A study of Rancho Murieta Security operations, which is supposed to map the department’s future in a growing community, is months behind schedule, and Community Services District directors expressed growing frustration at last week’s board meeting.
Director John Merchant started the conversation by saying he’s concerned that “this thing is just not going in the direction that we envisioned it was going to go in.” Merchant said he's “living with the frustration” of having voted for the study, which carries a cost of $49,300, even though he didn’t think it was a good idea. “I already regret it, and I haven’t even seen the report,” he said.
Merchant said he was struck at the February public kickoff meeting that the company preparing the study, Burns & McDonnell of Kansas City, Missouri, hadn’t met with the board to discuss a direction or get a list of concerns.
Merchant said he thought the study would prompt a look at the whole range of security issues as the community moves into a future of residential and commercial growth. He said he hoped for “a return to all the various arguments we’ve had over the last 30 years, about peace officer status, about who owns the gates, about who runs the gates; do we have the blue-blazer concept (of security officers), you know, or do we have the guys-with-guns concept?”
The community needs to address the issues, Merchant said, because a 14-hour-a-day supermarket is coming soon, along with a 100-room hotel, “and we are ... addressing those with the same staff we had in 1990.”
Ed Crouse, the interim general manager, said CSD staff had “pushed back hard” on Burns & McDonnell. He said the next version of the report would “probably be a total rewrite.”
“It seems like there was a big disconnect between the information they received, the actual policies of the board, what the community wanted, what the budget could fund,” Crouse said.
He said Burns & McDonnell had just submitted a request for more information.
At the February meeting, Burns & McDonnell said it expected to have a report back to the board by April.
Since then, the two people who led the project on the CSD side have departed. General Manager Darlene Thiel announced in April that she would be leaving the CSD in July for a position in Florida. In May, Thiel announced the termination of Security Chief Paul Wagner, prior to the completion of his probationary period in the job.
Last week, Crouse said he couldn’t say for sure when the report would be complete. Offering a guess, he said he thought he might get the company’s next rewrite by the end of August and there might be something to share with the board by the end of September.
Under questioning by Mark Pecotich, the board president, Crouse said the present version of the report includes a plan for camera deployment and discusses the “blue-blazer” versus “guys with guns” approaches to security, but it doesn’t offer much justification or examination of cost or liability.
Director Jerry Pasek said he spoke with Thiel, the departed general manager, before she left, and she said, “They reach a whole bunch of conclusions and recommendations (in the report), but you don’t know how they got there.”
Crouse replied, “I couldn’t say it better, Jerry.”
Pasek asked Crouse if he learned anything by reading the report. Crouse said he had not.
Crouse agreed with Pecotich’s comment that Burns & McDonnell has a good reputation in its field. “Something’s amiss,” Crouse said, echoing Pecotich.
Crouse said the CSD hasn’t paid Burns & McDonnell anything yet for the report.
Lessons learned from water treatment plant
At last month’s meeting, the CSD looked at cost overruns for the new water treatment plant that brought the final cost to $13.2 million. This month, the board looked at lessons learned from the project based on a 12-point memo from Paul Siebensohn, director of field operations.
Although it concludes by describing the new plant as “an excellent facility with top-notch technology,” the memo looks at design and construction management issues and calls time constraints “the major limiting factor due to the push by development.”
“This was all kind of in motion as we were moving forward,” Siebensohn told the board. You can download the three-page memo here.
Director John Merchant said, “We went so fast we did part of this without a signed agreement. ... John (Sullivan, development representative) needed a hotel and we needed to go fast.”
Director Jerry Pasek, who served on the negotiating team for the funding agreement with the developer, said, “It was pacing development ... and the developer was paying for one-third of the price and driving the schedule.”
“I think we were actually full-bore planning this facility before we had an actual negotiated agreement with the developer,” Merchant said.
“The (financing and services agreement) was well in place ... but the bond placement and funding of the $4 million bucks that they were contributing was where the hold-up was,” Pasek said.
Financing agreements with developers were not in place when the project was bid. Securing the agreements and financing for the project caused a three-month delay, changing the start date from February to May 2014. The group represented by Sullivan came to an agreement and provided a $4 million letter of credit to allow the project to move forward after Sacramento County reinstated a requirement for additional water treatment capacity for the Murieta Gardens hotel project.
Director Les Clark said many of the memo points were specific to the water treatment project, but pointed out others that “have general applicability to projects.” He urged the staff to pursue them for future projects.
In other business...
- Ed Crouse, interim general manager, said the search for a new general manager had been narrowed to five or six candidates. Interviews were being scheduled that week, he said. The opening for a security chief was about to be posted and would remain open until the end of August, he said.
- Director Les Clark asked about a joint security meeting with the Rancho Murieta Association to discuss gate-access policies. Ed Crouse, the interim general manager, said he had met with RMA representatives the day before and was scheduling a wider meeting between the two organizations to discuss the whole range of security issues.
- Ed Crouse, interim general manager, said a presentation at the Regional Water Authority alerted him to state legislation now in committee that could impact special districts like CSD. One bill would create a public good assessment that requires all water districts to put a $1 or $2 assessment on each bill to pay for projects that benefit the public. Crouse said another bill being discussed would levy a charge of as much as 20 or 30 percent to pay for water bills for the poor.