Over the last few years, the Oakdale Irrigation District (OID) has conducted a secret water sale, failed to re-district according to state law, sold water by abandoning its water rights, annexed out-of-the-region buyers into the district at bargain rates while rejecting offers from local farmers to pay more for OID water, lost a water sale because it failed to observe requirements of the California Environmental Quality Act, barred newly elected directors from closed-session meetings, and pumped record amounts of groundwater while selling surface water to out-of-district buyers. Many of those actions, as well as other questionable decisions, are very likely why incumbent directors Frank Clark and Al Bairos were overwhelmingly defeated in the 2015 board election.
Today, one of the newly-elected directors is facing a recall for “reasons” that include favoring friends and spreading rumors about OID. The most prominent of the so-called favored friends is Robert Frobose, a rice farmer and critic of OID’s history of hidden agendas and contradictory claims about water usage, annexation, and water sales. Director Linda Santos is said to favor Frobose because she too is troubled about the same issues he is.
But Santos made no secret of her desire for transparency during her 2015 campaign. In fact, she stressed honesty, transparency, and open communication as her fundamental concerns. She has claimed other OID board members and management have not been open with her and Gail Altieri, the other victor in the 2015 election. She has plenty of evidence that the board has indeed tried to shut her and Altieri out of some decisions.
Recently, some of the people who signed the petitions for Santos’ recall have made public claims that they were told the recall petitions were in opposition to sending OID water south and were therefore misled when they signed. It’s virtually certain some people who signed the petitions were lied to. They only real question is how many.
The people who collected signatures were paid by sponsors outside of Santos’ district. Some of the sponsors are requesting favorable decisions from the OID Board of Directors; they have large financial interests in obtaining favors from OID board members. Santos is on record opposing special treatment of the kind received by Trinitas Partners when the investors were annexed into the district in 2013.
Adding to the intrigue surrounding the recall, OID just proposed a bizarre re-districting scheme obviously designed to keep Gary Osmundson on the board when he moves into a new home. The proposed new boundaries violate state guidelines in several ways. Moreover, Osmundson has not yet had to run for office; he was appointed to the board in 2015 when an incumbent was too sick to fulfill his board obligations.
Anyone familiar with OID history knows exactly why OID management and others are trying to remove Linda Santos. First and foremost, they don’t like her record of honesty and transparency. And second, her district (as a result of the failure to revise boundaries as required by the state) has a tiny number of voters and is thus easier to influence over the short term.
Public institutions should never operate secretly, nor should they serve the interests of the few at the expense of the many. OID’s repetitive pattern of flouting established guidelines and protocols amounts to renegade policy. Attempts to silence and recall a director whose intention is to restore the public trust have become increasingly unethical. There’s a stench hanging over efforts to recall Linda Santos, and it’s growing every day.
About The Author
Eric Caine formerly taught in the Humanities Department at Merced College. He was an original Community Columnist at the Modesto Bee, and wrote for The Bee for over twelve years.