Collins is Toast
>Now we know: Marina Coast and Heitzman knew.
Thursday, June 23, 2011
Dear Mrs. Collins,
I get it. I really, really get it, that letter you wrote to the Monterey County Herald earlier this month in defense of your son, Steve Collins. I know where the urge comes from. I have two teenage sons and God, they try to pull some stupid stuff. And having a mother who’s a journalist is pretty rough, because they get away with almost none of it – I’m just too nosy and too sneaky not to find out what they’re up to. But in the end, I think they have good hearts and mostly good intentions, and that, combined with a mother’s love, goes a long way toward my urge to defend them no matter what.
So I know why you wrote the letter. As you put it, your son has “worked very hard” on the Regional Water Project as a board member appointed by the Grower-Shipper Association of Central California to sit on the county Water Resources Agency. It’s a powerful and important agency.
You pointed out that you also spent six years on that agency’s board of directors, and so maybe you know this truth better than anyone: The Monterey Peninsula is screwed when it comes to water. We need 10,000 acre-feet to supplant pumping from the Carmel River, under threat of adjudication by the State Water Resources Control Board. Absolutely no new water hookups are allowed on the Peninsula right now, so we can kiss any development goodbye for the time being.
So the agency, along with the Marina Coast Water District and California American Water, struck a deal: Let’s build a Regional Water Project, a desal plant, to take brackish water from near the ocean and make it potable. A new supply is literally lapping at our gorgeous shores. We’ll take $400 million to get it done, and the tiny Marina Coast district will become a force to be reckoned with.
I think we can agree on that much. But from there, Mrs. Collins, respectfully, is where I have to disagree with you. Your son, you say, has done his work with “the highest degree of integrity and moral compass,” and the press has gone after him with unproven allegations and innuendo.
I think it’s safe to say the allegations have been and continue to be proven, the innuendo has been borne out as truth by multiple official documents the Weekly, other media and other interested parties have obtained through the Public Records Act, and your son’s moral compass appeared to have directed him straight toward cash rather than True North. Even the Supes, a board whose inability to take decisive action sometimes borders on the absurd, took it upon themselves to commission an outside investigation into your son’s conduct. They hired a pair of very expensive attorneys to look into allegations that Steve was publicly advocating for the desal project as a board member while secretly advocating for a $28 million piece of the $400 million pie for RMC Water and Environment, a Walnut Creek-based engineering firm now acting as water project manager. RMC paid Steve $160,000 over the course of about a year for his work; his contract ended on the very day that the California Public Utilities Commission gave the Regional Water Project its stamp of approval.
To make matters worse, the now-public investigation revealed that Steve got that fat contract because Marina Coast General Manager Jim Heitzman asked RMC to hire him – Collins submitted his invoices to Marina Coast (whose board I’ve come to affectionately call the Insane Clown Posse) and Marina Coast paid them without question – until a new and as-yet-unidentified accounting manager came along last August, took a look at the invoices and had a conversation with Heitzman that presumably went something like this: “Are you out of your mind? You can’t do this.”
Heitzman went to RMC and said Marina Coast would no longer pay. So RMC took over the payments; the invoices, according to the investigation, went from being very detailed before the accounting clerk asked questions to completely lacking in detail after.
But there’s also the matter of the double dipping. The investigation shows your son was billing RMC for time spent performing his duties as a MCWRA director, including trips to Washington, D.C. and lots of meals out on the town with local officials including county water resources agency GM Curtis Weeks. Supervisor Lou Calcagno, meanwhile, says Steve’s invoices include bills for meetings with Calcagno the supervisor says never happened (and his staff cross-checked his official calendar to prove it).
The Fair Political Practices Commission, along with the Monterey County District Attorney’s office, is two weeks into an investigation into allegations that your son violated conflict-of – interest laws.
If he’s indicted, and I know you hope he’s not, we’ll continue to report the truth. And part of that truth, according to the Remcho investigation, is that as a result of his and Marina Coast’s conduct, the future of the entire desal project may be sinking to the bottom of a very brackish pond.
Mary Duan is the editor of the Weekly. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.