Things happen. There are lots of things happening. There are couple things that happened this week I want to share with you. After 20-years of attending water entity meetings I’ve seen a few things. I’ve attended meetings with armed guards. Water can get serious. I’ve seen directors flip each other off and exchange insults not fit to repeat in print. I’ve avoided writing down some pretty funny jokes because it would have been easy to take it out of context and use it unfairly against someone. The great playwriter Neil Simon had a line in Biloxi Blues about the power of writing something down. It can follow you around and influence others. Often in ways unintended. I rarely write about foibles that take place at districts because to do so would magnify them way out of proportion. These reports are ultimately about people. The people who help farmers get water. That’s a noble endeavor and we’re capable of nobility as well as ignoble actions. Those actions can be accidental and it is easy to write something that makes others look bad.
But two things have happened this week. I feel compelled to write about them. I’m appalled at the online censorship taking place and don’t want to be that way. I want to convey the truth. What I’m writing may anger some. I’m sorry I can’t make everyone happy and still write the truth.
The ag community in the Central Valley is made up of some of the finest people I’ve had the privileged to know and associate with. There are a variety of forces out there working at odds against farmers. It’s unfair and ultimately harmful to everyone who eats food and wears clothing. Growers are constantly being challenged by accusers. Michael Bloomberg comes to mind. Yes his statements about just put a seed in the ground, kick some dirt over it and harvest was foolish, but it was foolish in front of a large audience. An audience of many if not most who think cotton grows in the neck of an aspirin bottle.
There are 1,600 acres of newly planted almonds in a white area near the Pixley Wildlife Refuge. I have heard the surrounding districts asked those responsible to not plant there as it would be irresponsible in this age of SGMA to pump groundwater and deplete the surrounding areas’ aquifers. There is a question of right of ownership. If I owned that land and wanted to plant permanent crops shouldn’t I have the right? I believe in private property and an owner should be able to do what he wants within the law. But just because you can do something doesn’t mean you should. I don’t know whose trees those are but I’ve been told they belong to a real estate investment trust. I’d like to know who are the decision makers. I hope they’re not clients of mine. They’re trying to make some money like the rest of us. But there is a smell here of the worst caricature of “greedy corporate agriculture.” If the growers had a stake in the Valley beyond investments would they have listened to their neighbors?
One of the districts under the greatest scrutiny by elitist media is Westlands Water District. Take the reporting on the recent CVP contract conversions. If all you read were the headlines in newspapers such as The San Jose Mercury News, the Los Angeles Times or even the Las Vegas Sun you’d think Westlands had coopted the entire federal government to literally steal water. Well, that’s not true. In fact the City of San Jose benefited from its water suppliers making the exact same contract conversion. Westland is not greedy cooperate ag. It’s just another water contractor bringing supplies to the most productive land on earth. But it is big and it is being watched.
Before I tell you what happened understand I’m not in Westlands, I don’t farm or own land there nor do business with the district. I have no vote.
I just watched the WWD personnel committee meeting where an open board seat was discussed. Westlands has a nine member board. Director Don Perrachi stepped down after the recent election leaving an open seat. If I understand correctly – and seriously if anything in this report is factually in error let me know – when there is a vacancy such as this the Westlands board has an option of either holding a special election or appointing someone to fill the term. It is the personnel committee’s job is to screen applicants and it can choose to make a recommendation to the board.
Five candidates applied for consideration: Ross Franson, Kristi Robinson, Larry Enos, Jon Reiter and Ceil Howe III. The personnel committee asked them questions about a wide range of issues pertaining to serving on the board. For example: Do you have the necessary time to perform a directors duties? Are there any conflicts of interest that would require you to recuse yourself an inordinate amount of time? What would you do to improve the district? What could the district do better?
All of the candidates are involved in the district as either landowners, growers or people with business interests in some form. They are all articulate and knowledgeable about the district and its operations. They were all there for this important meeting, a job interview if you will. All of the candidates were present and answering questions except for Larry Enos.
Enos is a former director who just lost his seat in the most recent election. There was no explanation as to why he wasn’t in attendance. Evidently he didn’t call in to give an explanation as to why he couldn’t be there. In fact it was said for him not to be present meant there was something as serious as a funeral going on. Hope not. But it was noted it is out of character for this to have happened.
The candidates took their turns responding to questions. There was some sincere verbal hand wringing about how great all the candidates are – making the decision difficult. To the credit of committee Chairman William Bourdeau, he gave everyone an opportunity to comment and didn’t allow bias to creep into the comments or questioning. Good for him. And as chair he couldn’t make a motion.
Then a motion was made and seconded to recommend the board appoint Enos. Had this not been a remote meeting and everyone was in the same room I believe we’d of either heard a collective gasp or a pin drop. Not sure which. Since this was in part, for all practical purposes a job interview, I had to ask if anyone at Westlands had ever gotten a director’s job after not showing up to the interview. If anyone there had ever heard of such a thing they didn’t tell me.
Others in attendance asked why it would be a good idea to appoint someone who just lost an election and advocated strongly to put the matter to Westlands’ voters. Before the committee voted on the motion Enos came on the line. He apologized for not being able to break away from an earlier commitment, fair enough. No one asked about it and fair enough. Enos was asked most of the same questions the other candidates were asked.
There were enough comments from the public opposing Enos being recommended for appointment the committee decided to move any decision until the next committee meeting and the motion was removed.
As stated earlier Westlands is under scrutiny. Can you imagine what it would look like for members of the board of directors to appoint a colleague who just lost an election right back on to the board? I don’t know everything but I know that would raise howls.
Now here’s the good part about this story: there was a committee meeting. The process was in place to ensure poor decisions weren’t made and it worked. I don’t know why Enos didn’t win reelection to his board seat. I’m not in any way implying he’s not capable and competent. Sometimes those who govern best campaign the worst and vice a versa. If the Westlands board opts to put the vacant seat up to the voters I wish Enos and all the candidates a clean and fair campaign. I urge the board to allow the voters their say.
It galls me and many of you when folks who rail against agriculture in California get on the loudspeakers. Fortunately most of the time they’re talking out their butt. Let’s watch our step and keep it that way. Let me know what you think.
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