Tom Scesa has been tapped to replace Pete Kampa as general manager of Tuolumne Utilities District.
Board President Michael Sarno announced Wednesday afternoon that Scesa, the district’s engineer, had “graciously accepted” an offer to fill the position. Scesa’s salary and other terms of his contract will be negotiated at a meeting scheduled for Friday, Sarno said.
The full Board of Directors will then need to approve the contract at an upcoming meeting.
“We would be very happy if he could be our general manager and carry on the fine tradition of TUD workers, who do an excellent job,” Sarno said.
Kampa, the district’s GM since 2006, cleaned out his office Wednesday.
He was informed earlier that morning the board had voted to terminate his contract at a closed-door meeting held Tuesday night. The move was made during a performance evaluation, which Kampa was not invited to attend.
“I’ve never had a bad performance evaluation in the past seven years, so this was a real surprise,” Kampa said.
Under his contract, Kampa will receive an additional year’s worth of pay and medical benefits — about $150,000 — because the board decided to terminate the agreement “without cause.”
Kampa described it as an “amicable parting of ways” initiated by the TUD board.
Board members Sarno, John Maciel and Kent Johnson voted to terminate the contract, while Ruanne Mikkelsen and Delbert Rotelli opposed the decision.
Rotelli said there was “no discussion” on the matter during the meeting.
“I think Pete got a raw deal,” Rotelli said. “They had all these complaints, but there were never any complaints before.”
Rotelli said one of the complaints included Kampa’s alleged failure to present certain board members with paperwork on the district’s financial officer, as they had requested.
According to Rotelli, he and Mikkelsen urged the rest of the board to give Kampa six months to “work the problems out,” but the other directors refused.
“I think it was a cut-and-done deal between the three of them,” Rotelli said.
According to Sarno, each board member was given a chance to comment before the vote. He said the final decision to part ways with Kampa coincided with a majority of the board’s desire to “move forward in a different direction.”
“The board truly wishes him well and hope he’ll end up at a place where he’s a little more appreciated than here,” Sarno said.
Kampa started as the district’s general manager in December 2006, following the resignation of former GM Gary Egger.
In March 2012, the board renewed Kampa’s contract for another five years and he agreed to a 7 percent cut in compensation in light of the district’s budget woes, reducing his base salary to $150,000.
Kampa became a target for several ratepayers who opposed a proposed 50 percent rate hike in late 2011. Kampa argued the increase was necessary to cover the cost of needed improvements to the district’s aging system infrastructure, which includes storage tanks, treatment plants and water tanks.
The district is currently ineligible for many state grant programs to help fund such improvements because its rates are considered too low.
Amid hundreds of customer protests, the board scrapped the controversial proposal and adopted a rate plan with a smaller increase in June 2012. Dissatisfied voters took to the polls that November and elected four new directors, including Sarno, Maciel, Johnson and Jim Grinnell. Mikkelsen was appointed by the board to replace Grinnell after he resigned in June due to health reasons.
Kampa said many of the problems at TUD stem from the acquisition of several defunct water districts in the 1990s.
Over the years, the district’s rates did not rise at the same time as increasing costs to repair and replace the acquired water-system infrastructure.
“The cost increases every year, so the rates should increase every year,” he said. “If you increase it just by the cost, then it doesn’t have such a huge impact on people’s finances. But if you wait two or three years, it becomes difficult to increase it by less than 10 percent.”
Kampa said he recently found it difficult to convey the district’s need for a highly-skilled workforce and the cost to maintain it.
“There was a real effort throughout their tenure to figure out what was wrong … In other words, why the utility is so expensive to operate,” he said. “There was a real focus on employee pay and benefits, which is not unusual in this economy.
“However, when you look at the market for the employees that we have to hire, there’s a huge shortage for that expertise, not only in the state but also nationwide. They need to have a specific skill set, because if we do one thing wrong somebody could get sick.”
Kampa received several accolades during his time at TUD.
In 2010, the Tuolumne County Chamber of Commerce Board of Directors gave him the “Excellence in Government” award. The California Special Districts Association also named Kampa the top GM in the state that same year.
Earlier this year, Kampa was elected to serve as the CSDA board president starting in 2014, which he will be forced to resign. He has served on the CSDA board since 1998 and actively participated on the education, membership and legislative committees.
Kampa said Wednesday afternoon that he was “still in shock” from the news he received earlier that morning. He wasn’t sure what his next step would be, but said it doesn’t involve leaving Tuolumne County anytime soon.
“I feel we had the district’s best interest at heart and were headed in the right direction,” he said of his time with TUD.
“There’s going to be a lot to do,” he continued. “And the board is going to find out in the future just how much there is and how much it’s all going to cost.”