Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Former Interim School Superintendent Pleads Guilty to Felony Charge

Via Amador County District Attorney Facebook Page:

Former Amador County Unified School District (ACUSD) Interim Superintendent Elizabeth Chapin-Pinotti pled guilty to a felony violation of Government Code Section 1090(a) – Conflict of Interest: purchases by a public official with a financial interest.

The conflicts of interest were discovered when an online educational materials company noticed that ACUSD ordered $52,180.21 in educational materials in less than one year (compared to most other company sales ranging from $2.00 to $4.00). The company also noticed that all of the different “sellers” of the materials had the same IP address and PayPal account, both of which belonged to Ms. Chapin-Pinotti.

The listed purchaser on the orders was Ms. Chapin-Pinotti’s assistant, who confirmed that Ms. Chapin-Pinotti initiated all of the orders. The business had processed about $20,000 in orders but put a hold on the remaining orders pending verification that the District had authorized the orders.
On June 10, 2015, the lawyer for the company contacted then ACUSD Board of Education President Wally Upper to verify whether the purchases were in fact legitimate.

On June 23, 2015, Ms. Chapin-Pinotti responded by sending the attorney an unsigned letter claiming that individual donors had paid for the materials. She attached altered copies of checks purported to be “donations” for the purchases (but actually drawn on her own accounts) and forged letters from “donors” claiming to purchase the materials with private funds. She also included copies of Amador County Office of Education and Unified School District Administrative Procedures regarding District Purchases, but did not include a copy of Board Policy 6161.1, which requires that anyone purchasing instructional materials “shall have no financial interest in the materials being reviewed.”

That same day, The Amador County School Board appointed Ms. Chapin-Pinotti interim Superintendent of Schools. The Board also voted to give her an additional stipend of $2,000.00 per month in addition to the then current superintendent’s salary. It does not appear that the Board was aware of the concerns raised by the educational materials company.

On July 17, 2015, Mr. Upper sent an email to the attorney stating “[t]he matter has been resolved on our end. Elizabeth Chapin-Pinotti did have the authority to make the purchases but there was some poor judgment involved. The District has cancelled all open orders, obtained a large financial payment from ECP, and imposed appropriate discipline. Your efforts are appreciated and I hope you keep up the good work and public service.”

Not satisfied with the response by Mr. Upper and ACUSD, the attorney contacted the Amador County District Attorney’s Office (ACDA). Criminal Investigator Cameron Begbie then led an ACDA investigation which revealed that Ms. Chapin-Pinotti was never disciplined and that other members of the Board of Education were never informed of the conflicts of interest. Neither the District nor the Board made any inquiry into the circumstances of any other purchase orders by Ms. Chapin-Pinotti that may have violated California conflicts of interest laws.

The investigation also discovered that between June 2012 and December 2014, Ms. Chapin-Pinotti purchased about $225,000 of her own materials with District funds, and most of her publications were materials that were in the public domain and available for free download through Gutenberg Press.

Those orders included some $78,000.00 in textbooks and other materials from two companies she controlled: Hewson Publishing, “owned” by her mother and located at a UPS mailbox location in El Dorado Hills, and Tricetta Publishing, “owned” by her brother and located in Ripon. Ms. Chapin-Pinotti admitted to investigators that she owned and operated both companies.

In addition, as Assistant Superintendent of Curriculum and Instruction, Ms. Chapin-Pinotti was required to file statements of economic interest under penalty of perjury. In these filings, Ms. Chapin-Pinotti failed to disclose that she received any payments from the district for the sale of her educational materials.

Ms. Chapin-Pinotti will be sentenced on July 6, 2017 at 8:30 by the Honorable Judge J.S. Hermanson of the Amador County Superior Court. As a result of her plea, it is expected that she will be placed on felony probation for five years, be ordered to serve 120 days in county jail (or a suitable alternative such as work program), and be ordered to make restitution for all losses to the District, which is estimated at about $200,000.

District Attorney Todd Riebe praised the efforts of Investigator Cameron Begbie and other involved investigators at the District Attorney’s Office, as well as Mary Simmons, who prosecuted the case.

Monday, May 8, 2017

Amador County Recreation Agency Board - Wed May 10

Amador County Recreation Agency
Board Meeting
810 Court Street Jackson, CA, Board of Supervisors 
May 10, 2017 
1:30 p.m. 

