Ray Van Asten blames the El Dorado Irrigation District’s current Board of Directors for the district’s $390 million debt, the result of years of “waste” and “frivolous spending,” he said.
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Van Asten spent nearly two hours Thursday with the Mountain Democrat editorial board discussing his candidacy for director of Division 1 of the El Dorado Irrigation District.
He said he brings a long career in law-related administration, finance and personnel management including 12 years in legal administration for the AAA automobile association. He retired from AAA in 2004. Other professional experience was with TransAmerica Insurance as well as with large law firms in Dallas and Seattle.
Born in the Netherlands in 1942, he and his family moved to Australia to escape the days of the “Red Scare” in Western Europe in the 1950s. When he was 17, the family moved to Southern California, where Van Asten finished high school and community college then went on to earn Bachelor’s and Master’s Degrees in Parks Management and Leisure Activities at the University of Oregon, graduating in 1964.
Drafted in 1966, he was later commissioned and served the bulk of his four-year Army commitment in the Adjutant General’s Corps. Van Asten said he was assigned to Combat Support Services, particularly in personnel and the Army’s early information technology systems — “primitive by today’s standards,” he said. He became a naturalized citizen in February 1965.
Local public service includes four terms on the El Dorado County Grand Jury, two as foreman. Several cases involving EID during that time heightened his interest in water issues and convinced him he could be an effective district director, he said.
Van Asten pulled few punches in his opposition to the current EID board.
“My grand jury service led me to believe there was dysfunction going on at EID. The board has failed in its fiduciary responsibility regarding charges and the financial interest of ratepayers. In 2001 the district’s debt was $110 million, now it’s $390 million or $10,000 per ratepayer,” Van Asten charged.
“The Consumer Price Index has gone up 27 percent, but the number of ratepayers has only increased 18 percent in that time while the district’s overhead has increased 143 percent in eight years.
“And this board has not held back its spending since the economy dropped in 2008. They haven’t kept up with reality. It costs $8 million a year to service the debt, and that is 35 percent of each dollar, to pay the debt,” he said.
Van Asten acknowledged that he’s “not criticizing the board” for the $140 million that represents the “mandated part of the debt, and safety has to be taken care of, no doubt. But anything that is not in Priority 1 should be put off.”
He also stated that the board “fell asleep at the wheel, allowing Ane Diester (former general manager) to hire” people who were unqualified or whose backgrounds were not properly vetted, especially Michael Dugan (former HR manager whose contract was terminated early with a significant pay-out).
“Ane Diester broke the law and flaunted the law and got away with it, and they did nothing about it,” Van Asten said in reference to Diester promoting Dugan from a consultant to Human Resources manager in a manner that “circumvented the district’s hiring policies.” (These were events that in part led to the board ending Diester’s contract and hiring Jim Abercrombie as general manager.)
Tipping his hat to Abercrombie, Van Asten called him a “vast improvement over Ane Diester.”
That said, however, he specifically called Abercrombie out on proposed increases to the general manger’s department budget of more than $2 million per year over the next three years. That was the first example of “budget fat” that Van Asten said he would cut if elected.
Three things Van Asten said he would do on his first day on the job if elected:
Implement a hiring freeze; suspend all non-Priority 1 CIP projects; direct the GM to bring a plan for a 5 percent budget reduction within 30 to 60 days and cut five to 10 percent from the 2013 budget.
“This board has been in place for a long time, and I really think it’s time for a change. After a while you get burned out. There are lots of 5-0 votes, and you’ve got to have some difference of opinion,” Van Asten said.
El Dorado County Supervisors Ron Briggs and Norma Santiago have endorsed Van Asten’s candidacy.
Van Asten was a member of several record-setting track and field teams at Mount San Antonio College in Southern California and the University of Oregon in the early 1960s, and he said he still holds the record for the half-mile as a high school runner in Australia.