In defense of Andy Jones

The following letters to the Board of the Colorado River Sewage System Joint Venture were sent to Parker Live in public defense of the Joint Venture’s General Manager Andy Jones, who has been accused of improperly issuing himself a personal loan from the organization’s funds. The first was written by former resident Jerry McGuire, the second by Dr. Jeff Baird DO from Wickenburg, AZ. Neither letter necessarily represents the opinions of Parker Live or KLPZ.

UPDATE: A third from Jim Willett, Yakima Company, has been added.

Click below to read.

Letter from Jerry McGuire:

Colorado River Sewage System Joint Venture,

Andy was hired as the General Manager of The Colorado River Sewage System Joint Venture (JV) 12 years ago. This was after a year of consulting and managing the JV as a subcontractor. He inherited a public utility that had been, according to the Board at that time, mismanaged and poorly operated. The previous general managers, suspected of embezzlement, EPA violations and other heinous accusations, had resigned. Upon Andy’s review of prior JV policies and actions, the previous actors had participated in activities not consistent with Board policy or JV bylaws. Therefore, his year as a consultant allowed him to work with the Board to flesh out, deliberate and reform much of this unpleasant history, providing a positive platform for which the utility could move forward.

When Andy was hired as a full-time employee as the general manager, the Board, the office manager and Andy spent considerable time assessing, evaluating and rewriting policies pertaining to the utility’s operations, general management leadership responsibilities, employee rights and responsibilities as well as the Boards’ responsibilities and expectations. One of the policies that remained ignored by the Board was the employee advance program, or employee loan program. At that time, it was a commonly accepted practice for the manager to determine the validity of the request and the reliability of the employee in deciding whether to approve the request or not. Andy, as the general manager, was encouraged to continue this practice of assessing reliability and validity of the many employees’ payroll advance requests during the last 12 years. Not once has JV ever had a default under Andy’s leadership.

During the last 12 years, JV has upgraded assets and equipment, even continuing through these tough economic times, to where JV has the most current, up-to-date technology and mechanical fleet of any public service utility of their size in the Southwest. And, they still have over $1 million in reserve capital. Under Andy’s leadership, the JV customers have enjoyed the lowest wastewater rates of any utility along the Colorado River. JV’s physical plant capacity is unchanged since the original treatment facility was built, however in Andy’s 12 years the JV has had an increase of 30% or more in total wastewater treated, as required by the community JV serves.

Additionally, the standards for discharging treated wastewater effluent into the Colorado River were deemed inadequate by the United States Environmental Protection Agency soon after Andy was hired. After Andy met with officials from Region Nine of the US EPA, it was under his leadership that JV help to write the new regulations regarding ALL effluent discharged into the Colorado River (Andy was part of the team that helped with the development of the Colorado River Protection Act of 2009 sponsored by Rep. Raul Grijalva). It was after this incredible effort and huge success in helping form Colorado River federal water policy that the JV formalized its permit with the US EPA in order to continue its impeccable service to the community. This has allowed JV to be able to take a substantial increase in sewage influent flows while facing much higher and more stringent standards for effluent discharge into the Colorado River.

The JV now has an immaculate reputation with the United States Environmental Protection Agency, one that was once very contentious, threatening the future of the utility. It was under Andy’s leadership that industrial and commercial accounts such as Weststates Carbon (Seimens) and The Bluewater Resort and Casino are able to utilize JV instead of having to build their own treatment facilities on their property. It is under Andy’s leadership that JV is charged to be the issuer of wastewater permits that allow commercial and industrial accounts to operate in the community. Also during Andy’s leadership, the underground infrastructure of JV has been rehabilitated and the wastewater pipe’s capacity has been increased by over 20% to service the growth in the community. JV has been able to do this without increasing plant size or increasing rates anywhere near those of neighboring River communities.

The uncollectable accounts, which were once uncontrollable, are now nearly negligible; JV has revamped their billing processes, their office management processes, their customer service processes and provided extensive training for JV employees in conflict resolution, customer service, professionalism and community leadership.

The JV is financially sound, pays premium rates for premium financial audits every year and has benefited from receiving the highest rating possible for many successive years by highly regarded auditors, as well as the US EPA. Andy is also the longest serving Board member of the Colorado River Regional Sewer Coalition Organization (CRRSCO), which is an association of regional government leaders, utility leaders and Governmental Affairs professionals working to leverage Federal resources (nearly $3 billion) to protect the nearly endangered Colorado River. Andy serves as the sole technical liaison between CRRSCO and the Federal Government.

