When the Salt Hits the Fan
Steve Collins dirt threatens to sully other officials involved with the desal project.
Thursday, June 16, 2011
The investigation of former water official Steve Collins’ potential conflict of interest isn’t over yet. Now that some of Collins’ billing records have been made public, the question becomes: “Who knew what, when?”
In early 2010, while Collins was serving on the Monterey County Water Resources Agency board (one of three partners in the $400-million Regional Desalination Project), he was also being paid by RMC Engineering, the firm awarded the project management contract.
Collins billed RMC for meetings with a number of public officials, including County Supervisors Lou Calcagno and Dave Potter, county attorneys Irv Grant and Dan Carroll, MCWRA General Manager Curtis Weeks and Marina Coast Water District General Manager Jim Heitzman.
Calcagno, however, suggests some of those meetings never occurred – implying Collins may have billed RMC for work he didn’t do.
A June 10 public records request from Monterey attorney Michael Stamp, who represents Ag Land Trust in a lawsuit challenging the Regional Project, questions the appropriateness of those meetings.
On April 5, 2010 Collins – acting as an MCWRA board member – voted for the Regional Project, and billed RMC for his time. The next day he met with the supervisors in closed session, after which the board approved the Regional Project; he billed RMC for that too.
His bills suggest over the following two days he met with Heitzman, Weeks, county counsel Dan Carroll, RMC’s Lyndel Melton and Calcagno to discuss “strategy issues” and the Ag Land Trust lawsuit.
The invoices also indicate Collins had 10 meetings with Calcagno and six with Potter between January and April 2010, when Collins was working to build local support for the agreements governing the Regional Project.
But Calcagno’s staff confirm only four of those meetings, several of which involved larger committees.
“I had no inclination that Steve was hired by RMC,” Calcagno adds. “If I had, let me tell you, I would’ve advised him he better get his act together right away.”
Potter could not be reached by deadline.
Supervisor Jane Parker says she assumed Collins attended the board’s closed sessions as a water board member. “He certainly didn’t say he was working for anyone else,” she says. “He was regarded as a very knowledgeable, reliable person. You add that to his forceful personality, and you had a very effective and persuasive spokesperson.”
Collins billed RMC for attending California Public Utilities Commission hearings, where he testified in favor of the Regional Project as a water board member. RMC, in turn, billed Marina Coast for Collins’ services, while MCWRA paid for his hotel and meals.
Collins’ potential conflict of interest could compromise the integrity of the project agreements. The Regional Desalination Advisory Committee decided to postpone a June 15 community forum until the Collins investigation is complete.
Weeks and Heitzman did not return calls by the Weekly’s deadline. Collins deferred to Salinas criminal defense attorney Juliet Peck, who would not answer specific questions, but wrote by email: “[Collins] is confident the evidence will show that his actions during the last year and a half were completely transparent and repeatedly vetted by government officials… [H]is long history of civic service has never been compromised by any conflict of interest.”
County officials expect a full report on the Collins matter by the end of the month.