Summit district downplays grand jury report | SierraSun.com

Summit district downplays grand jury report

Greyson Howard
Sierra Sun

A recent Nevada County grand jury report has lambasted the Donner Summit Public Utility District for its pay rates, level of professionalism and even the serving of dinners at board meetings.

But at a meeting Tuesday evening, the district board and staff strongly disputed most of the findings, claiming the document had many factual errors and incorrect conclusions ” moments after polishing off the taco salad they were served for dinner.

“They said it was supposed to be about Royal Gorge and it turned out to be about taco salad and Pepsi,” said district General Manager Tom Skjelstad.

The grand jury said their investigation was to examine the challenges of new development on the district, including the proposed 950-unit Royal Gorge project, but Skjelstad said that purpose wasn’t apparent in the findings, conclusion or recommendation.

The report concluded that compared to the larger Tahoe Truckee Sanitation Agency, the general manager’s salary is excessively high.

But Skjelstad contended the comparison was misleading. He said if the comparison included the value of benefits, his total compensation package would actually come in below those for the managers of the Tahoe Truckee Sanitation Agency, Tahoe City and Truckee Donner public utility districts and the Town of Truckee.

The grand jury report also called the district’s cost of property insurance out of line with that of the Tahoe Truckee Sanitation Agency.

In response, the district’s legal counsel, Geoffrey Evers, said the report had compared apples to oranges, since the district has a dam to insure and the Tahoe Truckee Sanitary District does not.

The report also concluded that the district had not given a high-enough priority to public outreach and communication with stakeholders.

That was a criticism the board could agree with ” at least partially.

“We agree we need a functioning web site and we have talked about it,” said board President Cathy Preis.

Skjelstad said work is under way, and a new web site should be up and running by the end of the month.

“We have to agree with the grand jury on this one,” Skjelstad said.

But for other means of public outreach, Skjelstad said the district posts notices, agendas and minutes at the post office, and sends mailers out when the board is considering big issues like rate changes.

Pries said attendance seems normal for similar public agencies.

“People don’t come unless there is something major going on,” she said. “Even with the free dinner they don’t come.”

Looking to operations, the report said the practice of discharging wastewater into the Yuba River during low water levels poses a threat to the river.

“We disagree once again. We do not discharge wastewater; we discharge treated effluent,” Skjelstad said. “And we do not discharge half a million gallons per day, we average .27 million gallons per day.”