Andy, as directed by the Board, is the sole signatory and dominant trustee of all JV investment funds, currently over $1,000,000. When Andy was hired, the JV was in debt and nearly in financial ruin. He was charged with being the sole signatory, with sole discretion and sole responsibility of all investment funds. The Board has said many times, “we are very fortunate to have Andy.” It is within this fiduciary and investment capacity, in light of his impeccable integrity, responsibility and personal pride, combined with a dozen years of trust, respect, transparency and accountability, that he approved a loan for himself. However, this loan was unlike other employee loans in four respects: the loan amount was higher than what is usually requested by rank-and-file employees, this loan had a written repayment schedule, this loan has a UCC file against it and this loan was being paid back with interest.

The interest on this loan that he is repaying ahead of schedule and is higher than the interest earned on JV investment accounts. He has sole discretion over our JV investment accounts and the Board has expressed many times their gratitude for his leadership that has kept this utility harmless and solvent during this punishing Great Recession. The JV has not had to raise the utility user’s rates, nor cut public services, nor layoff any JV employee, nor withhold raises, nor freeze pay rates. The JV has maintained its liberal benefit package for all employees; including healthcare insurance for the employee and their families. JV also provides a holiday dividend to each one of the respected Board members every December.

During JV’s annual audit, the auditor asked about the loan that Andy openly disclosed and suggested that Andy record a Deed of Trust on his house as collateral for the loan. Andy agreed to do that. He also signed a promissory note for this loan.

In late November 2010, the Chairman of the Joint Venture Board of Directors called to ask if he had taken a loan for himself and Andy told him yes, as been previously disclosed. After a brief conversation, the Chairman went to the JV offices and asked the office manager for specific documents pertaining to the loan. After this, the Chairman initiated a criminal investigation on Andy. The police investigators found no wrongdoing and dropped the investigation.

The Chairman of the Board emailed documents to the rest of the Board Members and called for a special meeting as quickly as possible. The local media and Town Manager, for the first time ever since Andy’s employment with JV, were present at the JV Board meeting on 8 December 2010. The JV supports and follows Arizona’s Open Meeting Laws, including all rules and regulations regarding the posting of an agenda. However, town manager of Parker thwarted the Chairman’s attempt to go into executive session when she advised that the agenda was not compliant with executive session rules. The town manager of Parker retains no administrative or political authority over JV policies, action or discretion whatsoever. Her advisement to the Chairman of the Board was purely political and with incredible malice and distaste. The frustrated JV Chairman turned the meeting over to the Vice-Chairman, who asked if Andy wanted to discuss the issue of the loan. Andy openly disclosed, one more time, to the Board that he had made the decision to approve the loan in February and that he believed that decision was within his authority as general manager, and as the Board had endorsed many times before. He added that he had approved several loans, as they were aware, and that was a part of his duties. He also expressed his frustration with the Board meeting so rarely; so much so, he was being forced to make many decisions within his own discretion, forgoing the confidence of open and public vetting and review by the Board.

The Board members then discussed the loan itself. The Board members also were concerned that perhaps the Chairman may have improperly taken it upon himself to initiate a criminal investigation on Andy without contacting and discussing the matter with the Board prior to action. The Vice-Chairman abruptly adjourned the meeting until the next regularly scheduled meeting on 19 January 2011.

The following two weeks, the issue made the front page of the local paper and Andy became a target for public criticism and ridicule. The Mayor of the Town of Parker contacted the Chairman of the Colorado River Indian Tribes and said the JV Board was having problems meeting a quorum due to current tribal Board members not attending. The Colorado River Indian Tribes Chairman then threw himself into this interruption by taking it upon himself to appoint himself and another tribal representative to the JV Board, removing a long time valued Board member and community supporter. The Tribal Chairman has no authority, other than his political capital, to interfere in the operation of the JV. One may wonder, perhaps, the reason for this attempted structural and personnel change to the Board is to load the Board with members who dislike Andy personally, facilitating termination of his employment contract unlawfully, unethically and improperly.

Incredibly, this loan has become a flash point for Board members to threaten Andy with termination and scandalize his professional credentials. These attacks are unfettered and unregulated. By the Board’s promotion and endorsement of these malicious attacks, the Board’s ultimate responsibility as the nonpolitical defender of public safety and environmental stewardship is undermining Andy’s public and professional reputation and the continued safe and admirable operation of the wastewater utility.

