows into the San Joaquin River so that salmon and steelhead populations can be restored to viable levels. How many MID ratepayers support such a mission?
Many MID employees have been without contracts for years now. Before he resigned, MID General Counsel Tim O’Laughlin was on track to take in a million dollars from the MID. Short’s parting salary is $240,507. Now ratepayers are going to continue paying both men for what looks like a publicly financed exit strategy.
The MID Board of Directors has a fiduciary responsibility to justify the expense and activities of the SJTA, and MID ratepayers have the right to know why so much money has gone to so many questionable projects. Both Allen Short and Tim O’Laughlin left under a cloud of controversy; neither should be receiving more MID money without full public transparency.