Cal Am to CPUC: MYOB
(But Marina Coast Water District paid for Collins’ big fat consulting contract, Cal Am tattles.)
Thursday, April 28, 2011
As Monterey County investigates Steve Collins’ potential conflict of interest involving the regional desalination project, Cal Am “believes that Mr. Collins advocated on behalf of the Regional Desalination Project,” according to an April 25 letter from the water company to the California Public Utilities Commission’s Division of Ratepayers Advocates (DRA).
The letter also repeatedly says: “None of the costs of any work that Mr. Collins may have done has been or will be paid by California American Water ratepayers.”
So which agency did RMC Water and Environment bill for Collins’ services, some $150,000, according to Collins’ own account? Cal Am responds: “Marina Coast Water District.”
Cal Am’s letter fulfills the DRA’s request for information regarding Collins’ work for RMC, an engineering firm hired as project manager for the Regional Water Project. Until earlier this month, Collins sat on the Monterey County Water Resource Agency board of directors. In February, Collins recused himself from voting on the $28-million contract with RMC. In April, the Weekly broke the story that RMC paid Collins more than $100,000 to work on the water project on behalf of RMC.
Collins resigned from the board April 11. The next day, the DRA sent Cal Am a letter asking questions about Collins and whether Cal Am ratepayers were billed for his work.
As of April 22, Cal Am hadn’t responded, prompting a friendly reminder from Max Gomberg, a DRA policy analyst. “As Cal Am is aware,” he wrote, “the Data Request solicits information about Steve Collins, a former Monterey County Water Resources Agency Board Member who is currently under investigation by Monterey County. Production of this information in a timely manner is important to DRA and to the residents of the Monterey Peninsula.”
So on April 25, Cal Am sent over its response – along with several “general objections.” The water company wasn’t party to any agreements between RMC and Collins, it says, adding that ratepayers didn’t and won’t pay for any of Collins’ work.
When asked how Cal Am will “identify actual or potential conflicts of interest” as the project moved forward, it says: “California American Water will follow its normal practices, which is to follow its policies to identify and address actual or potential conflicts of interest with respect to all activities within its control. We expect that our partners… will likewise adhere to their policies to identify and address conflicts of interest.”
The document doesn’t say when Cal Am knew that Collins was being paid by RMC, nor does it answer whether Cal Am disclosed it to anyone at the CPUC.
On April 12, the Board of Supervisors directed County Counsel Charles McKee to hire outside counsel to investigate the water agency’s work on the regional desalination project.
Monterey County Chief Assistant District Attorney Terry Spitz says his office isn’t investigating Collins or the water resources agency, but adds, “we will probably talk with Mr. McKee about whether he has anything to share. Government Code 1090 affects government contracts and if there’s a conflict, we’re the enforcement authority. We’re here watching from the sidelines.”
Government Code 1090 says an elected official may not vote on a contract in which he has a financial interest. And, as the state Attorney General’s website explains, “There are situations where a board member’s participation is attributed even where the board member does not actually participate.”