Water District hires interim general manager

Karl Baldwin, Pacifica's original city manager, takes over NCCWD

By Chris Hunter
Tribune Editor

In a heated special board meeting, called last Thursday morning by North Coast County Water District board of directors president Mason Brown, Karl Baldwin was appointed as the water district's interim general manager.

Baldwin, the original city manager for the city of Pacifica, has been out of public office for nearly three decades. He was chosen as an interim manager because David Stevens, the district's current manager, has been placed on administrative leave with full pay and benefits for 30 days.

Stevens is awaiting trial on 11 felony charges resulting from a San Mateo County District Attorney's investigation into his management of the water district. Stevens, who left his office last week, maintains that the entire situation is based on a personal "vendetta" by several board members.

At last Thursday's emergency board meeting, it was quite clear where the division in the board exists. Russ Conroy and May Gee voted against hiring Baldwin, insisting that Stevens was simply "on vacation" and might be returning. Gee stressed that covering his duties with in-house employees would be a preferable solution to what she felt would be a temporary vacancy. She said hiring Baldwin was "a slap in the face" to the district's employees.

Making a motion to have assistant manager Cari Lemke take over the day-to-day operations of the district during Stevens' absence, Gee was able to get a second from Russ Conroy but then lost the vote when Brown, Piccolotti and Powers said no.

"This is no more than a proposal contract," said Brown of the draft contract prepared for the meeting. "It takes effect if and only if the board approves it."

Which is exactly what happened. In the subsequent vote on appointing Baldwin as a $30 an hour interim manager, the tally was exactly the opposite, with Gee and Conroy opposed and the other three approving the deal.

Some in the small audience cried foul, particularly Nick Gust, who suggested a Brown Act violation had occurred. Gust stressed that his displeasure with the board's action had nothing to do with Karl Baldwin, but that he disapproved of the process used.

"You three ought to be ashamed of yourself," scolded Gust. "The three of you should bury your heads. You all have got a grudge and ethically, you're wrong. Mr. Brown, you violated the Brown Act. You think this is government, you're wrong. I hope the city does initiate (taking over the water district)."

Pete Pereira also spoke out against the board majority's action, scolding the three who ousted Stevens and appointed Baldwin. "You're not grown ups," said Pereira. "You're acting like a bunch of kids. How many times does a general manager take time off?"

"I know Karl Baldwin," said Gust later. "I was against the process, not Baldwin. It was a terrible process."

"You've got the cart before the horse," argued board member Conroy during the meeting. "Certainly the procedure you're going through is not right."

Others in the audience, most notably Jerry Trecroci and Ed Hofler, spoke out in favor of the board majority, commending them for making what was a difficult decision.

"Nothing is gained by the factionalism we've had on the board," said Trecroci. "All it does is bring attention to the way we do business in Pacifica. I'm tired of that."

Hofler referred to "Profiles in Courage" and compared the board members to heroes. "At least you had the guts to clean this up," said Hofler. "Thank you for doing the right thing."

The district's attorney had prepared a draft contract for Baldwin's employment, should the recommendation be approved. That suggested to some that the three board members had possibly conspired before the meeting to make a decision, which would be a Brown Act violation. This accusation was denied vehemently by Brown and the others. Attorney Ray McDevitt said the preparation of the draft contract, at the request of the board president, was not an indication of a Brown Act violation.

Baldwin, who worked as Pacifica's first city manager from 1957 (two months after incorporation) until 1966, was sought out by Brown because of his experience and his "impeccable reputation." After his work for the city of Pacifica, Baldwin spent 15 years with the United States Agency for International Development, working in Vietnam, the Phillipine Islands and other places before returning to Pacifica.

Reached Tuesday, Baldwin said he was happy to be of service to the district. "I think they felt I had some experience," he said, ruminating on why he had been asked to take on the job.

Baldwin said he is spending time learning about ongoing projects and familiarizing himself with the district.

"My plans are to do the best job I can in this transition time," he said. "This is likely to be the situation for a month or two. I have no aspirations (for longer service) in that regard."

Baldwin said he would probably be putting in a full 40 hours a week while he becomes oriented to the water district. "There's an awful lot of material," he said. "It's almost full-time work for the first few weeks.

There's a lot of catching up to do. You don't just walk into a place and know what's going on."

Following the emergency board meeting last week, there was an employees meeting to introduce Baldwin and the decision to hire him to the district workers. "What I felt was a satisfactory and friendly response from people in the office and in the field," said Baldwin of meeting the people he is now leading.

The board has yet to make any statements about longtime solutions to the manager's position, instead saying that Stevens' status will be re-evaluated at the end of 30 days. Some board members have said that an early retirement proposal is being negotiated with Stevens. Baldwin said he was not aware of the board's ultimate intention.

In a stunning and emotional statement following the adjournment of the board meeting, May Gee said that Dave Stevens' attorney had informed her that Stevens was so depressed that he was "suicidal."

She urged friends of Stevens to call him and give him "encouragement."

Apparently, Stevens left town last week to attend baseball spring training sessions in Arizona. He has not commented on his being removed from office, but he has presented the board with a request that the water district pay for his legal defense.

The water district board has already agreed to submit director Tom Piccolotti's request to cover his legal expenses in defending himself against a lawsuit filed by Chuck Gust.

Stevens has asked that a similar request be placed on the next water board meeting's agenda.