Joshua Basin Water District Manager Ban’s Demise Dashes Horatio Alger Mythos

Mark Ban’s blue collar-to-white collar success story that came across as something of a Horatio Alger novel about a young man from a humble background devoting himself to honest hard work and public service to achieve a comfortable and respectable middle-class status was shattered when he was fired from his position as the general manager of the Joshua Basin Water District for embezzlement last week.
The members of the Joshua Basin Water District Board of Directors voted unanimously to dismiss Ban from his position overseeing the district and its operations on January 19. In an official statement, the water district informed the public that an internal investigation determined Ban had engaged in action that was in violation of the terms in his employment agreement, such that his dismissal from the water agency was effective immediately.
Ban’s departure did not leave the district rudderless, as he had been placed on leave last month, and the board on December 15 had elevated Sarah Johnson, the district’s director of administration, to the position of interim district general manager.
At the district’s December 15 meeting, which was conducted by teleconference, Ban participated remotely and electronically as did other district officials, including Board President Rebecca Unger, Vice President Tom Floen, and directors Stacy Doolittle, Jane Jarlsberg and Mike Reynolds. At that meeting Reynolds tendered his resignation due to his then-anticipated relocation to Arkansas, and discussion ensued about the process of selecting his replacement.
The minutes of the meeting which were subsequently submitted to the board for approval on January 19, were signed by Johnson over the title “acting general manager.
The meeting minutes for the board’s specially called December 23 meeting, which was also held by teleconference, show the meeting was initiated at 1 p.m. and that Ban’s fate was discussed for 46 minutes that day without him participating, with a “closed session public employee performance review” that began at 1:03 p.m., with Unger, Floen, Doolittle and Jarlsberg participating, along with Johnson and Anne Roman, the district’s finance director; Jeff Hoskinson, the district’s legal counsel; Nate Kowalski, the district’s labor counsel; and auditors Jeff Palmer, Andy Beck and Christopher Brown. The board of directors adjourned back into open session at 1:49 p.m., and it was stated that no reportable action was taken.
There are only a limited number of minutes of the Joshua Basin Water District’s meetings from 2021 available. Those for the November 17 meeting show that Autumn Rich, an accounting supervisor, was present at that meeting, at which Ban acted in his capacity as the district’s general manager.
Indications are that there was some recognition among district officials as early as October that something was amiss with the district’s finances, which brought an auditing team into play. The district has not disclosed how much in the way of its funds were missing. Johnson said that as the matter involved a personnel issue, the district would not go beyond its statement that Ban had been terminated on grounds relating to his being out of compliance with his employment contract.
Ban had been with the Joshua Basin Water District nearly four years, first as the assistant general manager for operations from February 2018 until June 2019, then as the interim general manager from June 2019 until February 2020 and as the general manager from February 2020 until he was terminated.
Ban’s story was, or seemed to be, an inspiring one of a working-class lad who had spurned book learning in favor of hard work and had made his way in the world to a place of distinction on the basis of that working-class ethos.
After graduating from high school in 1997, Mark Christopher Ban signaled to the world that he wanted to join the workforce immediately, rather than wasting time in college. He applied for dozens of positions, taking whatever work was available. In 1998, at the age of 19, he was hired by the Hi-Desert Water District as a laborer in its water operations division, doing water main replacements, installing new, and doing repair work on old, primary pipelines used to move water from the district’s purification and treatment plant to the district’s customers. After his probationary period as an employee elapsed in 1999, he continued doing water main replacements as a certified pipelayer for three years. In 2002 he became a heavy equipment operator for the district. In 2004, having accumulated enough capital to buy or lease his own equipment and the experience to operate it competently and dexterously, he braved a foray into the private sector as a heavy equipment operator. A little more than a year later, however, he returned to the Hi-Desert Water District.
He remained with the Hi-Desert Water District for 13 years, initially as a construction and maintenance operator from 2005 to 2007, a cross-connection specialist and then a water quality technician from 2007 to 2008.
By that point, Ban had come to understand that there was value to education, particularly if it was directed toward cultivating a specific marketable skill set. In 2008 and 2009, he attended San Bernardino Valley College, where he studied water supply technology, taking classes in water backflow, backflow assembly and backflow testing. He later supplemented his education with seminars and classes offered by the American Water Works Association in cross connections and backflow assembly testing, and then from the California Department of Public Health in water distribution and water treatment. With the expertise he gained in this manner, in 2008 he moved into the position of production superintendent, in which capacity he remained until 2010. In March 2010, he was promoted to director of operations for the district. In March 2013, he was elevated to the position of assistant general manager.
At that point, Ban had seemingly arrived at the threshold of the American Dream, having achieved a position of responsibility, authority and respect many college graduates never attain. As the Hi-Desert Water District’s second-in-command, he was provided with a salary of $165,190.90 a year along with $14,101.10 in other pay, and $34,423.40 in benefits for a total annual compensation package of $213,715.40
It grew better from there. In February 2018, he was hired by Joshua Basin, which provides water to the Joshua Tree community, including Downtown Joshua Tree, Monument Manor, the Joshua Highlands, Panorama Heights, Friendly Hills, Copper Mountain Mesa and Sunfair. He initially took a slight pay cut when he moved into the assistant general manager for operations post with Joshua Basin, with his annual salary dropping from the $165,000 range he had earned at the Hi-Desert Water District to around $130,000, but upon being propelled into the acting district manager role in June 2019, his salary was boosted to $164,000 annually, at a near par to what he had been making with HI-Desert. When he was given the full-fledged district manager’s post, he could boast an annual salary of $176,322, additional pay of $30,128 and benefits of $44,313, such that he was receiving a total annual compensation of $250,763.
Ban’s Achilles’ heel as district general manager was in business operations, as he had no actual training or experience in accounting or budgeting other than what he had picked up on the job, and his very slim academic exposure did not consist of any business, management, financial management or accounting courses.
Moreover, the Sentinel has learned, Ban’s haphazard handling of finances apparently extended to his own personal financial affairs. One report, unconfirmed by the Sentinel at press time, was that while he was employed with the Hi-Desert Water District, Ban was borrowing money from some of the employees he supervised there.
On Friday, January 21, detectives with the sheriff’s department, having been alerted to what was termed “an embezzlement” at the Joshua Basin Water District, sent deputies to make contact with Ban, who was in the process of retrieving his personal effects from the Joshua Basin Water District office at 61750 Cholita Road in Joshua Tree. He declined to make a statement to those deputies.
At press time, Ban had not been arrested.

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