A new ethics policy was approved Tuesday by the Metropolitan Water District, the billion-dollar public agency that oversees water for 19 million Southern Californians.
The policy makes the district’s ethics officer responsible for evaluating all complaints, which can range from alleged conflicts-of-interest to harassment. The old system allowed a committee that included the general manager, counsel and human resources to determine whether to move forward with a complaint.
The ethics proposal included up to $245,000 to hire an additional analyst and pay for outside investigators. The item was approved by about two-thirds of the 37-member MWD board, which is made up of representatives from water agencies served by the district.
“This can really help us to create an independent process that is free of political influence, and I think that’s important for all of us,” said Leticia Vasquez, a member from the Central Basin Municipal Water District, which was recently subpoenaed by the U.S. Attorney’s Office in connection with an investigation into state Sen. Ron Calderon.
Several of the dissenting directors questioned the allocation of funds, noting that the district’s fiscal year just started and Ethics Officer Deena Ghaly could request additional funds once her budget is exhausted. One director, Brett Barbre, suggested that a Los Angeles Times editorial and a letter from Common Cause, each supporting the new policy, were distorting the process.
“I am concerned that this is being expanded in a more political fashion than I’m comfortable with,” Barbre said.