published on June 24, 2016 - 12:55 AM
Written by The Business Journal Staff

The Westlands Water District board announced today the decision to separate the role of general manager and general counsel, both positions currently held by Tom Birmingham.

Don Peracchi, president of the board, said in a statement that the move comes as a way “to improve the District’s decision-making processes and provide an additional layer of review for the District.”

The board’s legal affairs committee is immediately beginning a search to hire a new general counsel.

“The Board concluded that the complexities involved in securing water supply, groundwater management, and other challenges facing the District require the full attention of the General Manager. The new General Counsel will have the responsibility of providing legal advice on proposed changes to existing policies, new policies, personnel matters, and any other matters requested by the Board,” Peracchi said.

The new structure is meant to “promote more transparency and good government practices.”

Birmingham served as the district’s general counsel from 1995 to 2000, when he was appointed general manager.

Westlands operations have come under scrutiny of late. In March the Securities and Exchange Commission levied $125,000 in fines on the water district over accusations it misled bond investors about its financial circumstances.

Birmingham reportedly joked about employing “a little Enron accounting” to overstate the public agency’s revenue for the sake of a $77 million bond issue in 2012, reported the Associated Press.

As part of a settlement, Westlands, Birmingham and another district official neither admitted or denied the allegations. Birmingham faced a $50,000 penalty as part of that settlement.

And earlier this month, the Associated Press reported that Westland loaned $1.4 million to a former deputy general manager to buy a riverfront home, and nine years later the loan remains unpaid.

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