MODESTO -- Personality conflicts, growing dissatisfaction and nasty politics engulfing the Modesto Irrigation District play a part in nearly every discussion about General Manager Allen Short's impending departure.
Some observers of the district's ups and downs say the longtime leader brought it on himself with a controlling management style and inability to adapt to competing demands of a dysfunctional board of directors.
Others say Short aimed too high, promoting too many controversial, big-ticket projects requiring more money from customers. He couldn't recover from a resulting erosion of trust that plunged the MID into a seemingly never-ending public relations saga, they say.
Some think the final straw was Short's insistence on selling water to San Francisco, a hotly debated idea that might have brought millions of much-needed dollars but felt like selling one's children. After months of debate and the threat of a lawsuit from the city of Modesto the board abandoned the sale in September.
The truth may be a combination, plus the fact he's simply ready to get out.
Several people close to Short, 59, say he's been talking about retiring for years. When he announced this week that he will leave Dec. 31 after 19 years at the helm, Short said it's been seriously on his mind for at least a year and a half.
He also acknowledged difficulty coping with constant harping.
This much seems clear: The MID is in a time of transition.
Last year brought two new board members who don't seem supportive of Short's vision. Next year's election could bring as many as three more, a potentially complete turnover of the five-member board in only two years stunning change for such an institution not used to it.
New leaders, elected or hired, will confront myriad issues and problems intimately affecting the valley's most important economic engine farming as well as 113,000 power customers relying on the MID whenever they flip a light switch, boot up a computer or watch TV.
Bee staff writer Garth Stapley can be reached at email@example.com or (209) 578-2390.
A sampling of reaction to Allen Short's announcement this week that he will retire Dec. 31 after 19 years as general manager of the Modesto Irrigation District:
'I'm wondering if it would be prudent to pick an interim general manager (instead of hiring Short's permanent replacement) until the new board is in place (next year). Because our No. 1 industry is agriculture, hopefully that person will have a good interest in and understanding of agriculture. When you go to a TID board meeting, you think you're in a different world. Their leadership is driven through the board of directors. They're very open. Trust in that realm down there is much greater. It's going to take a while here to get that back.'
Wayne Zipser,executive manager,Stanislaus CountyFarm Bureau
'Allen showed a lot of leadership over many years, trying to establish a healthy ecosystem. He was a very determined leader. There was never any question where he stood. He was a great defender of all things Modesto Irrigation District.'
Randy Fiorini, Delta Stewardship Council and former TID board member
'Allen was intransigent about working with other forms of government, such as the state. He was always dead set and it was his way or the highway. MID has operated as its own little fiefdom, and it just isn't so. He's no dummy; he sees the handwriting on the wall. He said it's time for a change and he's owning up to that. The new general manager is not going to solve MID's problems. They're going to have to be solved by the voters themselves, who put board members in there. Right now it's an extremely dysfunctional board.'
Al Brizard, former board member, Central Valley Regional Water QualityControl Board
'I don't think it's all Allen's fault. There is a lot of blame to go around. He probably didn't handle the potential sale of water very good, but you hate to lose his institutional knowledge. You get stale in those kind of jobs and Allen's been around a long time. Nineteen years is a heck of a run. Maybe it's time for a change. It won't bea bad thing, but I'm not throwing stones on his way out.'
Vito Chiesa, grower and Stanislaus County supervisor
'(Short) was trying to sell water to San Francisco not so much to fix irrigation laterals but just to bring in cash because the debt is so high. Whoever takes over is sure going to inherit an awful lot of debt. They're going to have to recover from a lot of past mistakes. I sure wouldn't want the job. I always felt TID was a better-run district.'
Jim DeMartini, grower and Stanislaus County supervisor
'I learned early on that we had to respect our partners because we have mutual interests, but strategically I took TID in a different direction. Allen was trying to do big generating projects with Modesto and there is just a lot of history there, a lot of politics around it. Modesto for its size is less self-sufficient; we just had a different strategy. But Allen is a gentleman and is very knowledgeable. He demonstrated leadership, to be able to be there as an effective general manager for 19 years.'
Larry Weis, former TID general manager, now Austin Energy general manager
'In the public sector, there is just not the trust there used to be. The nasty politics is just terrible. Some of the issues they're dealing with have been out there a long time, but it's gotten so polarizing and people are so emotional and the emotion has taken over so you can't make a rational analysis. There is a tendency for some board members to think they are running the district. But micromanaging is not what they are there to do. It bothers me whenI see an organization I think so much of going through these struggles.'
Jeffrey Cowan,former MID board member