Mission Statement 
“ACRA shall maximize recreational opportunities for all residents of Amador County through sustainable planning, financing, facilities, operations and programs.”  

Agenda Items: 
1. Call to Order​ Roll Call: Dan Epperson, Lynn Morgan, Michael Vasquez, Peter Amoruso, Rose Oneto, Wayne Garibaldi, Linda Rianda, Jane Norcross 
3. Meeting Agenda ​Approval 
Approval of agenda for this date and all off-agenda items must be approved by the Board as per government code 549854.2 
4. Public matters not on the agenda
Discussion items only, no action will be taken 
Any person may address the Board at this time on any subject within the   jurisdiction of ACRA. Please note – there is a five (5) minute limit. 
5. Presentations & Introductions: 
Nettie Fox, Fundraiser, A Night at the Mine 
6. Closed Session: 
7. Consent Agenda ​
a. Review of Minutes of General Meeting on March 8, 2017 
8. Public Hearing 
9. Discussion Items 
a. Financial 
Reports​​​​​​ Discussion, Possible Action 
b. Request for Payment in Full of Membership Fees from Board of Supervisors​​  Discussion, Possible Action 
c. FY 2017/18 Membership Fees and Budget ​ ​Discussion, Possible Action 
d. Future Funding for ACRA​ ​​​​ Discussion, Possible Action
10. Executive Director Report 
11. Board Member Reports 
12. Future Agenda Items 
13. Adjourn for Workshop 

Staff Contact: Carolyn Fregulia 
Amador County Recreation Agency 
10877 Conductor Blvd. Sutter Creek CA 
PHONE: (209) 223-6349 FAX: (209) 257-1409 
Next Meeting: June 14, 2017 @ 1:30 p.m. 

Posted: Amador County Unified School District, 217 Rex Ave., Jackson, Amador City Hall, Jackson City Hall 33 Broadway, Jackson, Sutter Creek City Hall, Main Street Sutter Creek, Plymouth City Hall, Main Street Plymouth, Ione City Hall, Main Street Ione, Amador County Government Center, 810 Court Street Jackson, 10877 Conductor Blvd, Sutter Creek;

Monday, May 1, 2017

River Pines PUD requests merger with Amador Water Agency

SUTTER CREEK, CA - The River Pines Public Utilities District (RPPUD) Board has requested the Amador Water Agency take over all RPPUD water and wastewater facilities, citing the strain of managing and maintaining complex, critical infrastructure.

At last week’s AWA Board meeting, RPPUD General Manager Candi Bingham gave a presentation to AWA Directors on the RPPUD Board request and recent work to overhaul the River Pines water system.

AWA has been providing operational and emergency support to RPPUD since the year 2000 and RPPUD contracted with the Water Agency to provide 24-7 field and regulatory operations beginning April 11, 2017. Bingham told AWA Directors that the RPPUD was interested in completely dissolving, and transferring ownership of the water and wastewater facilities to AWA.

AWA Directors voted to begin a review of the RPPUD facilities and financial health as part of a due diligence process. If approved by AWA directors, the process of absorbing the district will take several months and will include more public hearings. The Local Agency Formation Commission (LAFCO) will need to approve the merger and give residents of River Pines the opportunity to protest the move, if they wish.  

RPPUD Board Chair Cathy Landgraf told AWA Directors that recent improvements to their system have been fully funded by state grants and that RPPUD is operating “in the black.”However, Landgraf said operating public infrastructure, meeting state regulations, and recruiting and keeping RPPUD board members and staff have become very difficult for the small community of under 400 residents.

“We are here to help if the River Pines community wants this, and as long as the RPPUD doesn’t represent a liability to our current customers,” said AWA General Manager Gene Mancebo. “That’s why a thorough due diligence review by AWA and the public LAFCO transfer processes are in place.”

AWA’s review will include an assessment of how RPPUD water and wastewater rates would be affected by the proposed merger.

