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On Whose Say So?

Anticipating a federally funded runway improvement grant, the Boonville Airport Committee put out bids for an engineering consultant early this year. It’s been several years since Boonville International's Air Strip crew had surveyed the engineering/consulting field, and the FAA thought the Boonville Fly Boys should check the consulting field again before the grant could be applied for.

Airstrip design is a specialized practice, limited to a few well-placed consultants across the country. The only outfit to bid for the engineering was the man Boonville International had previously employed, Waddell Engineering of Burlingame, and Mr. Waddell was duly re-retained to do whatever grant preparation and design work might be required.

A few years ago a portion of the Airport runway collapsed over a failed culvert; a federal grant was applied for to repair the runway. Mr. Waddell had done the engineering for that repair and was reimbursed when the federal grant money arrived.

The Community Services District, under whose auspices Boonville International exists, did not need to front the repair money in anticipation of the repair grant because Waddell had agreed to delay payment to himself.

This year, under the renewed agreement with Waddell, the Airport Committee has again been working on applying for a federal grant to repave the aging runway; Caltrans (which oversees California airport facilities) has told Boonville its airstrip is starting to show signs of wear. The feds, however, will not fund the resurfacing project unless the runway is widened to modern federal airport standards of 60 feet.

Waddell told the Airport Committee that there might be a window of opportunity for federal runway funding if the Community Services District could get a grant application in for a “shovel-ready” project mucho pronto. But a shovel-ready project requires that all engineering be complete and ready to go out for bid. And substantially more engineering would be required for widening the entire runway than was required for culvert repair.

The next thing the Community Services District Board knew a bill from Waddell Engineering arrived at the CSD Board meeting in June for almost $35,000, with a proviso that the $35 thou was for only part of the engineering cost which is estimated to amount to more than $70,000, which, according to the Airport Trust Fund report for June of 2013, is significantly more than the $55,000 Boonville International has in the bank.

At that June meeting of the Community Services District your faithful reporter, who also functions as a member of the CSD’s budget committee, asked the Board who had authorized the expenditure of the $35k.

No one knew.

According to the June Board minutes, “Scaramella asked if [the CSD] had a contract to proceed or authorization to proceed. [Board Chair Valerie] Hanelt said she had signed an agreement – Scaramella asked for a copy of same. Motion by Martin to authorize expenditure for Waddell, and seconded by McKenna. Scaramella said [the CSD] needed a process to authorize actions, may have authorized something but need specifics. Hanelt said this covers all phases, not piecemeal. Motion passed with four aye votes.”

So the CSD Board simply retroactively approved the engineering work which had already been done and authorized the $35k payment to Waddell — a de facto admission that no prior Board authorization had been given.

At that June meeting, several board members said they thought that the Board had authorized the engineering at the May meeting. I asked for the minutes of that meeting. The only mention of the runway project in those (now approved) minutes was: “FAA has signed off on our selection of our consultant, Waddell Engineering. Doing survey work on runway; process is beginning to get federal grant to widen the runway.”

There’s nothing there about authorizing over $70,000 worth of engineering.

Missing from the June minutes was my statement that the engineering authorization process was “very sloppy” and that I hadn’t seen any authorization for the work come before the Budget Committee or the Board, as specifically called for in Waddell’s general contract-agreement (which didn’t authorize any work, just that Waddell would be the Airport consultant).

After the June meeting I sent a follow-up written request for a copy of the authorization to spend over $70k for engineering. In response I received the May minutes (quoted above) which I had already seen and which is not an authorization for expenditure of funds.

So, in my capacity as a member of the CSD’s Budget Committee, I asked that the subject be added to the Budget Committee’s July agenda at last week’s Budget Committee meeting. Mr. Jerry Bowers of the Airport group repeated the background information as he had done in June and agreed that the funding had not been reviewed by the Budget Committee.

I repeated my statement that the process was flawed because the Budget Committee had not reviewed the expenditure nor had the CSD Board approved the expenditure until after the first bill had arrived; a significant amount of paid work was being done without authorization. I added that I wanted to prevent after-the-fact authorizations in the future, especially considering that the engineering work just after-the-fact approved will cost the entire amount of the Airport’s available funds, perhaps more. The implication, of course, is that the CSD itself could be on the hook for the balance.

Then I said that unless the Board makes a formal correction to the approval and authorization process for Airport projects, I would have to file a Brown Act complaint pointing out that the Board had not properly authorized the work by failing to run it by the Budget Committee and the Board (and the public) for review and comment beforehand.

At which point Mr. Bowers shot to his feet to say that the Airport Committee’s finances were independent of the CSD Board and could only be used for the Airport, that Brown Act complaints would just cost everybody more money, and that the only problem was “unwarranted interference” from one “asshole.”

Which seemed to be an unkind reference to yours truly. Mr. Bowers then stormed out of the meeting leaving me the only designated asshole in the room.

Fire Chief Colin Wilson, also a member of the Budget Committee, agreed that the authorization process should be reviewed and that the question about authorization was valid, adding that he thought Mr. Bowers owed Mr. Scaramella an apology as Mr. Bowers left the building.

Mr. Scaramella, descended from a long line of hard-working Italian gentlemen, gallantly replied that he didn’t want an apology, that Mr. Bowers was welcome to his vulgar opinion of the complaint and the gentleman who'd made it. Scaramella repeated that he simply wanted the process tightened up since all local expenditures of tax money should be approved by the elected CSD Board.

Although CSD Board members Martin and McKenna (who are also on the Budget Committee) said they still felt that their ex post facto authorization of the engineering work was fine and that the Board approved of the work, belated or not, they at least understood the problem and agreed that the Board should revisit the authorization process for Airport work when the District has to finance the work up front without a guarantee of federal approval or funding.

Accordingly, there’s an item on this Wednesday’s (July 17, 5:30pm at the Boonville firehouse) board agenda (Item 10.a.3) entitled: “Budget Committee Report on Lack of Approval of Expenditure for Airport Engineering.”

Hopefully, no Brown Act complaint will need to be filed.

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