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Mixed Reviews

Grand Jury Report draws varying opinions on Valley of the Moon Water District performance

By Bruce Robinson

Curiously, everyone at the Valley of the Moon Water District seems to feel vindicated by the recent Sonoma County Grand Jury Report, which briefly rebuked the district for lacking written policies for accounting, planned responses to natural emergencies, and the sale or transfer of lands owned by the district.

"It basically exonerated the district of any wrongdoing," crows VOMWD General Manager Mike Alexander. "They didn't discover any evidence of any wrongdoing or mismanagement. The only thing they did say was that there may be a perception of mismanagement because of a perceived lack of written procedures."

Well, that lack is more than just perception, critics charge. "That's true," admits district board member Roger Basset, "and that's something that [fellow board member] Angelo [Pedron-celli] and I have been working on since March of 1994." Two months after that, the district experienced a leak in a gas main, which resulted in the evacuation of some Sonoma Valley residents without the notification of the district's board members, Basset recalls. As a newly elected board member, "I had assumed the district had procedures [for notification], and that was when we learned it did not," he says.

This week, just days after the grand jury's final report was made public, the water district approved hiring a consultant to draft a comprehensive emergency-response plan, something that was factored into the district's capital improvements budget as of last July, Alexander notes. The new document, which should be completed within a month, will be based on the contingency plans developed by the Sonoma County Water Agency.

Having that document in place will help the district in other areas, predicts VOMWD board member Pete Sutsos. He hopes to use it in preparing grant applications to outside sources of funding to aid the small water district. "A lot of that money has dried up, but one thing that is available is hazard mitigation money," he says. "We'll start looking at state and federal hazard mitigation funds as soon as [the new emergency plan is] in place."

The emergency plan is only one of three areas in which the grand jury suggested changes, however. Their call for written accounting practices has engendered confusion at the water district, which, like other agencies, had simply specified that it relied on "generally accepted accounting practices." In addition, Alexander says, the district is audited every year, and submits a record of expenditures to the state controller annually. "I'm at a loss to know what they feel we're missing," he says. The district is seeking clarification from the grand jury on what other public bodies they might use as a model of a more specific set of procedures.

As for the third area, the sale of district-owned property, "that's something that needs to be worked on, but it's something that is very, very infrequently done," says Sutsos.

The grand jury reported it will monitor the district's progress in filling the gaps, and may issue a follow-up report next year.

From the Jan. 25-31, 1996 issue of the Sonoma Independent

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