The forested hillsides east of McKinleyville are being eyed for residential development. More in next week’s paper….
Monthly Archives: March 2008
At Wednesday’s meeting, MCSD Board President John Corbett gave the controversy now gripping the district a name: Sodagate.
Although there’s no break-in involved (at least that we know of), it’s an apt name for the scandal, which involves two soda machines, suspected embezzlement and an alleged cover-up.
Now for a “pop” quiz: How can two soda machines make about $1,000 in profit each year for about a two-year period, and then lose money for the next year and a half even though the MCSD continued to purchase soda?
Details in next week’s paper.
After more than an hour and a half of testimony, most of it against fluoridation, the MCSD board voted 4-1 this evening to leave it up to the citizens of McKinleyville to organize and get the matter placed on the ballot for voter approval if they want the substance added to the town’s water supply.
So, if folks want fluoride, they’ll need to work their butts off to get it on the ballot. Then they’ll need to convince voters to approve their measure.
No such citizens group currently exist that I’m aware of.
The lone dissenting vote was Director Jeff Dunk, who was adamant (or maybe he was Adam Ant, based on the audience’s cheers) in his opposition to fluoride. He said he favored a different motion, one that would have simply dropped the matter all together.
As for Marking’s contract, no decision was made.
As for the allegations made by former Business Manager Jim Harding in this week’s paper, Manager Tom Marking said “I’ll tell you that most of what you read in the paper is false.” And sensational.
Everything is groovy at the MCSD and Mr. Harding’s allegations are basically bullshit. (Marking didn’t use those exact words, but that was the basic message.)
Lots of questions at this point. It will take time to sort out this mess.
More on all of this in next week’s paper.
Word on the street is that there will be an anti-fluoride protest at tonight’s MCSD meeting. I’m not sure exactly what that means. Are people going to show up and simply express their opposition to fluoride to the board? Or will there be a protest with placards and a little street theater? We’ll find out shortly.
The meeting begins at 6 p.m. with a closed session, during which the board will negotiate a contract with Manager Tom Marking. There will be some time before the board goes behind closed doors for the public to comment on the matter. Then at 7 p.m. the board is scheduled to convene in open session. That’s when the real fun begins. I would advise those attending to grab a cookie immediately upon entering the Hewitt Room because they probably won’t last long, at least based on my experience. There’s nothing more depressing then going to the back of the room during the meeting and discovering an empty paper plate where the cookies once were.
If anything earth shattering happens at the meeting, I’ll try to post something on this blog when I get home. I’ll have to keep it extremely short, being that the meeting will probably drag on late into the night and I need my beauty sleep.
The former business manager and treasurer of the McKinleyville Community Services District says he was forced to retire after Manager Tom Marking thwarted his efforts to have a proper investigation into financial irregularities and the possible embezzlement of taxpayer dollars.
The situation spurred Jim Harding – who has served as the MCSD’s chief financial officer for 11 years before retiring on Tuesday, March 4 – to file a complaint last week with the Humboldt County District Attorney’s Office and the Grand Jury.
Harding said he discovered “financial irregularities” in the general ledger several months ago. In an interview last week, Harding said that Manager Marking was definitely not a suspect and that the amount missing was “a thousand dollars or less,” at least that he knew of. Harding would not disclose the name of the suspected employee.
“I reported my suspicions to my supervisor, General Manager Tom Marking, and requested an impartial investigation by the County Auditor or Board of Directors in closed session,” stated Harding in a written statement to the McKinleyville Press. “He (Marking) agreed only to conduct his own, solo investigation, and he refused to tell me how or whether he dealt with the embezzlement I suspected.”
It’s worth noting that Harding is not merely a business manager working at the behest of Manager Marking. He was also an officer of the board who had been unanimously selected as MCSD treasurer by the board every year during his 11-year stint with the district. If he were to ignore what he suspected was the embezzlement of district funds, he could be fingered as being part of a cover-up.
Harding said that “he (Marking) ordered me to drop the matter. I told him that I had a fiduciary responsibility to the district and would not accept his burying the issue. I demanded to take the matter to the board in closed session and told him that if I weren’t allowed to address the board, I would need to report the situation to the County Auditor.”
