Friday, March 15, 2013

Free Reign No More (for SNWA)?

On Tuesday, we learned more about SB 232, Senator Michael Roberson's (R-Henderson) bill to subject SNWA's proposed water rate increases to the Nevada Public Utilities Commission (PUC) for final approval. For perhaps the first time ever, SNWA "Water Czar" Pat Mulroy's immense power in directing water policy for Clark County, and to a certain extent the rest of the state as well, is being challenged. Mulroy clearly chafed at this last night on "Ralston Reports". And not only that, but she came armed with a legal brief. She's now saying SB 232 is unconstitutional!

(The fun starts at 18:20 in the video below.)

According to Mulroy (and the lawyers she's talked to), SB 232 unlawfully interferes with contracts that have already been entered into. In addition, she was claiming Roberson's bill would strip away local oversight by giving the PUC special master the power to override any water rate decision that's already gone through SNWA's process.

Roberson disputed both of Mulroy's claims. As a lawyer himself, he sounded confident in SB 232 passing constitutional muster. And he said SB 232 is now working its way up #NVLeg precisely because SNWA doesn't have enough oversight. He even brought the last reviews from the cities of North Las Vegas & Henderson, and pretty much declared them proof that the only kind of "oversight" SNWA receives is of the rubber stamp variety.

Toward the end of the show, Ralston stirred the pot some more by evoking the ongoing Snake Valley pipeline controversy. SNWA had been using this as justification for last year's rate increases. In a surprising twist, Roberson actually sounded skeptical about "The Great Basin Water Grab". That seemed so unthinkable in 2010, yet here it is today. Apparently, the economic & environmental costs of the proposed pipeline are finally scaring legislators.

And then, there's this new bombshell from KLAS/8 News Now. Former SNWA employee Debra Rivero recently revealed to investigative reporter George Knapp her horrific experience on the job at SNWA's White Pine County ranches.

8 News NOW

"I kept bringing up, 'Hey, there is unethical stuff going on up here' and the Vegas office didn't seem to want to hear it. They didn't want to talk to me about it," Rivero said.

In particular, she said, SNWA didn't want derogatory information about the ranches to be leaked to the I-Team, especially to reporter George Knapp.

Rivero said the lack of oversight by SNWA meant the ranches operated as a world unto themselves. The result, for Rivero, was horrific. In a blistering complaint filed with the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, she described an extremely hostile work environment in which she was harassed, humiliated, and demeaned. [...]

One incident was a turning point. She alleges that Peterson tried to intimidate her with an electronic cattle prod.

"It was a live cattle prod, a live cattle prod, and he held it within inches of my face. When I didn't jump out of the way, I just froze out of fear, he shocked the light bar above me and sparks went flying all over. He just chuckled and laughed and walked away."

She said she reported the incident to SNWA Human Resources director Pat Maxwell.

"And she did nothing. Her answer to me was, 'Well, you need to sit down and figure out what you did to make him so mean to you.'"

Shortly after this incident, Rivero suffered a stroke. A doctor told her to go to the hospital immediately. The White Pine ranch manager drove her to a hospital in Ely, then dropped her at the curb. Less than 2 weeks later, SNWA threatened to terminate her!

This may be the final straw to break the camel's back for SNWA. The agency was seen as ominpotent and infallible for so long. When the "boom times" were here, SNWA raked in the cash from the explosive growth of Clark County. But now that Clark County's population is growing more slowly, the real estate bubble is long gone, and climate change is leading to an extended Western drought, SNWA may have to give up the free reign it's enjoyed for over 2 decades.

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