Directors of the Imperial Irrigation District face off in court

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Members of the Imperial Irrigation District Board of Directors clash in a months-long battle that has spanned from town halls to controversial closed-door sessions and now in a courtroom. At stake is a deal with the unions that will determine who gets tens of millions of dollars in IID business.

Just days before a new board meets in December 2020 – and after major union campaign contributions failed to garner support from their favorite candidates – The outgoing IID board quickly passed a Project Work Agreement, or PLA. This group of contracts, approved by a 3: 2 vote, would set for the next decade the labor conditions that the IID must use for projects estimated to cost $ 750,000 or more.

Directors Norma Sierra Galindo, Alex Cardenas and Erik Ortega voted for it. Ortega had already lost his seat in the November elections and stepped down shortly thereafter. Directors JB Hamby and Javier Gonzalez then joined the board, and Hamby sought to tear up the deal.

Shortly after the tenure of the new board began, Hamby, Gonzalez and director James Hanks voted to cancel the deal because the original motion approving it was “vague, unclear and ambiguous. and no action has been taken, ”Hamby said.

The San Bernardino / Riverside Building and Construction Trades Council, the Imperial County Building and Construction Trades Council and the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, Local 47, sued the IID and its director. General, Enrique Martinez, March 1. They asked the court to force the water and electricity district to honor what the lawsuit called “legally binding bilateral contracts.”

The majority of IID’s service delivery area and all of its board of directors are located in Imperial County, but the unions have filed a lawsuit in Riverside County Superior Court. IID provides electricity to the Eastern Coachella Valley in Riverside County.

The outcome of the legal battle has major implications for work in Southeast California, as it will determine who gets significant levels of work.

According to the most recent annual report of the IID, the district had approximately $ 602 million and $ 589 million in operating expenses in calendar years 2019 and 2018, respectively. These totals included around $ 98 million and $ 175 million in those years for water and energy related work.

Quite unusually, the three directors who originally voted in favor of accepting the PLA have now provided affidavits in support of the PLA.legal action by unions againstthe IID card.

“It’s a bizarre case in every way imaginable,” Hamby admitted, adding that “there is very limited case law because this is such an unusual case on what constitutes a motion.”

The affidavits – signed by Ortega, Galindo and Cardenas – could prove essential in a case that deals with the nuances of parliamentary procedure.

All of their signed statements included this same line: “I voted for the motion and understood that I was voting to approve the working agreements for the project included in the agenda package. Galindo went on to attest that she signed the PLA on December 9, while she was still chair of the board, meaning she had the authority to sign legally binding contracts approved by the board of directors. administration.

Hamby fired back, saying the directors who agreed to sign the affidavits “violated their oath of office and their duty of loyalty to the IID.”

IID's energy teams worked on downed power lines in the southeastern Coachella Valley in February 2021.

A few days earlier, Hamby and Gonzalez – the two new directors – had skipped the official IID swearing-in ceremony and had chosen to hold their own off-site. They then elected Hanks chairman of the board in another controversial and divided vote on December 15.

“Following a change in the composition of the Board, the new Board of Directors

tried to change historical facts, ”the union lawyers wrote in their complaint.

On May 6, the IID filed its response, doubling down on Hamby’s criticism of the initial vote to approve the PLA and saying the relevant motion lacked necessary details.

Thomas Enslow, a lawyer who negotiated the PLA for the unions and represents them in the lawsuit, rebuffed Hamby’s argument, saying the deal had been under discussion for several years. He said the current legal argument of the IID also fails because the PLA was discussed in two consecutive public meetings leading up to the vote and because the agenda item itself was clear.

“They’re trying to get rid of the PLA on an extreme technicality,” Enslow said. “But the point is, the agenda said he was to consider the approval of APLs.”

Between the time the unions filed their complaint and the IID’s response, the district administration board, in a 3-0 vote, passed a resolution on April 16. to affirm its decision to revert to the PLA. With “yes” votes coming from Hamby, Gonzalez and Hanks – and Galindo and Cardenas absent – the board of directors again canceled the initial vote on the PLA because the relevant motions “failed to identify or to articulate the action taken by the board of directors “.

As proof of the need for the resolution, the document included a letter from a lawyer threatening to sue the IID for its approval and included a litany of allegations such as violations of Brown’s Law.

The letter was sent on behalf of a non-profit organization called United Desert Communities of Imperial and Riverside Counties. The group was incorporated in California in November 2019 by Alan Huber, President of Elms Equipment Rental in Brawley. He actively opposes the APLs, arguing that they do not benefit the local workforce. Huber’s organization represents suppliers who have already contracted with IID and who risk losing business if contracts are passed to unions.

From right to left, Director James Hanks and President Norma Galindo pay tribute to outgoing Director Bruce Kuhn at the Imperial Irrigation Board District Headquarters in Imperial, December 4, 2020.

This question – whether the PLA would help the local workforce – has been used by both sides as proof that their position is correct.

Huber argued that the majority of the local workforce is not unionized and is already receiving the prevailing wage, which means the PLA could move work out of the valley. In a letter his group sent to the IID in December 2019, he predicted that the PLA would lead to more expensive deals with the abandonment of non-union companies.

By email, Danny Machain, deputy commercial director of the local chapter of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers representing the counties of San Diego and Imperial, highlighted solar projects being built in Imperial County that have reached highs. high local hiring rates as they were built under an APL. The union also opened an electrical training institute in the county in 2008 to help local growth of the skilled workforce, he said.

“APLs increase the demand for apprenticeship graduates, which in turn increases the opportunities for local residents to enter apprenticeship training programs and build middle-class careers,” Machain said.

Correction: This story has been updated to correct the number of resolution votes.

Mark Olalde covers the environment for The Desert Sun. Contact him at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter at @MarkOlalde.



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