Harding says that when he returned to work the next day, Feb. 28, he was physically barred from his office by Marking, who confiscated his keys and placed him on disciplinary suspension.
“The following day, he had delivered to me another letter that said I was under investigation for making physical threats to someone unnamed,” Harding stated. “He threatened involvement of law enforcement authorities and, in a subsequent letter, exercise of legal remedies if I had contact with ‘any and all district employees.’ ”
Harding flatly denied that he made threats towards anyone and called the allegations “patently false.”
“It was clear to me that Marking was about to fire me in an attempt to make the whole thing go away. As an employee I had no access to the board and no way to pursue my suspicions,” Harding stated.
Oddly enough, board members would not have been allowed to discuss the issue with Harding unless they were willing to violate a policy they created in January. After meeting with Marking in closed session on Jan. 8, the board announced that “contact with district staff will be through the general manager.”
“So I could speak freely about the disharmony and apparent malfeasance at the district, and to protect the benefits I’ve earned over the past 11 years at the MCSD, I felt forced to submit my retirement,” Harding stated.
“As a retiree, I feel free to make my appeal to the MCSD board, county investigative agencies and the community. Regarding the suspected malfeasance and attempted cover-up, I’ve contacted Board President John Corbett requesting a hearing before the board in closed session,” Harding wrote. Last week Harding submitted complaints to the District Attorney and the Grand Jury.
When contacted by the McKinleyville Press, Marking declined to comment and said that Board President John Corbett is designated as the district spokesperson for this issue.
In a phone interview Friday, March 14, Corbett said he was limited in what he could say because personnel matters are involved.
The board, he said, discussed the issue of the financial irregularities during a closed session at a special meeting held Tuesday, March 4. The board decided to refer the matter to its auditor “for review,” Corbett said.
That meeting was held five hours after Harding officially retired from the MCSD. The meeting was agendized as a performance evaluation and contract negotiation with its general manager, according to the draft minutes included in this week’s board meeting packet.
As for the allegation that Harding threatened an employee, Corbett said the matter is being investigated by the MCSD’s attorney.
Harding was hired by former MCSD Manager Bruce Buel in mid-1997. At the time, the MCSD’s books were a total mess. “The accounting system had imploded,” Harding said.
The MCSD board was regularly briefed at its meetings about the accounting problems, which made some residents suspicious about whether there were some financial shenanigans going on with their tax dollars. But all the data was there and eventually the books were put back in order. “Everything got reconciled,” Harding recalled.
Over the years, Harding said, there’s been a steady improvement in the district’s financial system.
But the atmosphere at the district’s office seemed to change in the last year or two. “It certainly seems different to me, but I can’t put my finger on it.”
Despite tensions at the office, particularly in recent weeks, Harding said “I loved the job.” Harding seemed visibly upset by the turn of events and made it clear that he didn’t want to retire but was forced to do so.
“I feel the turmoil everyone has seen on the board level is even worse on the staff level. It’s sad to see how the district has changed these past few years under Tom Marking,” Harding stated.
“As reported in this paper, there have been other instances of his poor relationships and heavy-handed tactics towards those who disagree with him,” Harding stated. “It’s very disappointing that the board seems unwilling or unable to rein in his animosity.”
The situation with Harding isn’t the first time Marking has had a conflict with an employee. According to a Nov. 13, 2002, article in The InterMountain News, Marking was the manager of the Burney Water District from 1991 until 1998, when he was unanimously dismissed by the board. Burney is located in Shasta County.
An employee quit his job with the district in 1997 “due to stress, reportedly due to working with Marking,” the article stated.
The employee “filed a claim against the water district and in October 1997 was awarded more than $25,000 in Workers Compensation and Unemployment Insurance benefits.”
The MCSD Board of Directors is scheduled to consider a new employment contract with Marking at its meeting on Wednesday, March 19, at Azalea Hall, 1620 Pickett Road, McKinleyville.
The meeting begins with a closed session at 6 p.m. for a “contract negotiation with the general manager.” At 7 p.m. the board will convene in open session. Near the end of the agenda, the board is scheduled to consider the new employment contract.
The board was presented in Feburary with two contracts. Under one contract, Marking may get a $5,431 annual raise along with a $57,000 bonus in the event that he quits his job or is terminated, with or without cause. In addition, Marking would get paid and receive full benefits for three months after he’s terminated.
