By Matt Coker
By R. Scott Moxley
By Charles Lam
By Nick Schou
By Gustavo Arellano
By Gustavo Arellano
By Steve Lowery
By R. Scott Moxley
"Yes, I got $20,000 last year," Eckenrode acknowledged. "No, I don't think that is excessive. You've got to look at it this way: I was being paid for 10 meetings a month, but I attended a lot more meetings than that—sometimes between 15 and 18."
Eckenrode insists that compensation for the OCSD directors be evaluated in context with the pay structure of other boards.
"Look at the Orange County Water District," he says. "It has 10 members, and each one can attend 10 meetings at $165 per meeting. And look at the Irvine Ranch Water District. Over there, directors not only get paid for meetings, but they also get retirement pay—and they get a couple of other things, too, things I can't remember off the top of my head. So you can't just pick on us."
Why do these boards and commissions pay members, anyway, considering that appointments to them are actually part of a city council member's job? There are many rationales, but at some point in every theory, just about everybody mentions the same reason: without the money, hardly anybody would show up.
Is there a direct relationship between the money and the votes?
"I think that's a very cynical view of the world," says Anderson. "I think the amount of money we pay the people on our board is a bargain when you consider the time it takes to read agendas, work with staff and attend meetings."
Nonetheless, like most boards of its kind, the OCSD does tend to operate under the radar. Although most meetings are open to the public, attendance is usually poor and press coverage is worse. The current controversy over the 301 (h) waiver has generated an unusual amount of scrutiny at the OCSD, but for the most part, the board has been a good gig for local politcos—relaxed, lucrative and well-funded. It's an environment that can promote back-scratching among politicians.
"A kind of 'group think' can take over in situations like that," says Assemblyman Maddox. "It's not wrong, exactly, but it's not right, either."
For example, Green might have won his little insurrection on the Huntington Beach City Council last December if he hadn't let it slip that he was leaning toward voting for the 301 (h) waiver—despite the fact that the council had already voted unanimously on Sept. 17 to oppose the waiver. Most on the council seemed appalled to hear that Green might be willing to double-cross them when he returned to the OCSD board. Veteran Councilwoman Shirley Detloff said publicly that she was "shocked."
Irvine City Councilwoman Beth Krom is among the minority of the OCSD directors who openly oppose the waiver. However, she seriously doubts that the ultimate vote on the issue will hinge entirely on money from the OCSD. "But that's not to say there isn't a good-old-boys network in there," she says. "This ispolitics."
Consider the case of Alvarez, the brand-new OCSD board member from Orange. When the OOG presented its case against the waiver to a special study-session meeting of the Orange City Council on Feb. 19, Alvarez listened quietly. He joined the council's unanimous vote to take the matter under further consideration. He noted that comments from a majority of council members indicated that they were likely to vote against the waiver. Then, after the meeting, Alvarez told the Weekly that whatever the council ultimately decided would not determine the vote he casts at the OCSD board meeting.
"It's my vote," Alvarez said. "I'm the one appointed to the board, and I'm the one who will decide how I am going to cast my vote."
Alvarez's attitude caught his colleagues by surprise.
"I'm very disappointed to hear that," said Cavecche. "I would hope that after all the time and investigation we're putting into this issue, our mayor pro-tem would represent our position. If he won't, I'm going to find out. The mayor may have full authority to make appointments—but the council can remove."
Alvarez insists he is the council member best situated to make the call on the waiver, since as a member of the OCSD board of directors, he is the best-informed on the issue.
And how has a first-time member like Alvarez gotten up to speed on the issues of water sanitation?
"At this point," he says, "I pretty much rely on Blake Anderson and his staff."