Letter from Jeff A Baird DO:

Dear Board,

This is a letter of support and recommendation for Andy Jones the General Manager of the CRRJVSS.  Some of you may remember that I was a member of this board for a number of years and will state the following unequivocally. It is due to the diligence, determination, fairness and integrity of Mr. Jones that the Joint Venture was able to serve the members of the CRIT and Town of Parker while receiving no financial support from either entity.  Not only did the JV not receive any financial support, he was able to affect major repairs and rehab projects (one project alone of $600,000 if I remember correctly) at a time when neither the Town nor Tribes were willing to work towards the betterment of the facility.  His management is so efficient that sewer bills are amongst the lowest in the state and the JV was still able to make sizable dividend payments to the respective members of the JV.

If anyone cares to remember, at the time Mr. Jones took over as the GM, the JV was essentially broke, funds had been diverted to personal use by previous employees and the system was in a state of disrepair.  His efficiency in planning and caring out short and long range plans for the JV is the only reason it is not only afloat by thriving.  Some of the less intelligent (or less insightful) members of the above entities may think that given the soundness of the JV it must be easy to run a profitable organization such as this, I ask that you look at the fiasco of the upriver sewer project  to contrast what you have.

Mr. Jones has qualified operators appropriately licensed, has a good working relationship with the Tribal EPO as well as the US EPA and ADEQ and himself holds all the qualifications sanctioned by the above groups to run the JV.

The tasks of the GM are not easy when the board (or members of it) have not always seen to it that the functions and workings of the JV have been a priority.  Past agreements between the Town and CRIT have been ignored or worked around as the political winds have changed.  Through all this; Mr. Jones managed to keep the JV above the differences of the two groups.   At a time when the county owes over $13 million due to the hilariously petty arguments of its members, it should be reassuring that the Joint Venture GM has always kept personalities and politics out of the operations of the JV.

Sincerely,

Jeff Baird DO

Letter from Jim Willett:

I first met Mr. Jones in 2002 just as I was beginning the start-up phase of my biosolids drying operation at the landfill. I asked him if he would like me to process the biosolids from the Joint Plant for him for free and of course he agreed. At the time he was paying Allied Waste to do it so it saved some money for his customers.

Later, when I was having my difficulties with the Supervisors he came to me with an idea that I thought sounded very good, the Joint Plant would take over the biosolids drying operation at the landfill and purchase my contracts with the large California sanitation districts. In effect, buying Yakima out of the operation. This made good sense because I would have been made financially whole, the County would have a local operator with a proven track record and the Joint Plant stood to make a lot of money, enough profit to offer their service to the local ratepayers in Parker and CRIT for free. Also, in a far-sighted gesture he proposed to share the profits with La Paz County.

Together we went to California and spent a day meeting with representatives of LA County Sanitation and Orange County Sanitation to see what they thought. I made the introductions and let Mr. Jones do the talking. The sanitation district response was an enthusiastic, “Yes, let`s do it.” Money was no problem. Mr. Jones returned to La Paz County and met with the Supervisors, or tried to. I think Fisher shot down the whole idea, Scott refused to meet with him and the rest is history.

Today Mr. Jones far-sighted proposal probably looks pretty good to anyone in La Paz County who reads a newspaper or listens to the radio. He was years ahead of everyone else in recognizing the danger the Supervisors were leading the county into. If I remember correctly he was also a key player in the effort to recall Fisher and Edey, an effort that narrowly failed thanks to the math-challenged local Elections Commisioner.

Some wise person once said that no good deed goes unpunished. Another wise person named Huey Long told me that in La Paz County people with ideas are viewed with suspicion, maybe even dangerous. If Mr. Jones is fired he will be better off for it and in my humble opinion the Joint Plant and La Paz County will be worse off.

Jim Willett, Yakima Co.

3 comments

  1. Well said gentlemen! I have only known Mr. Jones as a parent but he has always struck me as extremely upstanding and I trusted the thing most precious to me several times to his care…my son. I would hope that individuals would take a step back and look at his accomplishments and see what he has done for this town.

  2. Very well made points gentleman. Seems to be alot of focus on one issue and not nearly enough focus on the big picture.

  3. I am sure Mr. Jones is a great guy. Do we rule on his behavior because he is a “great guy”?
    Taking out a loan for himself of 50K without the ok from the board is not the standard of Joint Venture as I have read. Giving pay advances is just not the same as giving yourself a 50K loan.
    Why didn’t he get a loan from a bank like anyone else would have to do? His interest rate is minimal at that.
    Why not give us more info as to why he made himself this loan and why he didn’t get it from a bank.
    Do letters stating what a great guy he is have anything to do with his bad judgement? I am sure he should keep his job as he sounds to be doing it very well. Why not make him pay this loan back immediately? If he has to get a loan from a bank of sell his property. Pay it back and move on.

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