The Cambrian

Process of crafting GM’s contract has been transparent

Gail Robinette
Gail Robinette

I was both surprised and disappointed to read Director Amanda Rice’s article in the June 23 edition of the Cambrian.

Claiming lack of transparency and accountability, Director Rice criticized the board: in how it developed General Manager Jerry Gruber’s employment contract; its purported failure to effectively evaluate the general manager’s performance; and its failure generally to provide a public forum to discuss the district’s direction.

That Director Rice has served on the board since 2012 and on the ad hoc committee that negotiated and recommended approval of the general manager’s contract makes her article all the more astonishing. Let me set the record straight.

The general manager’s amended employment agreement was under negotiation for more than a year in closed session, under California’s Brown Act, to protect sensitive employment issues and Mr. Gruber’s statutory right of privacy.

Upon finalization, the initial proposed contract was published in the April board meeting package, prompting a good deal of informal community feedback to individual directors and the full board.

Feedback included opposition to the contract’s multiyear term and retroactivity to the start of the fiscal year.

I decided that public comment at the April meeting on a proposed contract that likely would be revised substantially seemed to serve little constructive purpose, so I pulled the item and appointed Director Rice and Vice President Mike Thompson as an ad hoc committee to renegotiate terms.

The ad hoc committee returned with a revised proposal for a one-year term, 6 percent salary increase and no retroactivity. (This would be Mr. Gruber’s first salary increase since June 2013, and average a 1.8 percent increase per year.)

Both Director Rice and Vice President Thompson recommended approval of the revised contract, which included the general manager’s performance evaluation provisions.

Following additional public comment at its May and June meetings, the board approved the revised agreement.

The development of Mr. Gruber’s employment agreement (in which Director Rice played an important role) was transparent and fully accountable to the community, not unlike the process undertaken by the board to consider the value in maintaining a local fire department separate from Cal Fire.

The fire department policy, like Mr. Gruber’s employment agreement, was forged from substantial public discussion.

Director Rice’s judgment that the board has failed to effectively evaluate the general manager’s performance is also inconsistent with the facts. The board routinely evaluates the GM against its annual goals and ongoing CCSD projects, with each board member completing an extensive performance assessment of the GM.

As Director Rice’s article acknowledges, the board conducts most of its assessment of the GM in closed session, which, in accordance with the Brown Act, is legally necessary to protect the sensitive privacy rights mentioned above. That is not to say the public lacks input; as we all know, not a board meeting goes by without some public comment — both supportive and critical — concerning the general manager’s performance.

Director Rice’s additional call for a public forum to discuss the district’s direction ignores existing means to ensure that the CCSD customers play a vital role in shaping current and future policy.

First, all meeting agendas include numerous opportunities to receive public comment. And at virtually every meeting, members of the public address the board on a wide variety of relevant topics and/or overall direction.

Second, beginning in 2008, the CCSD developed, in order, a Master Water Plan, a revised Urban Water Plan and a Groundwater Management Plan — all of which were substantially based on community input and discussion.

Third, in August 2016, the CCSD will publish for written comment by all relevant regulatory agencies and the public a draft Environmental Impact Report for the Sustainable Water Facility; the report will touch on virtually every aspect of the CCSD’s water business.

I encourage all Cambrians to review the draft EIR and submit their written comments; they will help to further guide the board, as they have always done in the past.

Gail Robinette is a former educator in the Fresno Unified School District who has served on a variety of committees and with a number of volunteer organizations in Cambria, including the North Coast Advisory Council and Parks, Recreation and Open Space Commission.