EL CENTRO – District 2 and 4 IID candidates went tooth and nail in Wednesday night’s debate hosted by the Professional and Salaried Association and the Goyette Associates.
Stella Mendoza, incumbent for District 4, let her opening remarks set the mood for the evening. She accused opponent, Steve Benson, of being a pawn of the group IV First, running to take control of the board and stealing the water. “The IID has spent one hundred thirty million dollars defending twenty lawsuits this group has brought against the IID. They haven’t won any. What they can’t do through the judicial system, then they will do by buying my seat.”
IV First, a local superPAC, and several of the alternate energy companies that are either operating here or wanting to have an operation, were hot topics throughout the debate.
Both John Pierre Menville (District 2 incumbent) and Mendoza defended their acceptance of contributions from competing utilities and contractors that do business with the IID, stressing their support of companies that bring high paying jobs to the county.
“I have received money from solar companies because they are here to produce good paying jobs for working families,” Mendoza told the crowd of forty.
Benson countered with his belief that it was wrong to accept money from solar companies and then vote on their solar issues.
Menvielle read a legal statement that it is legal for IID board members to accept campaign contributions from businesses they do businesses with, but Bruce Kuhn, candidate for District 2, said, “I never said it was illegal to take campaign contributions from vendors, but it sure as hell is immoral.”
“You’re taking money from a vendor, then you vote on their contract, where are their loyalties?” Kuhn asked the room.
Menvielle accused Kuhn of taking money from IV First, as Mendoza did of Benson. Menvielle said IV First had a campaign budget over $250,000 to take his seat.
IV First describes themselves as an issues-oriented independent expenditures committee dedicated to educating the Imperial Valley Community about the issues affecting the local government. They have targeted Menvielle and Mendoza to unseat them from the IID board.
Benson admitted to receiving donation from the superPAC saying, “You take money from companies whose main offices are outside the valley, their profits don’t stay here, they go back to where they are from. IV First is made up of people who live and work here. What they earn is spent here.”
The hotly contested Quantification Settlement Agreement (QSA) was another topic the four fought about. Menvielle reminded the IID employees and other attendees that Bruce Kuhn signed the QSA when he was on the board and that Menvielle, when elected, was hired to uphold it.
Menvielle said, “When I came on, the QSA was already signed by Kuhn, I moved it forward. I didn’t agree with it, it was too long, for too little money and for too much water.”
Stella Mendoza said she voted against the QSA, but once passed, she has worked to make it as good for the valley as she could.
Kuhn agreed that he signed the QSA, “The QSA you have to today is not the one I signed. It’s been changed, amended, or re-ratified a total of 48 times since I left this board and that was by Mr. Menvielle. I asked Mr. Osias, “Is this thing worth more today or is it worth less?’ And the man sat right here in a public hearing and he said, ‘less’”.
The other controversial topic centered on the ECA (Energy Cost Adjustment) charge. Menvielle and Mendoza took great pride in having the lowest power rates in the state, but Kuhn charged the two of overcharging hundreds of millions of dollars and the trust fund is the result of overcollecting to cover for the losses on a bad hedge fund investment.
Mendoza said that the state has mandated the IID to carry a 33% renewable energy in their portfolio. “This renewable energy is expensive, rates will go sky high. Keeping money in the trust fund will subsidize rates for two or three years. Folks, it’s going to get expensive.”
Benson believed the people should be reimbursed the over charged amount immediately. “These are the people that overpaid; these are the people that should get the refunds.”
Kuhn agreed in his blunt style, “This money was stolen to cover up bad hedge fund investments. Overall, $750,000,000 was over-collected.”
The closing statements mirrored their opening statements to a large degree, Menvielle and Mendoza said Kuhn and Benson were in the pockets of the big farmers; they would steal and control all the water, and take over the IID. While the challengers charged the incumbents with poor management, loyalties outside the valley, and putting the IID in great debt.