The Carmel River meets the sea. Can the Monterey Peninsula afford to trust Jim Heitzman and the Marina Coast Water District to replace illegally diverted Carmel River water?
Until now, Marina Coast Water District General Manager, Jim Heitzman has been notable mainly for his astoundingly high salary that, last we checked, was setting the public back about $240,000 per year. But with today’s release of the preliminary findings of the Steve Collins conflict of interest investigation, he will likely be even more noted for his astounding lack of judgment.
The preliminary report reveals that RMC Water and Environment contracted with Monterey County Water Resources Agency Director, Steve Collins, at the request of Jim Heitzman. And that Heitzman’s agency then spent months reimbursing RMC for Collins’ bills, which included charges for time spent performing his duties as a MCWRA Director! Collins eventually received $160,598 from RMC.
Put another way, Jim Heitzman apparently asked RMC, a private company with a major stake in the Regional Desal Project, to pay a MCWRA Director – with a legal duty to look after the public interest in making decisions regarding the project – to help get the project sorted out and approved.
Although the conflict of interest inherent in working for both RMC and the public on the desal project is pretty obvious, Collins went still further by actually charging RMC for time spent performing his duties as a MCWRA Director. And Jim Heitzman, whose agency received itemized bills for that work, apparently saw nothing wrong with this.
Whatever legal consequences there may be for Collins and the others involved in these shenanigans, the repercussions that most interest us will be those to the Regional Desal Project itself. As it is not at all unlikely that the conflict of interest will result in the deeply flawed operating agreements approved last fall by the PUC being declared void, a chance might even arise to negotiate new agreements giving the ratepayers paying for the project a say in how it is operated and pricing the water it produces fairly.
Not that we really expect that to happen. Without an enormous public outcry, it is much more likely that the agencies involved will simply scramble to find a way to re-ratify the existing contracts – arguing improbably, as before, that anything else would scuttle the entire project. Maybe a local dignitary can, once again, be brought on board to earn a boatload of money “consulting” on the project for RMC, or their successor. We’ll just have to hope that next time they pick someone who isn’t currently a public official at one of the participating agencies.
Still, we do suspect that today’s revelations will make the ratepayers of the Monterey Peninsula less inclined than ever to leave the future of their water supply in the fumbling hands of Marina Coast and Jim Heitzman. The question is whether or not they’ll have a choice.
Click here to read the “Summary of Preliminary Findings Regarding Director Stephen Collins’ Business Relationship with RMC Water and Environment and Marina Coast Water District.”
Click here to view a good Monterey County Weekly story on the preliminary report.