Channing Hawkins, who ousted an incumbent in the Nov. 5 election, was chosen Thursday night for the two-year position on a 4-0 vote, with one member abstaining. Outgoing board President Mike Taylor, who remains on the board, called it a “new day” for the district.
Also sworn in Thursday were fellow board directors Kyle Crowther and Greg Young, who were both reelected in the November balloting. Crowther was selected as board vice president on a 3-2 vote.
Two audits of the Rialto-based district, which supplies water to about 82,000 customers in Bloomington, Colton, Fontana, Rialto, unincorporated areas of San Bernardino County, and Jurupa Valley in Riverside County, have uncovered a raft of questionable practices.
The state Controller’s Office is conducting an audit that will not be released until at least mid-April, but the agency has alerted the district already to the discovery of questionable hiring and promotion practices, no-bid contracts, abuse of credit cards and work performed without contracts.
Findings from an independent audit commissioned by the district — conducted by The Pun Group of Santa Ana for the period from July 2018 through January 2019 — were fairly consistent with some of the controller’s preliminary findings.
“Accountability is important to evaluating our effectiveness and ensuring that we are performing well and being responsive to our ratepayers,” he said. “Let’s build a strong reputation for accountability by implementing new fiscal controls via improved accounting practices.”
Hawkins, a labor representative for a public employees union in Riverside, said he also will focus on investing in infrastructure.
“For far too long, we’ve done things because that’s the way we’ve always done them before. Some areas of our system are broken. It’s time to mend,” he said. “This process begins with fixing wells, modernizing our water system and performing routine maintenance.”
For years, the district has been beset by dysfunction and allegations of corrupt or unethical practices, resulting in expensive lawsuits and sinking employee morale.
Board member Clifford Young and two other district officials alleged in a lawsuit filed earlier this year that Taylor and former assistant General Manager Ricardo Pacheco engaged in a bribery and kickback scheme involving Robert Tafoya, the district’s general counsel, and other lawyers and their firms who have contracted with the district for legal services.
The allegations have been denied, and Taylor, Tafoya and others named as defendants or co-conspirators in the lawsuit call it a vendetta by Clifford Young for being unseated as board president in October 2018, among widespread allegations by employees of abusing his power.
Don Griggs, president of the West Valley Water District Ratepayers Association, said he is pleased with the new board leadership and hopes to see the district shake its troubled past.
“Time will tell where we’re headed here. We’re anxious to see what direction they take, and we hope Mr. Hawkins will be a good leader to us all,” Griggs said after the change in leadership Thursday night.
“We’re going to have to, and that’s why I’m really excited about the new leadership,” Griggs said. “We’re going to have to get past everything that’s happened in the past. Hopefully, this new year will set us on the right path.”
Crowther and Greg Young, who is of no relation to Clifford Young, also said they are looking forward to a better future at the district, but noted there is work to do.
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