NBC Bay Area Investigative Unit exposes a water district board member charging to serve on volunteer boards that appear unrelated to district issues.
Santa Clara Valley Water District Director Richard Santos wears a lot of hats.
He’s a board member of several organizations in the South Bay community. Many of them are on a volunteer basis.
However, the NBC Bay Area Investigative Unit uncovered that Santos has found a way to get paid by taxpayers for this service by billing the water district for activities related to other boards.
We found he charged Santa Clara Valley Water District (SCVWD) $6,474.08 in less than two years to attend meetings and events for three other organizations, which appears to violate district policy.
Last month, the NBC Bay Area Investigative Unit exposed some board members, includiing Santos, were charging for events that appear to have nothing to do with the district. Board members of the SCVWD don’t collect salaries, but they are paid $286.03- plus mileage- to go to meetings and events related to district issues.
Now, the Investigative Unit has uncovered multiple boards which Santos is charging SCVWD to serve on.
One of them is San Jose’s Police and Fire Retirement Board.
Public records show Santos attended two California Association of Public Retirement Systems (CALAPRS) panels earlier this year to discuss city pension issues along with other members of the Police and Fire Retirement Board.
The Retirement Board paid his $75 registration and he charged SCVWD his daily meeting fee.
In March, Santos flew down to Rancho Mirage in Southern California to attend a CALAPRS conference on pensions for the weekend.
He stayed at a spa and registered as a member of the Retirement Board.
The board paid for his travel, dining and registration, totaling $1217.70, but Santos also charged the water district daily meeting fees. He charged for one day of travel, and three days of conference, collecting $1144.12 from SCVWD for the trip.
NBC Bay Area contacted CALAPRs and discovered that this conference is only for members and that SCVWD is not on the list.
No other water district in the state attended.
According to SCVWD policy, directors can only charge for meetings related to “district issues” or meetings which are pre-approved by the board. According to the district, no director has ever asked for pre-approval.
Policy also says directors may only charge for conferences open to the district or the public. CALAPRS was not.
NBC Bay Area made several attempts to set up an interview with Santos. He told us to talk with SCVWD’s Public Relations representative, Teresa Alvarado, who said she could not speak to his availability.
So we met up with Santos outside of SVWD headquarters.
“You guys need to understand our policies and procedures and I never violate those,” Santos said.
NBC Bay Area asked if he informed the San Jose Police and Fire Retirement Board that he would also be charging the water district for those panels and conference.
“No, that’s just normal procedure, why would I do that?” Santos answered.
When asked why he charged the water district for Retirement Board events, Santos replied, “and I’m not.”
NBC Bay Area shared these findings with Retirement Board member, District 1 Councilman Pete Constant.
“To basically be going for one purpose and billing to another entity, I think is wrong,” Constant said. “It’s so important to figure out what hat you’re wearing and work in that role.”
“There is no doubt that the things that you learn are going to benefit you in many ways ,” Constant continued. “Just like if you get a job and you’re working in a sandwich shop, you are going to learn things there that you will be able to apply in other parts of your life.”
Santos also serves on the Envision San Jose 2040 Task Force. It is a panel that discusses the city’s “future character and quality of development“ according to the web site.
NBC Bay Area uncovered that Santos charged SCVWD to attend those meetings, getting paid $924.97 over a year period.
Santos is also a member of the Berryesa Citizens’ Advisory Council (BCAC), a neighborhood association that is “dedicated to the enrichment” of the community.
He charged SCVWD for these meetings, mileage and membership fees over the last year and a half, totaling $3514.68.
Berryessa is part of Santos’ district, but a review of BCAC meeting minutes show no water district issues were on any agendas this year.
NBC Bay Area asked him why he would charge for those.
“That’s just part of our per diem,” Santos said.
BCAC meeting agendas show Santos did provide water nozzles at one meeting he charged to the district.
“We get paid for any event we do with the community and that’s just part of the community,” Santos said.
“If it is related to the water district,” Investigative Reporter Jenna Susko responded.
“That is related,” said Santos.
NBC Bay Area sat down with SCVWD CEO Beau Goldie to ask him to comment on these charges.
“Regarding he brought the food, the snacks for the meeting, I don’t have any comment to that,” Goldie said. “If he did that he’s trying to make that connection with the community.”
“With all due respect, the policy doesn’t say you can charge for a meeting fee in order to make a connection to the community,” Susko said.
“I have to go through the policy,” Goldie replied.
He also said that the pension conference and panels are related to district issues.
When NBC Bay Area asked if this was taking advantage of taxpayers, Goldie replied, “I don’t think so.”
“I think the board members work really hard and they go to a lot of meetings and it’s related to what we do here at the water district,” Goldie said.
The district spent $50,474 last year on Santos’ benefits, travel and those meeting fees.
NBC Bay Area wanted to ask Santos more questions, but he told us he didn’t have time because he had to go to a meeting