AWA Directors received a clean bill of health after the annual Agency financial audit conducted by the independent accounting firm of Leaf and Cole.  Auditor Michael Zizzi summarized the 2015-2016 audit report at Thursday’s meeting, noting that the Agency saw an approximate $27,000 drop in cash and cash equivalents from the end of 2015 to the end of 2016. According to AWA General Manager Gene Mancebo, the relatively small reduction in the Agency’s cash position reflects the impact of reduced water sales revenue due to water conservation by customers during that fiscal year, balanced by cost controls in place at the Agency to address the reduction in operating funds.

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Wondering what's in that big hole in Buckhorn?

Visible from Hwy. 88 in Buckhorn, Amador Water Agency’s new water treatment and recycling facilities now under construction include a large “wet well” that will operate below ground when completed. The project at Buckhorn Water Treatment Plant is designed to upgrade water treatment processes to meet new, more stringent state requirements and conserve up to 14 million gallons of water per year. The project is fully funded by grant of over $2 million from the State Water Resources Control Board that will not need to be paid back.Vinciguerra Construction of Jackson is the contractor for the project.

Long-time AWA employee Doug Yardley retires

Doug Yardley (pictured right) is congratulated by Amador Water Agency Board President Gary Thomas on his retirement as Water Treatment Supervisor after thirty-two years of service to the Water Agency and its customers. Yardley started at AWA as a meter-reader and over the years not only operated AWA water treatment plants but also contributed to designing, modernizing and expanding numerous water projects throughout Amador County. AWA Directors presented Yardley with a resolution commending him for his dedication in improving and expanding the Water Agency’s ability to meet the water needs of Amador County residents. At the time of his retirement, Yardley’s 32 years at AWA made him the longest-tenured employee at the Agency.

Thursday, March 23, 2017

AWA office will close on Tuesday, March 28 for employee funeral

SUTTER CREEK, CA - The Amador Water Agency customer service office will close at 10:30 a.m. on Tuesday, March 28, so that AWA employees can attend funeral services for a long time employee. Regular office hours, 8 am – 4:30 pm, will resume on Wednesday, March 29.

Customers who wish to make payments after 10:30 am on Tuesday may leave payment in the Drop Box near the AWA office entrance or take advantage of AWA Online Payment programs at

In the event of a water or wastewater emergency while the office is closed, on-call field staff will be available. Call 209-223-3018 and someone will answer and arrange for service.

Monday, March 20, 2017

AWA water project in Buckhorn will upgrade water treatment, conserve water

SUTTER CREEK, CA - A project that will make important improvements to water treatment for the Upcountry water system broke ground this month.

The Buckhorn Disinfection Byproducts/Backwash Disposal Project at the Buckhorn Water Treatment Plant is designed to upgrade water treatment processes to meet new, more stringent state requirements.

The project also includes a backwash recycling plant that will conserve up to 14 million gallons of water per year by filtering and recycling water used to clean the treatment plant filters -- water that historically was disposed of by spraying on the Mace Meadows Golf Course.
The project is fully funded by a $2,190,800.00 grant from the State Water Resources Control Board that will not need to be paid back.

"AWA has worked hard for this 100 percent grant,” said Rich Farrington, AWA Dist. 3 Director. “The new recycling filter will improve water quality for the Upcountry and save millions of gallons of valuable water every year."

Construction has begun on underground facilities for the recycling plant and is expected to be complete by the end of the year. Vinciguerra Construction of Jackson is the contractor for the project.

AWA Board of Directors gathered to break ground on a project at the Buckhorn Water Treatment Plant that will improve water quality for the Upcountry water system and conserve up to 14 million gallons of water per year. Left to right: AWA Directors Paul Molinelli, Jr., Robert Manassero, Rich Farrington, Art Toy, and Gary Thomas; AWA General Manager Gene Mancebo.

Thursday, February 23, 2017

AWA responds to storm damage on multiple fronts.

SUTTER CREEK - The recent onslaught of winter storms are keeping Amador Water Agency staff working long hours, keeping water and wastewater systems working throughout the county. High winds, landslides, power outages and muddy water runoff have challenged the Agency to keep clean water flowing to customers and wastewater systems intact.

Earlier this month, the Agency Canal Crew discovered a landslide along the Amador Canal that left only a thin wall of earth containing the canal water for a stretch of about 100 feet.

The landslide occurred in steep terrain near Irishtown Road and Highway 88. To prevent further slippage and damage to the area below the canal, Agency crews covered the entíre embankment area with plastic sheeting to protect the canal through the next round of storms. The water level in the canal has been lowered to relieve pressure on the compromised canal wall.

