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Goldstein Investigation: Money Flows Like Water At Water Board Meetings

LOS ANGELES (CBSLA) – David Goldstein finds the money flows like water at water board meetings.

"Ms. Kwan, I'm David Goldstein with CBS2 News. Can I talk with you a second?"

"No!" she replies.

Carol Kwan wasn't talking.

She's an elected board member for the West Basin Municipal Water District. It's a public agency which is a wholesale supplier of water to nearly one million people in 17 cities and unincorporated areas in Los Angeles County – mostly in the South Bay.

Board members like Kwan get a per diem of around $250 a meeting. And while it's a part-time job, it's big business.

Kwan made more than $61,000 in salary and benefits in 2017. Others, like board member Gloria Gray, made more than $105,000.

Goldstein obtained board member attendance records over the past two years. He found them billing for many types of meetings.

From regular meetings to the communications committee, the finance committee, ethics committee, up to 10 a month.

While some meetings lasted a few hours – others lasted a few minutes.

For example, a special meeting of the board on Feb. 17, 2017. It was called to order at 2:18 p.m. and adjourned at 2:27 p.m. – a full nine minutes long.

While the minutes showed all five directors were present, only Kwan billed for it, putting in for her per diem, which isn't isn't against the rules.

March 8th of last year, another special meeting. This one called to order at 3:52 p.m. and adjourned at 4 p.m. – eight minutes long. Again, Kwan was the only director who charged the ratepayers.

Then, another special meeting on Oct. 5 2017.

Called to order at 2:45 p.m. and adjourned at 2:50 p.m.. Just five minutes and Kwan billed the ratepayers.

The billing is something she didn't want to talk about.

Goldstein tells her, "We're working on a story, I'm sure you know the documents that we've gotten on per diems. We found that you charged for a five-minute meeting, an eight-minute meeting, a nine-minute meeting. Is that good use of the ratepayer money, Ms. Kwan?"

West Basin Water District General Manager Patrick Shields says it is.

"Some of the meetings run very long, David. So you've gotta look at the total picture," Shields says.

Goldstein says, "So five minutes, at $240-250 is worth it?"

Shields says, "The many hours that they put in, like I said, comes in the long run, it averages out."

And what's a meeting without food, paid for by ratepayers?

Goldstein obtained checks for tens of thousands of dollars in catering – like chicken marsala. Or grilled tri-tip. Almost $60,000 for catering in 2017 and 2018.

We mostly saw the directors eating some of the food at the meetings, and piling some of the leftovers in take-out containers.

When the meeting was over, Goldstein saw some of the members walking to their cars carrying plastic bags with containers of food.

"Well, I'm shocked," says Joe Lococo, an El Segundo resident who unsuccessfully ran for the West Basin Board.

"It just goes back to the moneys," Lococo says, "They're hurting us. They're hurting the ratepayers, the average citizen, the average Joe. That's me, I'm the average guy. I'm nobody special and I'm tired of it. I'm tired of paying that."

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