S.E. Williams | Contributor
At a meeting of the West Valley Water District (WVWD) Board in early July several directors acknowledged errors in judgement for having followed the lead of their previous president and fellow board member, Dr. Clifford Young.
In response on Thursday, July 11, 2019 rate payers came to the board meeting prepared to express their frustration with C. Young’s actions as former president and member of the board, while others spoke directly to the board members’ public acknowledgement of how they enabled many of C. Young’s purported transgressions.
Neither C. Young nor his primary supporter and fellow board member, Greg Young, attended the July 11 meeting. Although G. Young had previously advised the board of his planned absence, C. Young’s absence was a surprise and because he failed to notify the board in advance, WVWD President, Dr. Michael Taylor stated to those in attendance, C. Young’s absence was “not excused.”
The meeting room was filled with individuals carrying signs of protest. Some read “Clifford Young under investigation by the DA.” Others read, “Pay to Play.” While still others had images of C. Young’s face surrounded by a red circle with a bold line drawn through his face. C. Young’s notable absence caused some to speculate he was absent because he may have been tipped off about the evening’s protest.
Community Speaks Out
During the public comment period several individuals railed against C. Young beginning with a gentleman named James who spoke on behalf of a Mr. Steve Abbott.
Abbott’s primary complaint focused on the recent hiring of Logan Olds as an assistant general manager for the WVWD. Olds was the former general manager of the Victor Valley Wastewater Reclamation Authority, an agency investigated by the Federal Office of the Inspector General for alleged misuse of funds associated with a $33 million-dollar FEMA grant.
Abbott questioned where the integrity of the WVWD [board] comes in when they hire someone with such a history and questioned the board’s vetting process. He further noted how the hiring of Olds raised a lot of red flags and questions.
The next speaker, James Charles declared, “Clifford Young is a very bad man. He does not care about the employees of the district. He is very unethical and does illegal things.” He spoke about how C. Young fired Susan Cook because she blew the whistle on C. Young’s [suspected] illegal activities. “He [C. Young] cost the district hundreds of thousands of dollars in settlement funds and legal fees,” Charles declared, “because he does unethical things.”
Charles next spoke about the firing of former WVWD General Manager Matthew Litchfield adding, “That is going to cost hundreds of thousands of dollars more to these rate payers.” His continued litany of complaints against C. Young included charging ratepayers for his victory party, his personal printer and toner and a conference he never attended.
“He lies in order to achieve his own personal gain. He uses the district as his own company to hire his friends.” Charles stated adamantly and concluded, “I believe he should resign.”
Scott Rodriguez also spoke. He began, “I was hoping Clifford Young and Mr. Greg Young would be here because I wrote something directly to them.” Rodriguez then read the following statement.
“Director Clifford Young, you should resign because you have stolen from this district. You have fired people who accused you of stealing from the district. You have harassed and discriminated against employees.”
He continued, “Your wrongful allegations and actions have cost the district over a million dollars. How much did the district have to pay to settle the Shanae [Smith] lawsuit she filed against you for harassment and discrimination? How much in attorney’s fees did the district spend on that case?”
Next, Rodriguez turned to C. Young’s Qui Tam complaint against other WVWD officials and legal groups retained by WVWD. “You had to pay attorneys to do an investigation. Right? You actually voted to approve the Albright lawyers [Albright Yee & Schmit] to do that investigation for you. Right? And now, you are suing Albright because you do not like that he is investigating you?”
Rodriguez then referenced additional legal actions taken against C. Young by others previously associated with WVWD and concluded, “This is ridiculous. When will this stop? You should resign but not until after you apologize to the district. Apologize to the ratepayers and anybody who was affected by [your] actions.”
Rodriguez asked again, “When will this stop? How can you live with yourself? How do you sleep at night? You are a terrible man and you should do the right thing and resign now.”
Perhaps some of the most compelling comments of the evening were offered by former WVWD board member who has also been an agency ratepayer for 29 years, Linda Gonzalez; President of the WVWD Ratepayers Association, Don Griggs and Publisher Emeritus of The IE Voice/Black Voice News, Hardy Brown Sr.
“Mea culpa is a Latin phrase that means ‘through my fault.’ The expression is used as an admission of having made a mistake that should have been avoided.”
“I’m here,” Gonzalez began, “because of the [recent] articles and more than that, because I heard Robert Tafoya at the last board meeting. He brought out some facts. But more than ever,” she continued, “because I heard Robert Tafoya when we sat in that very back room (indicating the conference room) on October 6, 2016;” focusing directly on WVWD legal representative Robert Tafoya of Tafoya & Garcia, LLP, she finished her opening statement about who was in the back room, “You, I, Dr. Clifford Young and David Olivas (also an attorney with Tafoya & Garcia, LLP).”
Having riveted the attention of everyone in the room she continued. “I mentioned at that time to Clifford Young, ‘You have got to stop the harassment of the employees. You have to stop the hostile environment. And, you have to stop threatening employees, especially administrators, when they don’t do what you want. You threaten their jobs.’”
Gonzalez went on to recount what happened three days prior to that encounter. “We were in an external affairs meeting and he [C. Young] threatened me in front of all the administrators and employees and said ‘I’m going to sue you for everything that you have—and, your husband—and, your children—and, your grandchild.’” Gonzalez note at the time her grandchild, was only five years old.
“That was his [C. Young’s] M.O. [modus operandi, i.e. how he operated]. He did that with the previous board and that’s what he is doing here. But I don’t see Greg Young here,” she continued. “Greg young was his accomplice. She elaborated on how everything C. Young did, G. Young seconded and how they aligned the board to support them. “They packed the board,” she declared.
