SAN DIEGO - Team 10 examined how the regional agency that sends water to Southern California spent rate payer money over a five-month period.
The findings include employee reimbursements approved despite lost receipts, thousands of dollars spent on flying an executive to business meetings from his out-of-state home, and a new public relations position based downtown.
The expenditures happened as water rates have doubled for San Diego consumers in the last six years, and as a lawsuit over the agency’s rates works through the legal system.
Team 10 asked a certified public account to review the Metropolitan Water District’s expense documents.
"There are some items that might be questioned as to whether they're appropriate or not," said accountant Bill Sturgeon.
Documents revealed Metropolitan Assistant General Manager Roger Patterson flew from his home in Phoenix to Los Angeles for board meetings once a month. Team 10 obtained records that show from March 2011 through July 2011, Patterson was reimbursed $7,914.52 for five flights to Los Angeles for five board meetings.
The documents also show Patterson took other trips for MWD business from his Phoenix home. Patterson’s airfare during those same five months in 2011 for company business totaled $24,686.50.
MWD leaders said Patterson is a vital and valuable employee who successfully negotiates multi-million dollar contracts, and they are not concerned about the money reimbursed for flights.
Meanwhile, another MWD executive was reimbursed $4,168.06, despite 22 "lost" or "misplaced receipts."
When asked if the approved expense reports were acceptable, Breaux said, "No, not at all." He added, "they should have full documentation."
Critics in San Diego said they are frustrated,
"That kind of stuff wouldn't exist in the private sector, yet the public sector gets away with this kind of murder all the time," said Lou Coming, a retired Navy veteran concerned about his rising water bills. "If you go back to 2007, my bill was $97, compared to $214 now," Coming said.
He retired from the Navy about 50 years ago, but still takes "navy showers" today to conserve water and try to keep his bills down as much as he can.
"A 'navy shower' means you turn the shower on, get yourself all wet, turn the water off," Coming said.
Another expenditure Team 10 found was the hiring of a new public relations manager, based in a downtown San Diego high-rise. The position pays $150,000 a year. Out of all of its districts, MWD only staffs San Diego with a public relations manager. The position was created as a lawsuit against MWD about its rate structure in San Diego, is pending.
(again - there is no comparable position because of MWD's size, so we can state this as fact - not trying to imply anything),
Blacher asked Breaux about that recent hire, who said the public relations position is not what drives rates - it's the hundreds of millions of dollars spent on infrastructure improvements and purifying water.
The San Diego Water Authority counters part of the rate structure is unfair, and is suing the MWD. Local water agencies are charged more for transporting water, than for the water itself. It costs more to ship water to San Diego than to any other district in southern California, because the county is at the end of the physical water pipeline.
The San Diego County Water Authority lawsuit says consumers will be overcharged $40 million this year because of the transportation cost, which translates into about $20 on monthly water bills.
The case is working its way through a California court.
The county agency gets 80 percent of its water from the MWD, and San Diego County Water Authority leaders are working on ways to decrease that amount to 60 percent by the end of the decade.
There is no single government oversight body for the MWD.