Consumers across the Southeast L.A. region have been voicing opposition to rising water rates. Now, Political Life has learned that Central Basin Water District General Manager Alex Rojas has had his compensation package increased by 12.50%, from $200,000 to $225,000.
Rojas joined Central Basin months in August 2020, and his 12.50% pay raise is notable in light of regional statistics showing that the average Southern California pay raise per year is around 3.35%, putting his salary on course to reach $250,000 by 2022.
A divided Board
At the August 23rd, 2021 meeting, elected Board Members Robert Apodaca, Arturo Chacon, and Phillip Hawkins voted for the salary increase, as did the Appointed Directors Michael Gualtieri and Noe Negrete. The votes in opposition came from Elected Directors Martha Camacho-Rodriguez and Leticia Vasquez-Wilson.
Vasquez commented “Alex Rojas does not deserve a raise on the back our ratepayers. He’s unqualified and does not meet the general requirements according to Central Basin’s Admin Code.” She specifically noted that Rojas does not have an engineering degree and that he did not have five years of experience working for a water services provider.
Political Life reviewed Vasquez’ statements and found that indeed, Central Basin has “qualifications of ideal candidates” for General Manager. It does not appear that Rojas, who was working in public education prior to employment by the Central Basin, meets either of the two primary requirements for General Manager of the large water district.
A member of the public, identifying herself as Linda Bassett said during the meeting “I’m so saddened by this vote. The man makes enough money. He hasn’t done enough. As a citizen, I’m appalled.”
“Smells like the Bell scandal”
Director Camacho-Rodriguez said “The games behind the scenes and the violations of the Brown Act continue to happen,” pointing to the initiation of legal activity by Robert Baker, Central Basin's Attorney, seemingly arising from activity in subcommittees. Indeed, the majority in this legislative body is 5 of 8, as established in Court. Referring to mismanagement, she said “Anything that happened has always been a dirty agenda move by these Appointed Directors.”
Camacho-Rodriguez’s statement is in reference to the unique situation of the Central Basin, which has Elected Directors elected by voters and Appointed Directors that are voted in by “purveyors”—the cities, private water companies, and mutual water companies in the District. This system, ushered in by Assembly Member Christina Garcia through AB 1794, effectively ensures that private water interests can exercise direct control of a public agency, a fact protested by many community members at Garcia's office in Downey.
Vasquez did not back down, saying of Rojas’ salary boost, “This is a gift of public funds. Mr. Rojas only manages nine employees. We have a very small budget of 10 million dollars, which does not justify the massive salary that he will continue to get. This smells like the Bell scandal. At this point this will be looked at by some other government authority.”
An ultra-majority now needed to remove Rojas
Perhaps the most notable element to emerge from Rojas’ contract negotiation is his termination clause. Going into the meeting, the Employment Agreement stipulated that a super majority, four-fifths (80%) of the Board would be needed for Rojas’ removal.
However, during the read out of the closed session, Board Attorney Robert Baker said that the clause had now been amended to read that termination could become actionable “upon a vote of 7 of 8 members of the Board of Directors.” That is, 87.5% of the Board Members are now needed to remove Central Basin General Manager Alex Rojas.
Vasquez said “In all government entities, a simple majority is required to hire and fire. This 7 of 8 vote requirement is unheard of.”
The disagreements between members of the Board of Directors and its General Manager are expected to continue, and we will be monitoring the developments closely.
Political Life is a collective of citizen-journalists in Los Angeles County.