[Corrected Oct. 23] The Community Services District board took the unusual step of discussing an employee's contract -- in this case, the general manager's -- in open session Wednesday.
The board also fielded a complaint about the taste of the community's drinking water, received a report that wastewater carryover storage is a thing of the past, and approved funding for a $100,000 environmental project that represents half of a penalty levied against the district by a regulatory agency.
The contract action involved an amendment to the five-year contract signed by General Manager Ed Crouse and outgoing President John Merchant in August 2006. The amendment limits Crouse's severance pay, provides a structure for evaluating his performance and defines issues that constitute cause for termination.
The original contract called for an annual salary of $125,400, the use of a vehicle provided by the district and other benefits available to district employees. It said Crouse would be paid for the remainder of the five-year term if his employment were terminated at any time without cause.
At Wednesday's board meeting, CSD counsel Steve Rudolph said the amendment to the contract "creates a more basic process for the establishment of annual goals and evaluation of the general manager's performance ... (and) also clarifies certain provisions relating to termination of the agreement."
The amendment ties salary increases to Crouse "accomplishing the goals and objectives established by the board for the preceding fiscal year, the district's overall organizational performance in providing services to the community in conformity with the mission statement, and a salary survey of comparable agencies."
In addition to general manager, Crouse serves as the district's engineer.
The contract amendment says his salary will be increased by at least 5 percent on July 1, 2008, if the board determines that he "substantially accomplished the goals and objectives established by the board."
According to the amendment, Crouse cannot be terminated without cause prior to June 30, 2008, a change from the contract, which reads, "The district may terminate this agreement and at any time by giving written notice to the employee. If the termination is not for cause, the employee shall be paid severance pay equal to the total amount he would have received under this agreement...."
It limits the payout for termination without cause to a maximum of 18 months' pay, in accordance with state law, and defines negligent conduct, misuse of public funds and other actions as causes for termination.
The amendment lists Crouse's salary as $132,924, a 6 percent raise over the contract. That raise was approved by the board in July 2006, according to the contract amendment. An earlier version of this story said the 6 percent raise had been approved by the current board.
Salary numbers were not discussed at the meeting. The amendment was available at the CSD's web site as part of the meeting's board packet. The original contract is a public document and available to anyone who requests it.
President Wayne Kuntz said the board had discussed the amendment during closed-session evaluations of Crouse's performance as general manager. Rudolph said the board is required by state law to approve the general manager's contract at an open session. "That's why the amendment is on your agenda for consideration this evening," he told the board.
The contract was approved by the board in executive session in August 2006, the same day as the filing deadline for three board seats -- a majority of the board -- in the November election. Merchant, the outgoing board president, did not seek reelection.
That night, the board announced in public session that it had approved the contract in executive session. As is the case with executive session and personnel matters, no details were provided. Merchant and Crouse signed the contract the following week.
Crouse has been a lightning rod for those challenging development, many of whom view him as pro-development and want him held accountable for the district's regulatory failings and other problems in recent months. Merchant, while serving on the Rancho Murieta Association board, helped steer the RMA in development issues.
After the amendment was approved by a unanimous vote of the four directors present -- Kuntz, Dick Taylor, Bob Kjome and Jerry Pasek -- Taylor said he was "exceptionally pleased with the performance that the district receives from Ed. ... Ed's knowledge, background knowledge, probably exceeds that of any administrator that this district and the homeowners association had ever had." Kuntz agreed.
Goal met for wastewater storage
It helped to trigger the cease and desist order and now it's a thing of the past.
When Director of Field Operations Paul Siebensohn announced that treated wastewater in the storage ponds at the wastewater treatment plant dropped below 100 acre-feet this month, there was applause from board members, staff members and spectators at Wednesday's meeting.
According to the CSD, the excess wastewater had been carried over since 2003, when a new treatment requirement delayed deliveries to the Country Club's two golf courses for a critical portion of the irrigation season. Cutbacks in golf course water usage and wet spring weather in subsequent years added to the problem.
The resulting carryover storage helped trigger the cease and desist order the Central Valley Regional Water Quality Control Board issued to the CSD and the Country Club last year, and was the major factor in generating the $200,000 fine the regional board levied against the CSD this year.
Crouse said the staff of the regional board was notified when storage levels dropped to 95.4 acre-feet the week before.
The regional board required stored wastewater to reach 100 acre-feet or less before removing a cap on flows to the wastewater treatment plant.
Water tastes, smells bad, resident says
Since he moved to Rancho Murieta five years ago, Carl Gaither told the board, he has experienced episodes during the summer and into the fall when "the taste and the odor of the water was very musty. ... Each year I have been told that the water is safe to drink, and I believe that. ...The majority of us (are) getting lousy taste and smelly water. ... Why can't our water smell and taste good?"