Gonzalez then spoke about the upcoming election and committed to make it her mission to go into the community and inform rate payers [about what has happened regarding the board], “…even if it means I have to work twenty-four hours a day,” she declared.
Gonzalez then directed her comments to WVWD Board President Michael Taylor. “Mr. Taylor, I have a lot of respect for you,” she began. “But you were his friend too (referring to C. Young), he used us, and you know how we were used.”
In closing, Gonzalez reminded the board, staff and others in attendance, “This is a water district. Our business here is water.” She stressed it should not be about egos or whom one is connected to and cautioned members of the board to stop what she defined as the abuse. “Stop abusing employees…Stop firing women because that’s what you did, fire women,” she said accusingly, “with the exception of Don Olinger.”
“On November 2017,” Gonzales continued, “you came up here and fired all the administrators. “Called it an external investigation. B.S.!” she exclaimed. “You fired them because Clifford [Young] told you to fire them.”
Griggs began his comments to the directors by speaking directly to what he witnessed at the last board meeting. “It was very surprising and educational at the least., he said regarding the Mea Culpas offered by members of the board and others at the last meeting. “The business of the people is serious business. I was surprised to hear legal counsel [Tafoya] tell the inside scoop on his friend, Clifford Young.”
Griggs went on to review some of the revelations offered at the last meeting including C. Young’s use of ratepayers’ money to print campaign material and that the assistant board secretary was living with former president, C. Young.
“Boy, what a racket,” Griggs declared. “Now, I don’t know if you knew at the time we were paying for his campaign, but you know now.” Griggs said to the board members in attendance. “He [C. Young] should be censored and asked by you—to resign from office—before his wrong doings are attributed to you.” Griggs reminded board members of the adage regarding how one bad apple can spoil the whole barrel.
He continued, “I have explained to the [California] Attorney General’s office about the concerns of the rate payers and now, you have the state controller’s office waiting to do an audit on the district. I told you earlier,” he reminded board members, “you should invite them in; but according to the press release [issued by board president Taylor], they invited themselves in without your invitation. This is good for all of us in the public,” he concluded and continued.
“We are now heading into another election cycle for three of you on the board. And only one of you has stood up for the rate payers,” he admonished. “As far as I’m concerned, two of you have gone along to get along and I cannot wait to see what you will send to my home about your accomplishments as directors.
Do not get me wrong,” he qualified, “I appreciate your changing leadership [voting to remove C. Young from his position as board president and G. Young from vice president] and coming clean with your confessions at the last meeting. You deserve credit for that because it has slowed the bleeding of legal costs, but not the political hiring of friends.”
Griggs then spoke specifically about what he meant in this regard. “You must convince me that all those political friends you now have on staff will not be involved in any way in your campaigns. I know they have constitutional rights, but you have compromised them by hiring them on staff.”
He warned, “If we hear of them being involved, I will file a complaint with the FPPC agency (California Fair Political Practices Commission). So, consider this, if any of them get involved—and you know how campaign workers love to talk and spread gossip—so even if you are seen with them, people will tell us, and they will send pictures.”
Griggs then directed his comments to WVWD General Manager Clarence Mansell Jr., “Clarence, you must give out clear instructions that people will be terminated if caught participating in any of their [board members] campaigns.”
With that, Griggs thanked the board and turned his attention to the reading of comments prepared by Hardy Brown, Sr.
“I am sorry I missed the last board meeting to observe the physical expressions that went with your words I heard on the audio transmission,” the comments began. “It was nice to hear what all of you had to say about how you were misguided and deceived by your friend and bully leader, Dr. Clifford Young. I am sorry it took over a year to get to this point, but it is better late than never. The rate payers have had to underwrite this experiment of a dictator’s personal greed with their hard- earned dollars. That,” Brown stressed, “they did not deserve.”
He continued, “Mr. Griggs tried to tell you how he [C. Young] was, but you would listen to his whispers of ‘you were lying and out to get him because of old political actions by him. The good thing is, you’ve learned for yourself his way of playing a shell game with you.”
That brings me to the upcoming election where three of you will run again for office. I want you to fully evaluate what you have done in the past two years that is deserving of voters returning you to office? Two of you have openly and actively participated with Dr. Young in his desire to unjustly fire employees that has resulted in high legal costs—that is not completed. What will you tell the voters,” he asked rhetorically?
Brown further expressed his satisfaction with the state’s plan to complete a comprehensive audit that should lay out and explain C. Young’s claim of an “inadvertent” misuse of ratepayers’ money as offered by the San Bernardino County District Attorney’s Office at the conclusion of their investigation into some of the alleged incidents of misappropriation by C. Young. “We will see if they see it that way because ratepayers say he belongs in jail and [he] should still pay the money back,” Brown asserted.
Brown closed his comments saying, “I am happy you decided to step up and tell the truth in public. I know this was not easy because every day we see national leaders who find it hard to admit they were wrong. Let us continue to do what is right for the customers of WVWD and [have you] honor the oath you took to uphold our constitution so help you God.
I have a quote from Dr. Martin Luther King,” Brown offered. “A man dies when he refuses to stand up for that which is right. A man dies when he refuses to stand up for justice. A man dies when he refuses to take a stand for that which is true.”
Brown ended his comments with the following quote from British statesman and philosopher Edmund Burke and a challenge to the directors of the WVWD, ‘The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.’ I hope we have some good men up here on the board.”