Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Director compensation going the wrong way

(We submitted the letter below the Water District Board and argued in favor of it front of the Board - I was the only candidate there. Unfortunately, the Board voted to go in the wrong direction, with a 10% compensation increase. I hope to get that reversed if elected. -Brian)

October 12, 2010

Santa Clara Valley Water District, Board of Directors

Re: Agenda Item 5 - Board member responsibilities and compensation should be made roughly comparable to those of City Council Members

Dear Chair Santos and Members of the Board:

I am impressed with the importance of the Board's work and the time I have seen given to that work. Chair Santos in particular has been involved with some of the same projects that also concern my environmental work in San Jose, and he's always present and participating. While I believe the Water District Board needs to recast its responsibilities and reduce its compensation, my belief in no way denigrates the work and commitment of current or past Board Directors.

The main problem as I see it is that this Board is straddling an uncomfortable middle ground between the full-time, fully-compensated work of bodies like our County Board of Supervisors, and the more limited work and modest compensation of most City Councils in our County. I think it would make more sense to choose one of these two roles and to operate like a City Council, with comparable hours and comparable compensation.

Switching to evening meetings, like most City Councils, would make it much more feasible for people who have day jobs to serve on the District Board, as well as make it possible for more people to attend meetings. Switching to a rate of compensation that is similar to that of City Council Members would therefore be appropriate.

The rate of $260 per meeting and up to $2,600 per month is not similar to what Council Members receive. I suggest cutting the rate by more than 50%, to about $100-$125 per meeting and up to $1000-$1,250 per month. Such a rate would still be at the high end of what council members receive, but at least would be in the general range of comparable payment rates. Making this proposed cut would demonstrate that the District Board is serious about cost control and about reconnecting to the community by adopting a more broadly accepted compensation rate.

Two additional steps should also be taken. First, there is a potential conflict between Water Code section 20201 that allows the District Board to raise the compensation rate, and the District Act that sets a fixed limit significantly below the proposed compensation rate. While I appreciate the helpful explanatory paragraph in today's agenda item, I suggest the Board direct District Counsel to prepare a publicly-available memo explaining in more detail how these two laws interact and the reason why the District does not believe the fixed limit in the District Act is applicable. In particular, the memo should explain whether section 33 of the District Act was passed later in time than the Water Code section, or if the Water Code section has been subsequently restated or reauthorized. The memo should also state why the Directors compensation had not been reset to the rate fixed by section 33 at the time that the District Act was last reauthorized by the legislature (note that section 20201 uses the word "increases," not "changes," when saying increases should be governed by the Water Code and not by legislation).

Second, the District Board should set rules regarding when a Director can be compensated for participating in community meetings if that Director has determined that he or she has a conflict of interest over the primary subject matter of the meeting. My recommendation is that if the Director has determined that he or she has a conflict that prevents participation in a decision at the Board, then that Director should only participate in community meetings on the subject as a private person and should not be compensated for that participation. If the meeting also concerns other Water District subjects, then compensation may be appropriate, but only if the treatment of other subjects is more than de minimus. It is not clear to me whether any such rules currently exist, but I have not seen mention of them.

I thank the District Board for this opportunity to comment, and please feel free to contact me with any questions.


Brian Schmidt

Brian Schmidt for Santa Clara Valley Water District 2010

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