Letters raise questions and get answers at CWCD session
A pair of letters written to Carbon Water Conservancy District President Richard Lee by board member Nick Sampinos stirred up the quarterly meeting of the organization on Jan. 11.
Sampinos, who was recently reappointed to the board by the Carbon County Commission had posed some pointed questions about the way the district has been operating and particularly about Lee's compensation in relation to its operations.
The first letter in November mainly questioned whether Lee should be a paid consultant to the district while at the same time being the president of the board. He stated that a recent audit had shown that the president of the board should not be also a paid consultant to the district.
Sampinos said recently that he had heard no response to that letter, so he penned another about a number of things that were of concern to him, some of which related to the quarterly meeting that was held as a budget review session on Dec. 14.
At that meeting it was discussed by the board that Lee would no longer be a consultant hired by the district, but that the county commission had decided to hire Lee as a consultant in regards to the
Gooseberry Narrows situation. Lee said he would continue as the board's president after that determination was made.
"The commission has approved Dick as a consultant because of what could happen as the Gooseberry Narrows project starts to heat up again," stated Carbon County Commissioner Mike Milovich during the meeting. "He has the background and the knowledge to deal with it. We obtained a legal opinion from Gene Strate (county attorney) and we had Parsons and Behle (the county's Salt Lake legal counsel) review what we did and they were fine with it. Dick is important to us to accomplish what needs to be done in this situation."
Sampinos said that Lee should not be a paid consultant in any way to the district as long as he is the president of the district. In fact, in both letters he urged Lee to return money he had received as a consultant, pointing out that Lee should in particular return any money he got in that capacity since the State Auditor's recommendations about the situation were known.
"As an attorney and a citizen, I see no reason why he should be paid," said Sampinos. "He's not an attorney. He's not an engineer. As a board we should not be comfortable with this. He was not on full time working for the board."
Sampinos went on.
" You could have declined the payments but you didn't," he said to Lee who was sitting across the table from him. "Once the board was notified by the state about the situation, the payments should have stopped."
Board member Ted Helsten pointed out that the conservancy district board had decided not to do that however.
Milovich also pointed out that Lee's work has been and will be important to the successful defeat of Gooseberry.
"He is not on full time with the county either," stated the commissioner. "There is still a lot work to be done on that project. It will be heating up again here soon."
Sampinos also questioned the amount of money that Lee was paid last year for the work he did. In his latest letter he said that even though the position of consultant had $40,000 budgeted to it, Lee was paid $50,000 last year as well as $1,000 in director's fees and another $2,204.60 in office expenses.
David Anderson, the district's financial manager, pointed out that the extra $10,000 was paid because the district always pays in arrears.
"That last quarterly payment (for last year) would have been paid in January, but since Dick was no longer going to be working for the district after the end of the year we accelerated it and paid it in December," said Anderson. "So instead of four payments last year, he got five."
Lee said that the other money paid to him (office expenses) was actually for travel he had to do for the district. He also said that as of this year the most the board chair can make is $5,000.
"That cleans up what the state auditor pointed out," said Lee.
Sampinos' letter also asked some other questions about the budget.
*He wanted to know why the river commissioner's payments had gone $443 over budget in 2011. Anderson said this was because of a pay increase that had been approved by the board in April and that the district had the right to open up the budget and change it at the end of the year, which was done.
*Sampinos also had questions about why audits for 2009 and 2010 had not been released yet and why there was $15,000 in the budget to pay for audits which only cost $5,000 each. Anderson told the board that the audit reports for those years will soon be out and that the money in the budget was needed to pay for 2009-2011 audits.
*Sampinos also had questions about expenses the district had incurred to various vendors and also why office expense money had been paid to all the board members along with the regular directors fees ($250) they get quarterly for being on the board. The vendor costs were explained by Milovich who said that after George Harmond had to stop being the local counsel for the district, all the records and other things he kept in his office concerning the district had to be moved. They then rented an office at Business and Technical Assistance Center on south Carbon Avenue. At that time the place needed cleaning, the locks changed and some other things.
As for the extra money paid to board members Milovich said that the board had to have an extra meeting at Scofield and that was compensation for that.
Sampinos said at the meeting that he hoped that next year the board could have a copy of the budget for a few weeks before the budget meeting rather than having it handed to them at the meeting itself.
"In fact by statute we should have it in November to be able to give it ample consideration," stated Sampinos.
Lee said that was a good idea and said that he would see that would be done.
Sampinos was also concerned about the situation in which a deadline for applications for a local attorney to represent the board was extended in December. In his letter he stated that "...it is my understanding that you did receive applications from interested candidates prior to the first deadline..." He then continued that (speaking of Lee) "...you took it upon yourself, however, to extend that deadline so that additional applications could be received."
"There were some problems with postmarks going on and I decided to extend the date," said Lee. "I apologize if I made a mistake on that."
"All I ask is that we try to stick to the dates we set up from now on," said Sampinos. "As a board we should decide what to do."
Helsten agreed with Sampinos saying that at the next opening having to do with services that should be addressed.
Finally the board discussed one additional comment that Sampinos had in his letter about the water coordinator's position that the county has been funding for a number of years, and has decided to stop funding.
"I don't think this board should be saddled with the cost of hiring a coordinator," said Sampinos. "I think the county's money would be better spent on a coordinator than a consultant."
Milovich pointed out that the county was already spending a lot of money on the dam and that the consultant would be of more use to the county than the coordinator.
At the end of the meeting Lee told Sampinos that he was willing to talk anytime with him and to just pick up the phone and call about things he was concerned about.
Helsten said that he was offended by the fact a letter had to be written about the items that had been discussed in the meetings.
"These kinds of issues should be placed on the agenda to be discussed," he said.