Anthony “Butch” Araiza worked for the West Valley Water District for 52 years, the last thirty as its general manager, until he retired in June.
This November, three of the positions on the West Valley Water District’s board are up for election. Two of the incumbents on the board, Rafael Trujillo, who was recently appointed to his position, and Alan Dyer, are vying to remain in place. Another incumbent, Betty Gosney, is not.
Araiza has joined with Don Olinger, Greg Young, Michael Taylor and Manny Gonzalez in seeking a berth on the board.
Given Araiza’s past visibility and name recognition among the water district’s voters, his command of the issues facing the district and his knowledge of where some past political skeletons are buried, he appears to have a leg up on capturing one of the three seats at stake in November. In an effort to blunt that perceived advantage, an effort was launched this week to brand Araiza’s current political ambition as criminal.
In particular, it has been insinuated, Araiza seeking a position on the board of the water district so soon after he left its employ may be a violation of Government Code Section 87046.3.
In a memorandum to the district’s board of directors dated October 8 from Araiza’s successor as general manager, Thomas J. Crowley, and the district’s legal counsel, Gerald W. Eagans, the subject is broached by calling for the board to take a vote on whether to “Refer to the attorney general and appoint special counsel to pursue the matter of whether the ex-general manager of the district is in compliance with the local one-year ban of separation of Government Code Section 87406.3.”
The memo goes on to note “This item has been added to the agenda at the request of a board member.”
Furthermore, the memo states that “Anthony Araiza retired as the general manager of the district effective June 10, 2015. As the ex-general manager of the district, Mr. Araiza is subject to certain restrictions on his political activities after leaving the district’s employment. One such restriction is Government Code Section 87406.3 which prohibits Mr. Araiza for a one year period after his retirement from being paid to communicate with the district in an attempt to influence certain actions or proceedings.”
An attachment to the memo was the Fair Political Practices Commission’s summary of the restrictions placed upon former public officials with regard to lobbying or communicating with the agency that they recently led or were employed by. “In the event the board determines to further investigate whether Mr. Araiza is violating the post-employment restrictions, this matter will be referred to the attorney general and special counsel to pursue the matter.”
Nowhere in the Fair Political Practices tractate, however, does it deal directly with the circumstance pertaining to Araiza, that is, a retired employee seeking election to a board position.
According to the FPPC, “The local one-year ban prohibits specified officials, for one year after leaving local government office or employment, from representing any other person, for compensation, by appearing before or communicating with their former agency in an attempt to influence the agency’s decisions in an administrative or legislative action, whether quasi-legislative or quasi-judicial, or any action involving a permit, license, contract, or transaction involving the sale or purchase of property or goods.”
The closest the FPPC summary comes to indicating that Araiza or someone in a similar circumstance might be precluded from serving as an elected official with an agency he or she was employed by within one year of leaving the employment of that agency is this passage:
“The one-year ban applies to appearances and communications made within 12 months of permanently leaving local office or employment. An appearance or communication includes all of the following:
• Conversing by telephone or in person.
• Corresponding with in writing or by electronic communication.
• Attending a meeting.
• Delivering or sending any communication.”
By the most far-reaching interpretation of that language, it would thus seem Araiza would not be allowed to serve on the board until sometime after June 11, 2016, since he would presumably be communicating with the others on the board as a consequence of serving on the board himself. Yet, a more narrow interpretation would hold that the ban would not apply to him since in his capacity as a board member he would not be, in the language of Government Code Section 87406.3 itself, seeking to “act as agent or attorney for, or otherwise represent, for compensation, any other person.”
By this interpretation, Government Code Section 87406.3 merely prohibits a former official from being paid to lobby his former agency and does not restrict him or her from seeking election to its governing board or serving on that governing board if elected to it.
There are examples within San Bernardino County of former government employees retiring and then being elected, or seeking to be elected, to positions leading the entity they formerly worked for. Rancho Cucamonga Mayor Dennis Michael was Rancho Cucamonga’s fire chief prior to his successful run for city council. He was subsequently elected mayor. Stephen Dunn, who retired as Upland city manager in June 2014, ran unsuccessfully for the Upland City Council in the November 2014 election. No efforts on the basis of Government Code Section 87406.3 to prevent either Michael or Dunn from running were made and no effort to prevent Michael from serving as a city council member citing Government Code Section 87406.3 was employed after he assumed office.
West Valley Water District currently provides drinking water to customers in portions of Rialto, Colton, Fontana, Bloomington, and portions of the unincorporated area of San Bernardino County, and a portion of the city of Jurupa Valley in Riverside County.
Since 2003, the entirety of the current as well as past boards were highly supportive of Araiza as he led a legal and administrative battle against Fontana Water, which is owned by El Monte-based San Gabriel Valley Water Company, for its practice of pumping far more water out of the Rialto Colton Basin than was allotted to it in a 1961 water adjudication by which several of the region’s water companies and agencies are mandated to share local water resources.
Araiza did not allow himself to be pulled into the fray brought on by the suggestions that in his effort to transition from being an employee of the district to being one of its political leaders he had run afoul of the law. Fond of recollecting that “I started out digging ditches and mowing lawns,” Araiza said “I am running because I’ve cared about this district for over five decades and I want to see it thrive. I want to make sure that the district continues to provide a high quality of service and a secure water supply.”
Thursday night, the West Valley Water District, in a split 3-2 vote, called for the California Attorney General and/or special counsel to look into whether Government Code Section 87406.3 indeed applies to Araiza. What has been suggested is that though Araiza is not being directly paid to represent anyone or any company before the board, among the donors to his board campaign fund are entities that have had dealings with the district, rendering his political efforts out of compliance with Government Code Section 87406.3.