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Did the Sativa Water District Pay for a Board Member's Surgery?

 

Update (7/26/2018) 

Eduardo Olivo, general counsel for the Sativa Los Angeles County Water District, stated in an email to KCET on July 23 that to his knowledge the district did not use any funds to pay for board president Luis Landeros' medical care in 2017. Olivo clarified he was not the district's lawyer at the time, but according to records he has reviewed, no public money was used to compensate or pay for Landeros' surgery or emergency visit. 

Documents the district provided to KCET this week show Sativa contributed $491 for Landeros’ healthcare premium payments in the summer of 2017.  Former General Manager Maria Garza told KCET the district did not pay for any healthcare benefits for board members.  Thomas Marin, her replacement, said that is incorrect.  Board members are entitled to healthcare benefits through the district.

An audiotape of the August 16, 2017 board meeting was provided to KCET. On the tape the board is discussing district finances and at one point a member can be heard joking about paying for Landeros' heart surgery. A temporary worker preparing the minutes must have included the comment in the final draft, according to Olivo's explanation. 

For months KCET requested minutes and warrants of the August 16, 2017 meeting. In his email, Olivo provided the audiotape and a record of accounts payable for the August 16, 2017 meeting. $6,700 in healthcare benefits were labeled as employee related according to the list. 

As of publication of this update, the district has not explained or noted on its website the editing of the original minutes from the August 16 meeting. 

 

 

A county agency today voted to dissolve the Sativa Los Angeles County Water District in Compton, after hearing dozens of public comments accusing district officials of mismanagement, including an allegation that they paid for a board member’s surgery.

The Local Agency Formation Commission of Los Angeles County reviews -- and sometimes  dissolves -- special districts and municipal service providers in the county. Seven commissioners took the rare step of voting unanimously to dissolve the district. The process of closing the district and finding a successor agency could take months and there’s no guarantee it will actually happen.  

Los Angeles County Board Supervisors Janice Hahn and Mark Ridley-Thomas yesterday wrote a letter to the State Water Resources Control Board asking it to appoint LA County’s Department of Public Works as interim administrator of the district. The supervisors estimate the cost of overseeing the process would be $350,000 for a six- to nine-month period.

Wearing blue T-shirts emblazoned with “Sativa Water District has to go,” dozens of residents and customers of the Sativa complained about brown water flowing through their faucets, accusing the water district’s leaders of financial mismanagement and a lack of transparency.

SoCal Connected confronts Sativa Water District Board President who is accused of mishandling funds.

During his public comment, attorney Mark Ravis testified he has evidence public funds were used to pay for a board member’s surgery. After his testimony, he refused to give any details of his evidence, citing his ongoing litigation with the district. Ravis represents Sativa customers in a class action lawsuit against the water district. The complaint accuses Sativa of failing to provide clean drinking water, spending public funds on useless equipment and causing economic harm on customers by forcing them to buy bottled water.

The district serves an area less than a square mile, including 6,800 people.

Minutes from an August 16, 2017, Sativa meeting reference board president Luis Landeros’ emergency room visit.

The ER cost is mentioned in a section entitled “Financial Reports” which notes any “down-size or abnormalities.”  A LAFCO fee, a decreased phone bill and a Delta Dental Plan are included along with the ER visit for President Landeros’ surgery.

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In May, a Socal Connected producer asked Landeros at a district meeting about the costs of his emergency room visit but he declined to answer and directed all questions to then general manager Maria Garza, who was also at the meeting. Garza declined comment and requested Socal Connected put the questions in an email. Two hours later, the minutes from that August meeting were removed from the district’s website, along with minutes from dozens of other meetings.

When asked the next day why the minutes were removed from the site, Garza said she couldn’t comment but added the website was “under construction.”

Garza was suspended from the district last month after allegations the district paid people to pose as supporters at a town hall meeting held by a U.S. Rep. Nanette Barragán, D-San Pedro, who also represents Compton.  Days after the allegations surfaced in the Los Angeles Times, the district issued a statement denying the payments.

Many of the minutes were eventually returned to the website, except for meetings from July to November 2017 and Aug. 16, 2017. After repeated public records requests by SoCal Connected to see those minutes, the district put them back online today.

The minutes involving the ER visit have been edited. The original minutes state “The ER is $216.167 for President Landeros’ surgery.”

Today’s version removes any reference to Landeros and reads, “The ER is 216.167.”

 

 

Original posting of minutes from the August 16, 2017 Sativa Los Angeles County Water District Board meeting. SoCal Connected captured this on May 17, 2018.

Minutes from an August 2017 Sativa Water Board District meeting

Edited version of the minutes which the district posted on July 11, 2018. 

Revised minutes from an August 2017 Sativa Water Board District meeting

No one at the district was available today to explain why the minutes were changed.

It’s unclear if the amount is supposed to read $216,167 or $216.16 or some other combination.

In May, Garza said she didn’t know what the correct number was. Landeros refused to comment on the visit or its costs.

When asked what the ER payment was about, Garza said the district does not provide health benefits or pay for any out of pocket medical expenses for board members. She explained the language in the minutes was a general comment about how much Landeros paid for his emergency room visit.

Questions remain about what, if any, district money was used to cover the costs of Landeros’ emergency room visit.

Public records requests for invoices, reimbursements and payments to board members have not been produced by the district.  

"We’re busy with an audit and we have a new general manager, so we’re busy,” said Sativa employee Priscilla Silva on Tuesday, when asked when the records would be available.

Thomas Martin was recently appointed the district’s interim general manager. He had previously served as general manager for the district. A call to Martin was not returned. A clerk refused to give out his district email address, saying he did not want it publicly disclosed.

 

Additional reporting from Marie Targonski-O'Brien.

 

Editors note: This article was updated with a new headline on July 12, 2018.

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