A Rat’s Nest aka the West Valley Water District

A Rat’s Nest aka the West Valley Water District

“Sing for the damage that we’ve done. And, the worse things that we’ll do.”
– Zwei Tanzerinnen, Franz von Stuck, Alpha Rats Nest

Trying to discern an honest broker among the players at the West Valley Water District is nearly impossible as one or another of the agency’s board and/or company administrators are accused of  corruption or are being tarnished and thrown out of their jobs by a cabal associated with those who are. 

I, for one, am among the skeptics when it comes to the recent mutiny against the agency’s General Manager Clarence Mansell and the striking revelations brought against him by a coalition of sixteen purportedly aggrieved management employees who, according to a SCNG report, claimed in a letter how, “It has become a tragedy that our employees no longer have confidence in the leadership of the General Manager.” And, “This comes after claims of retaliation, harassment, bullying, hostile work environment and much more.”    

I had to stop reading and ask myself rhetorically, ‘Did these people sleep through the last few years?’ Mansell is not the first General Manager to be questionably pushed aside at WVWD. Are these aggrieved managers acting independently or are they following someone else’s playbook? 

Mansell’s predecessor Matthew Litchfield claimed he was threatened with termination for refusing to do what he claimed was then WVWD Board President Clifford Young’s bidding to dismiss employees on a hit list without just cause. When Litchfield refused, Young and his supporters on the board levied allegations against him somewhat like those alleged against Mansell. 

Litchfield ultimately resigned (probably in lieu of termination) and filed suit against the agency. His suit was one among many filed against the WVWD as a result of C. Young’s antics. Most were settled at the ratepayers’ expense. C. Young’s ally Robert Christman served as interim General Manager for a brief period before Mansell came on board.

C. Young joined WVWD’s Board in December 2015 and by July 2016 the agency was in chaos. Since that time chaos and alleged corruption at the agency have overshadowed customer service. The list of board members or high-level officials tainted with allegations of corruption, the names of employees terminated for questionable reasons, investigations, fines and conflict between members on the board is unbounded.   

The agency is a rats’ nest that is so expansive, those who attempt to navigate its boundaries can either slip into the nest or be subjected to attack when they refuse to voluntarily climb into the nest with the rest.  

Was this the case with General Manager Clarence Mansell? The timing certainly seems suspicious. Now, as a result, the mettle of newly elected board member and recently appointed president Channing Hawkins will be quickly tested. Does he have the political strength and fortitude to remain an honest broker? Can he rise above the chaos, distance himself from the nest of corruption, deceit and conflict as an independent thinker? 

Will Hawkins be fair and judicious as he guides the board through consideration of the complaints against Mansell and decides whether to act against him? Only time will tell. 

I know its cliché to say “timing is everything” but it is, and the timing of the uprising against Mansell is suspicious. What or who is really driving the effort to push Mansell out of his job, and destroy his professional reputation in the process? 

To blame Mansell for failings of leadership in an agency that is dysfunctional to its core; led by a board of directors whose members are under clouds of suspicion; and supported by legal representation that is also of dubious consideration is both striking and demonstrably unfair. Especially considering the vortex of double-crossing dysfunction he’s had to manage under since assuming his position in July 2018. 

In recent years the WVWD—largely as a result of the Board and other high ranking agency leaders—has  endured investigations at both the state and local level, audits, lawsuits, enduring conflicts between board members, ongoing allegations of corruption, a whistleblower complaint, loss of a major insurance policy due to bad decisions by the board and paid expensive settlements as a result of unwarranted terminations. Where were all these administrators and their righteous indignation now aimed at Mansell when all of this occurred? 

More recently, on September 11, 2019 the Court of Appeals affirmed sanctions levied against WVWD’s general counsel Robert Tafoya by a Los Angeles Superior Court Judge on October 2, 2017. It involved his filing of a false disability lawsuit for a plaintiff. The sanction against him totals $36,037.54. Tafoya attempted to appeal the sanction to the Supreme Court, but his filing was late, and as a result the court refused to review the petition. The sanction stands and he is at risk of losing his license to practice law. Yet, Tafoya continues to serve as the agency’s general counsel. Where is the righteous indignation and letter calling for his termination? 

Recently, we also learned the agency’s HR and Risk Manager Deborah Martinez and her husband were charged with seven counts of filing false tax returns and failing to report income totaling of more than three and a half million dollars. They will be arraigned on Thursday, December 19. WVWD placed Martinez on administrative leave but again I ask: Where is the letter of righteous indignation calling for her termination from the sixteen WVWD managers seeking to oust Mansell?

Twice WVWD Board Member Clifford Young has purportedly misused ratepayer funds. In the first incident he was reeducated and pointedly warned by the San Bernardino County District Attorney that his behavior was inappropriate. Yet, Young is again being investigated for similar behavior and despite an article by the SCNG where Young’s attorney stated the reported the case was closed, the District Attorney’s office is still in the process of investigating the allegation against him. Where is the righteous indignation and letter calling for Clifford Young’s resignation from the Board? These are a few examples of egregious behavior by high officials at the WVWD. I can certainly cite others.     

It is documented that a group of hungry rats will attack and attempt to devour a sleeping human. In this instance I am using rats as a metaphor for the agency’s corrupt actors, both political and otherwise. Until the agency is purged of its bad actors, they will continue to expand their nest of corruption, defrauding ratepayers and abusing the public trust while simultaneously attacking and defaming those who refuse to engage in their malfeasance. 

Of course, this is just my opinion. I’m keeping it real.

S.E. Williams
Editor

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