By Joe Tash/Contributor
As residents of the Santa Fe Irrigation District urged the district’s board of directors to cut expenses at last week’s board meeting — including board compensation and benefits —one director’s attendance at a water conference in the Palm Springs area came under criticism.
Director Robert “Bud” Irvin attended the fall 2010 conference held by the Association of California Water Agencies, or ACWA, which took place Nov. 30-Dec. 3 at the Renaissance Esmeralda Resort and Spa and the Hyatt Grand Champions Resort in Indian Wells.
The district paid $2,337 for Irvin to attend the conference, including registration fees, accommodations, mileage and a $200 per diem that directors receive for attending meetings, according to an expense report provided by the district.
A one-page report filed by Irvin regarding the conference discussed meetings and seminars he attended, and also noted that he played golf one afternoon.
Rancho Santa Fe resident Greg Gruzdowich criticized Irvin’s attendance at the conference during public comment at last Thursday’s board meeting.
“It kind of sounds like a paid vacation by our ratepayers,” said Gruzdowich. “This is a classic boondoggle entertainment meeting.”
While Irvin told Gruzdowich that his characterization of the conference was wrong, he was unable to elaborate at that point in the meeting due to restrictions on discussing matters that are not on the board’s official agenda.
In an interview, Irvin defended his attendance at the conference, listing a number of sessions that he said will be valuable both to himself and the board as it sets policy for the irrigation district.
“He (Gruzdowich) just doesn’t understand and I didn’t do a good job of writing my report. It’s anything but a boondoggle,” Irvin said. “This is definitely in the best interest of the district that I or somebody go over there.”
Irvin said he spent five to six hours per day attending sessions at the conference, on such subjects as avoiding lawsuits, new water quality regulations, how climate change regulations could affect water districts, communicating the value of water to ratepayers, developing rate structures, an update on the Colorado River water supply and desalination.
He said he also attended ethics and sexual harassment training that is required for elected officials, which the district would have had to pay for separately if it hadn’t been part of the conference.
Irvin said he drove his own motor home to the conference and stayed at an RV park, which was about half the cost of a hotel. He also noted that he played a round of twilight golf at his own expense, after the conference had ended for the day.
Irvin said he considers the conference as time “very well spent,” because it provided a lot of information on topics that the board of directors will be dealing with in the coming year.