Both the raise and the bonus – equal to 6 months of his proposed annual salary of $114,040 – are included in an employment contract drawn up by Marking himself and submitted to the Board of Directors for consideration. The 14-month contract would run from May 1, 2008 to July 31, 2009. Marking also submitted a short-term contract, under which he would be paid $9,700 a month until the district finds a replacement manager. Under this agreement, Marking would also receive a bonus equal to six months of his base salary, for a total of $58,200.
Also at Wednesday’s meeting, the board will consider appointing a treasurer to fill the position vacated by Harding. Marking is recommending that the board appoint Assistant Business Manager Diane Sloane to serve in the position until a new business manager is hired.
At this point in time I’m going to be loosey-goosey with regard to comment moderation on this blog and just see how things develop.
But, if things get out of hand down the road, I may have to resort to drastic measures. So play nice.
I hate to clog the blog with a boring meeting agenda, but since it’s not on the MCSD website this is the only way people can access the agenda online.
Besides, the agenda isn’t as boring as you may think. If you read it carefully, it tells a story about what’s happening – or not happening – at the MCSD’s bunker on Sutter Road.
NOTICE IS HEREBY GIVEN THAT A REGULAR MEETING OF THE MCKINLEYVILLE COMMUNITY SERVICES DISTRICT BOARD OF DIRECTORS WILL BE HELD AT 6 P.M. WEDNESDAY, MARCH 19, 2008, AT AZALEA HALL, 1620 PICKETT ROAD, MCKINLEYVILLE
A. 1 A CLOSED SESSION IS SCHEDULED FOR 6 P.M. TO BE FOLLOWED BY THE REGULARLY SCHEDULED MEETING AT 7 P.M.
A closed session is scheduled as per government code section 54957 for contract negotiation with the General Manager
A. CALL TO ORDER, FLAG SALUTE AND ROLL CALL
B. PUBLIC HEARINGS: These are items of a quasi-judicial or legislative nature. Public comments relevant to these proceedings are invited.
C. ORAL AND WRITTEN COMMUNICATIONS: Matters under the jurisdiction of the board may be addressed by the public at this time. Comments are limited to three minutes. Letters should be used for complex issues. Since the matter is not on the public agenda, board actions are limited.
D. CONSENT CALENDAR: These matters are routine in nature and are usually approved by a single vote. Directors may pull any particular item for further discussion.
RECOMMENDATION: Approve Consent Calendar by Voice Vote
1. Accept Minutes of the Feb. 20 Regular Meeting
2. Accept Minutes of the Feb. 20 Special Meeting
3. Accept Minutes of the March 4 Special Meeting
4. Accept Cash Disbursement Detail Report Only
5. Approve service disconnections for DCV violations
E. CONTINUED AND NEW BUSINESS
1. Review Capital Costs Study for Fluoride at a Regional Level and MCSD’s response to HBMWD.
2. Review and Approve Sports Teams 2008 Contract at HSS
3. Approve Large Scale Community Events Permit for the Little League Opening Ceremony
4. Approve Resolution 2008-04 to Appoint a District Treasurer and Execute Signature Cards
5. Discussion of the 2007 Wastewater Management Facility Annual Report to the RWQCB
6. Consider Approval of General Manager’s Contract
F. REPORTS: No specific action is required on these items, but the board my discuss any particular item as required.
1. STAFF REPORTS
a. Support Services Department – none
b. Operations Department – Greg Orsini
c. Parks and Recreation Department – Jason Sehon
d. General Manager – Tom Marking
2. COMMITTEE REPORTS
a. Recreation Advisory Committee – Jeff Dunk
b. Redwood Region Economic Development Commission – Javan Reid
c. McKinleyville Senior Center – Bill Wennerholm
3. CHAIRMAN’S REPORT
4. ANNOUNCEMENTS FROM DIRECTORS ON TOPICS OF INTERESTS
Last month the McKinleyville Community Services District added a really nice feature to its website – supporting documents for its monthly meeting agenda. This provides the public with a lot of the nitty-gritty details that can’t possibly be printed in their entirety in a newspaper.
