Installation of sewers in Yucca Valley is estimated at over $120 million. It is the single most expensive project ever considered by the rural town and also the most controversial. A 2007 letter from the California commission declaring a water board member is suffering a critical conflict of interest was kept secret for three years.
Critics say the land developer who also serves as a director of the Hi Desert Water District is continuing to violate the law. They say it’s unfair for the water board to pay his legal bills and that it’s time for him to go.
Director Bob Stadum, re-elected in 2008 to a second term, doesn’t let a declaration from the Fair Political Practices Commission stop him. The letter clearly states that this elected official (who is also a wealthy land developer) cannot participate in sewer and water meter issues.
“You have a prohibited conflict of interest under the Act and may not participate in any decision…” details the letter which recently came to light addressed to Stadum, adding “You have a conflict of interest and may not participate in the decision to impose a fee on all water maters issue to new developers due to your interests in real property.”
The total amount of acreage and value for properties which Stadum has an economic interest is not known. Stadum is a long-time big land developer with supposedly legendary influence.
Besides the sewer system, the issue of water meters may be the second most important issue coming under review of the water board. While Stadum has a conflict with both – he doesn’t seem to care.
The thirteen page letter signed by the Commission’s legal counsel is just now being revealed to the public after former Director Wade White discovered billing of the water district’s legal counsel, Best Best & Kreiger, in regards to this matter. White contends it is an inappropriate use of water district funds to pay the district’s legal counsel to help Stadum.
During sewer issue discussions and votes Stadum exercises a variety of options. Sometimes he sits steadfast at the dais, seemingly resolute and determined to challenge the ruling of the Commission that he refrain. Other times, in a vain attempt to mollify critics, Stadum sits in the audience, his influence visibly felt by clenched jaw and steely gaze. On other occasions the property developer stands outside the room’s open doors, within easy earshot of decision making discussions.
White is not alone in his concern.
“I have no choice but to be worried,” said town resident Margo Sturges who has attended every water district board meeting for the past two years, “Every single water board meeting involves sewers and water meters. He is privy to inside information not available to the general public. He’s involved in decision making. This gives him an unfair advantage and special privilege. That’s the definition of conflict of interest.”
Sturges alleges that Stadum has sat in on special presentations made to the water district.
“Obviously Bob has an influence on the decision making process,” Sturges said, “It is an inappropriate use of water district money. It’s just plain wrong for us to be footing the bill paying for his legal fight with the state just so he can stay on the board making decisions to make himself a profit.”
“If the public had known about this April 2007 letter three years ago then I’m not sure he would have been re-elected in 2008,” Sturges said, “Bob Stadum is a land developer. He’s wearing two hats. It’s time now for Bob to hang up his hat on the water district board and move on to do what he does best.”
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