It has been a frustrating and embarrassing year for two services districts in Plumas County. Alleged criminal acts involving fraud and embezzlement have left ratepayers stunned and angry.
Last week’s report that former Indian Valley Community Services District general manager Leanna Moore is accused of stealing more than $380,000 from the small district comes on the heels of a similar report in Chester earlier this year. Former Chester Public Utility District general manager/fire chief William Turner is accused of charging $1,720 on the district’s credit card at a Reno strip club.
Both Moore and Turner will likely stand trial sometime next year. Although they are presumed innocent until a jury rules on the evidence, the fact that they are facing charges is a serious black eye for their respective communities.
It also begs an obvious question that everyone seems to have: Where were the checks and balances? Where were the districts’ boards of directors? How could they let this happen?
The Plumas County Grand Jury took the CPUD board to task in its 2013 report. The jury blasted the board for allowing Turner to operate independently and without supervision. It appeared the board was taking direction from Turner, instead of the other way around. In the end, the board members said they felt betrayed by Turner.
In the past year there has been a major overhaul of the CPUD board, as there probably should have been.
The situation in Indian Valley could prove to be much more serious. Moore’s alleged crimes not only cost the district a lot of money, they reportedly cost Indian Valley some badly needed jobs. The district had a staff of 14 when Moore took over in 2007. But due to budget shortfalls, the staff has dwindled to just three.
Like the CPUD board, the IVCSD directors said they had no clue that hundreds of thousands of dollars had vanished, until results of an independent audit were revealed last spring.
The Indian Valley board members have been directed by the district attorney to not comment on the case. It is still under investigation and they are considered witnesses.
No doubt the citizens in Indian Valley are seething right now. And they have every right to.
Being a board member is a vital, prestigious — yet often thankless —community service. Members are hardworking volunteers who take time out of their lives to serve their neighbors.
These recent scandals are an example of just how important a board is to its community. The situations in Chester and Indian Valley should make board members throughout the county take notice. It’s their fiduciary and moral responsibility to pay close attention and ask tough questions.
Granted, directors aren’t involved in day-to-day operations of the district, nor should they be. That is the general manager’s job. But, at the end of the day, the responsibility of the ratepayers’ business rests solely with the board of directors.