Prior to the arrival of Modesto Irrigation District (MID) Director Larry Byrd, the MID Board of Directors and General Manager Allen Short represented one of the last bastions of Old Modesto. Immune from public criticism and well connected through social satraps like Tom Van Groningen, the MID operated one of the largest budgets in the region with virtually no citizen oversight.
Because of this recent history, there’s one over-arching issue in the upcoming election for new board members: Should the policies of Allen Short and Tom Van Groningen continue? Until a few months ago, Short was still on the MID payroll via the San Joaquin Tributaries Authority, and Van Groningen has played an ongoing part in establishing a slate of friendly candidates to replace him and his supporters on the board. Those who want real change at the MID will vote to ensure the policies of the past don’t dominate the policy of the future.
The Division 4 race is the most crowded. The establishment candidate is Jim Mortensen. He’s most likely to take a middle of the road stance on most issues, which means he’ll be open to discussion of water transfers.
Water transfers, the euphemism for water sales, have proven to be one of the bigger mistakes of recent years. As a result of water sales, northern California sends water all the way to Los Angeles. It also sends water south to the Westlands Water District, where intensive farming has resulted in ruined soil and groundwater. Because of the likelihood he will support water sales and is backed by those who favored the Short-Van Groningen regime, Mortensen should be defeated.
His opponents are all well-qualified and knowledgeable. Jake Wenger has been endorsed by the Farm Bureau and is not only well-versed in state and local water issues, he’s extremely articulate and a will be a good communicator with MID customers. Vote Wenger.
In Division 2, the same people who provided cover for Short and Van Groningen are boosting John Mensinger on the basis of his “analytical” abilities and business acumen. Mensinger’s opponent is Carmen Sabatino, whose term as Mayor of Modesto featured the most transparent local government before or since.
Though he’s been endorsed by the Modesto Bee, the Bee hasn’t mentioned that Mensinger has a major conflict of interest if he wins. His business, American Lumber, sells lumber to the Modesto Irrigation District. That means Mensinger will either have to give up his contract with the MID or recuse himself on issues involving lumber sales and construction. MID ratepayers should have been informed of the conflict when Mensinger declared himself a candidate.
After being nearly ruined by a politically motivated laundry list of trumped up felony charges, Sabatino reopened his Mediterranean Market and Grill just in time for the Great Recession. The business is not only wildly successful, it is expanding. Sabatino has proven his business prowess time and again, often in the worst of circumstances.
Sabatino is a fiscal hawk and has no secrets. He is far more likely to end the MID pattern of secrecy and provide MID customers the facts about the MID budget than his opponent. Vote Sabatino.
The candidates are Les Johnson and Paul Campbell. Even the Modesto Bee admits Paul Campbell “has a lot to learn.” Les Johnson is much more knowledgeable. He’s attended more MID meetings and followed all the critical issues. He’s a retired banker, so he’ll be able to provide plenty of financial advice to an organization that has a past of fiscal blunders. Vote Johnson.
The MID needs a new compass. Larry Byrd and Nick Blom have tried mightily to turn the titanic bureaucracy in a more progressive direction, but they need help. Installing a new slate of candidates who represent the MID’s old ways will send the organization back to the failed past. Johnson, Wenger, and Sabatino offer MID ratepayers the future of transparency and fiscal prudence they have so long been denied.