Modesto Irrigation District investigated former GM before his retirement

04/09/2013 7:39 PM

06/26/2013 2:29 PM

Modesto Irrigation District board members investigated former general manager Allen Short for an undisclosed reason last year before he retired, two board members confirmed Tuesday.

The revelation came as the board unveiled an unprecedented retirement agreement with Short, secretly negotiated and approved last month on a 3-2 vote. The vote and terms of the deal were kept under wraps until Tuesday.

The probe uncovered no wrongdoing but figured in Short's decision to leave, MID Director Tom Van Groningen said Tuesday. He was chairman in the fall when the board hired an attorney to investigate Short, who had worked 22 years for the district, including 19 at its helm.

"I assume he came to the opinion that with that kind of relationship with the board, it was better for him to enter another chapter of his professional life and he chose to announce his retirement," Van Groningen said.

Both sides said Short was not forced out, although some board members acknowledged dissatisfaction with their top man.

Terms of his retirement agreement allow Short to continue drawing his previous salary until Oct. 1 because he had accrued 2,284 hours of unused vacation and sick time as well as administrative leave. In essence, he is cashing out an estimated $180,380 paid over nine months, based on his $240,507 annual salary.

The deal suggests that Short did not leave on good terms. It prohibits each side from saying anything negative about the other regarding "the time (Short) was employed" and releases "any and all claims relating to the conclusion of (Short's) employment."

Other terms specify that Short can't sue the district for age discrimination or wrongful termination.

Short on Tuesday apparently responded to email questions about the retirement agreement and the investigation with a reply that makes little sense, saying simply, "OK great he has not sent me a bill yet I'm sure he will." He did not return a telephone message.

The nature of the closely guarded investigation remains clouded.

The Bee learned of it about the time Short announced, on Oct. 31, that he would leave at year's end. Board members at the time refused to discuss the investigation or its target, although Van Groningen confirmed the board had hired a Sacramento-area attorney specializing in personnel matters.

The probe was conducted in September or October, Van Groningen said in November, adding, "Nothing was uncovered. There was no substance."

Director Nick Blom said the matter was brought to the board's attention in a letter given to member Larry Byrd, who confirmed the link between the fall investigation and Tuesday's announcement.

Byrd and Blom, who voted against the retirement deal, refused to discuss the probe, saying an attorney advised them not to. Recently promoted MID general counsel Joy Warren was not available Tuesday; Kristianne

Seargeant of Sacramento-based Kronick Moskovitz Tiedemann & Girard, who conducted the fall investigation, said in November that it was confidential.

Seargeant had a role representing the MID in Short's retirement deal, the document reveals.

Board members Paul Warda and Glen Wild joined with Van Groningen on March 12 to approve the deal. It was kept from the public until Tuesday after having been "finally approved by all parties," according to a release.

"The agreement provides no additional monetary compensation to Mr. Short that he was not otherwise entitled to," the announcement reads, "but did include a mutual release of any and all potential claims."

Board members would not elaborate. MID spokeswoman Melissa Williams said there are no formal claims related to the agreement.

Blom and Byrd said they opposed the retirement agreement because they felt it does little for the district and could prompt other employees to insist on similar deals.

Blom frowns on terms requiring that both sides refrain from disparaging the other. "I'm not going to talk badly about the man," Blom said. "If I bad-mouth him in the paper and I'm speaking out of turn, you have the right to a lawsuit anyway, so a lot (of the agreement) was unnecessary."

The agreement sets forth what the MID would have paid Short anyway, Blom said. "So he's not going to retire if we don't sign some sort of agreement? Are you kidding me?" he said.

Short was hired to continue guiding the San Joaquin Tributaries Authority, a consortium of water agencies he helped create and run before his retirement that is partly funded by the MID.

The district has said Short's annual pension would be $149,000. He can make up to $120,000 in part-time work with the authority for a yearly total of $269,000 — far more than his MID salary.

Short had come under fire for his role in rate hikes, costly projects and a hotly debated proposal to sell water to San Francisco.

Bee staff writer Garth Stapley can be reached at or (209) 578-2390.

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