But you’ll notice that the MCSD website has remained static since the Feb. 20 board meeting. There was no agenda posted on the website for the special meeting on March 4. And as of this evening, there’s no agenda posted for the March 19 meeting.
Why did the MCSD upgrade its website, and then entirely walk away from it within a period of weeks? Because there’s turmoil inside the office at 1656 Sutter Road. A key staff member, who just happened to be in charge of updating the website, says he was forced to retire. After his paperwork was in order and benefits secured, he filed a complaint with the District Attorney and Humboldt County Grand Jury.
Details will be revealed in Tuesday’s paper. And, trust me, updating the district’s website is the least of the issues that the Board of Directors will need to deal with.
As for the agenda for the Wednesday, March 19, meeting, I had hoped to just link to it, but it looks like I’ll need to post the whole thing on this blog once I get it typed.
Here are some of the agenda items:
• Yummy fluoride – Now that the HBMWD has decided against adding fluoride, it’s up to the MCSD to decide whether to add it to its own water supply.
• A status report on the sewer plant – Basically, the numbers indicate that the plant is doing well and the quality of the effluent is improving. Still, I wouldn’t recommend running through the sprinklers down at the Fischer Ranch.
• Manager Tom Marking’s contract – Should he get a $5,431 annual raise, bringing his salary to $114,040 a year, along with a $57,000 bonus in the event that he quits his job or is terminated, with or without cause?
This week’s McKinleyville Press has a front-page article about the Santos Subdivision, which will be built on what’s now a pasture at the corner of School Road and Windsor Avenue in McKinleyville.
It’s an interesting subdivision because it will change the look and character of the neighborhood and add more traffic to our streets. On the flip side, it will also result in major improvements to what is now a very dangerous section of School Road, at least for pedestrians.
Today I stopped by the Planning Department and looked through the file.
Here’s the subdivision map. Click on it to see a larger image. As you can see, McKinleyville Avenue will be extended all the way to School Road.
Here’s a graphic showing the sidewalks and bike lanes. This is the part of the project I’m excited about. Eventually, it may actually be safe to bike or walk up School Road.
Here’s this week’s article:
Pasture to be developed on School Road
Pasture to be developed on School Road
Press Staff Writer
A new subdivision bordered by Windsor Avenue and School Road in McKinleyville will add 88 residential lots to the town’s housing mix – and more auto traffic to the area.
Proposed by Mary and Domingo Santos, the project at 1671 Windsor Avenue will subdivide 20.7 acres and the developers will widen School Road to accommodate increased traffic. Before being approved at the Thursday, March 6, Humboldt County Planning Commission meeting, the project’s elements were described by Phil Gutierrez, the developers’ representative.
He acknowledged the impact of having that many lots but emphasized the project’s inclusion of two parks and a trail system. Gutierrez also highlighted the road improvements. McKinleyville Avenue will be extended all the way to School Road and Gutierrez said the School Road widening will benefit the community beyond the subdivision.
“We’re basically building roads, for thoroughfare, for McKinleyville,” he told commissioners.
There was some low laughter among commissioners. “That’s the problem,” said Commissioner Mary Gearhart.
More traffic is a concern for Ken Miller, who lives on Ocean Drive near the end of School Road. He said that in combination with other recently-built subdivisions, the 88-lot project will load the area with traffic. “When you widen School Road and put up fences along it, you’ve got a dragstrip – and this is a residential area,” said Miller.
He suggested using traffic-calming techniques like traffic circles, speed limit reduction and speed humps. Miller is one of the property owners who lives near the fast-eroding Mad River bluff, and he’s also concerned that the project’s drainage will worsen the situation.
The traffic situation was discussed by commissioners, who were told that School Road is a collector route and speed humps aren’t doable because they would encourage traffic diversion to narrower streets. Gutierrez said the developers are already paying for a lot of road improvements and that the School Road widening will include bike lanes on both sides.
Gearhart asked for and got changes to the fencing and landscaping along School Road, including the planting of street trees, which she said would slow traffic and would allow people to “feel like they’re in more of a community.”
The project was unanimously approved by commissioners. Approval of a Permanent Road Division, in which subdivision residents pay for road, drainage and landscaping maintenance through property tax fees, will be sought from the Board of Supervisors for the project.