The source could be the problem, said Paul Siebensohn, the director of field operations, in acknowledging Gaither's complaints. "I believe it's due to the aquatic plant life that's around the reservoirs dying off." The organic material is released into the water and can't easily be treated with chemicals because of the potential for toxicity, Siebensohn said.
"It comes back to the source water, and it's the organics that are in the water ... that's always going to be in the water," agreed General Manager Ed Crouse. ".... The only way to get rid of that is to try to install an activated carbon plant upgrade."
Although developers will build a new phase of the water treatment plant to serve their projects and replace Phase 1 of the existing plant at the same time, it doesn't mean there's a carbon filter in Rancho Murieta's future.
"That isn't anticipated in the new plant design because right now we're trying to comply with surface water treatment rules, which is the primary maximum contaminant level treatment process that we have to meet," Crouse said. "Taste and odor are secondary, and it's subjective ... so there are no hard and fast rules as to what is good-tasting water and what is bad tasting water."
You didn't have to look any further than the board to find differing opinions of the water.
Director Bobbi Belton pointed out that she lives a few blocks from the Gaithers and the water has "never been a problem" in her household. President Wayne Kuntz echoed her sentiments, although he lives in Murieta Village, where Siebensohn said the bulk of the water complaints originate. That's because the Village is the farthest point in the distribution system, so the water isn't as fresh and the chlorine residuals drop off, he said.
"My wife doesn't like the taste or the smell of the water, but I don't even notice it," remarked Director Dick Taylor, a North resident.
Director Jerry Pasek, who also lives on the North, said he and his wife share Gaither's opinion of the water, and he advised Gaither to install a water filter. "It's the only solution," he said.
Siebensohn told Gaither the distribution system is being flushed and both water plants have been cleaned in an effort to improve water taste and odor, adding, "Hopefully it will start to get better."
$100,000 of fine benefits salmon project
Half of the $200,000 settlement of the fine imposed by the regional board will be used to finance an environmental project involving salmon and the Cosumnes River.
The CSD agreed to the settlement in September. At Wednesday's meeting, the board approved a contract to provide the California Fishery Foundation with $100,000 for the development and implementation of a one-year project to monitor the Chinook salmon of the Cosumnes River.
"The purpose of this study is to identify the benefits of previously constructed downstream enhancements to the spawning beds, and removal of barriers to allow the salmon to migrate up the river," Crouse said.
The annual salmon run utilizes fish ladders at Granlees Dam.
The remaining $100,000 of the settlement is divided equally between the state Water Pollution Cleanup and Abatement Account and the Waste Discharge Permit Fund.
CSD customer satisfaction survey planned
The board agreed to a three-part customer satisfaction survey at the suggestion of the committee members who are preparing the questions. The committee members are residents Wilbur Haines, Betty Ferraro and Al Swan. Director Bobbi Belton is coordinating their efforts.
Security is the first area that will be addressed. The next survey will be on water-related issues and the third will cover communication, administration, garbage collection and other topics.
Director Dick Taylor objected to the committee's plan to include matters that are under the jurisdiction of the Rancho Murieta Association. President Wayne Kuntz said he was concerned it would raise expectations people would look to the CSD to satisfy.
Haines responded that the committee's view is residents are "highly confused about the division of functions" between the two entities and its goal is to use the survey as an educational tool to distinguish between "driveway parking-type enforcement and safety-type enforcement."
RMA President Jack Cooper, who was in the audience, came to the podium to suggest RMA participation in the security section of the survey, making it a joint effort of the RMA and CSD.
The survey will be reviewed at the CSD Security Committee meeting 8:30 a.m., Nov. 6, at the CSD Building. The survey is expected to go to the board for approval in November. Following approval, the survey will be distributed to residents as part of their CSD bill.
New computer, backup solution approved
The board approved a new computer and network backup system costing up to $14,500 for the district's computer data, programs and system set-up for servers. The solution includes a Network Attached Storage (NAS) server, tape autoloader and back-up software.
It replaces the current online backup solution, which costs the CSD $7,000 annually and backs up only data, according to Les Tyler, director of administration.
The new system was recommended by NMC, the CSD's information technology consultant. It's the latest in a series of upgrades that have occurred since the CSD changed IT consultants in May. The change came after a security breach occurred, disabling an employee's computer and the server. Tyler told the Communications Committee in June there was evidence "someone got into the network. ... There was no evidence of anyone trying to corrupt files, there were no viruses found."
At the same meeting, Crouse portrayed the incident as a wake-up call, telling the committee, "... We're finding that security changes almost daily and unless we validate and test it on a routine basis to make sure we're as secure as we can be, we're running blind. We've learned that it isn't static."