Recent heavy rains caused a landslide along the Amador Canal near Irishtown Rd. and Highway 88.
The Amador Canal is an open ditch running from Lake Tabeaud to Lower Ridge Road that provides water to about 100 Amador Water Agency raw water customers, primarily for agricultural purposes. So far, service to these customers has not been affected by the landslide.

AWA engineers and staff are monitoring the site closely and working on plans to get necessary equipment into the area and stabilize the slope to prevent further damage and potential interruption of service.

Further Upcountry, high levels of rainfall and runoff caused land slippage affecting portions of PG&E’s Tiger Creek Road. The Agency's Gravity Supply Line (GSL) runs under Tiger Creek Road where some of these failures have occurred and PG&E requested the Agency stop using the GSL as a precautionary measure while road repairs are underway.

The GSL carries Mokelumne River water to the Buckhorn Water Treatment Plant for the Upcountry water system. AWA powered up two standby pump stations to temporarily replace the gravity-fed GSL during the PG&E work. However, AWA staff have had to manually operate the raw water pump stations when power outages shut down remote communication with the pumps.

In Ione, an AWA pump station near the Preston Avenue bridge was left hanging in mid-air after flood waters in Sutter Creek eroded the property under the pump station building. AWA crews worked three days to disconnect the pump station from the main water distribution system, re-route the water main and remove the building.

An AWA pump station near the Preston Avenue bridge was left hanging in Ione
after flood waters in Sutter Creek eroded the property under the pump station building.
Extremely muddy water coming into AWA water treatment plants at Buckhorn and Ione have created extra work for operators to ensure proper filtering of the water coming from the river. Excessive runoff at Mace Meadows Golf Course twice flooded an irrigation pump station used for recycling water and overtopped a 36-inch culvert pipe designed to divert water away the AWA water treatment recycling pond located on the golf course. Mace Meadows employees were able to prevent the excess water in the pond from spilling over the dam.

Mace Meadows Golf Course staff installed a pump to remove water that flooded
a golf course irrigation pump station (at left in photo).
Run-off from the golf course can end up in an AWA wastewater pond used for irrigation
and Mace Meadows and AWA staff must monitor run-off on the course closely to prevent the pond from overflowing.
Winter storms also create problems for the many wastewater systems operated by AWA throughout the county. Rain and runoff have brought wastewater ponds at Lake Camanche Village and Gayla Manor to maximum capacity. This has forced the Agency to execute contingency plans to ensure that no dam breach occurs, including removing wastewater by truck and spray irrigation of treated wastewater during storms.

“We believe these storms have exceeded the 100-year events that the facilities are designed to contain,” said AWA Operations Manager Damon Wyckoff.

“Governor Brown has declared a state of emergency in the region due to the recent storms, and emergency grant funding for repairs will be available for damage from the January storms. We are currently awaiting an emergency declaration for the February storms,” Wyckoff said.
AWA staff is closely tracking costs and documenting damage and repairs to substantiate the need for state emergency funds.

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

AWA crews respond to storm damage to water facilities in Ione

AWA crews worked Friday night to disconnect a pump station from the main water distribution system in Ione after flood waters in Sutter Creek eroded the property under the pump station building. The pump station near the Preston Avenue bridge is used to boost water pressure in Ione during periods of very high water demand, and was disconnected to protect Ione’s water system in the event that creek flows further undermine the structure. Most water customers in Ione should not see any change in their service but a few areas in Ione may experience a slight reduction in water pressure.

Monday, February 13, 2017

AWA Directors vote to form a local Groundwater Sustainability Agency

The County of Amador and Jackson Valley Irrigation District to also vote to join AWA in a Joint Powers Agreement
SUTTER CREEK - After a public hearing Thursday, the Amador Water Agency Board of Directors approved a resolution to form a local Groundwater Sustainability Agency (GSA), managed by a Joint Powers Agreement (JPA) with the County of Amador and Jackson Valley Irrigation District.

The state is requiring formation of locally-controlled GSAs to develop and implement sustainability plans for groundwater basins. The Cosumnes Subbasin of the San Joaquin Valley Groundwater Basin runs under an 81.7 square-mile area near the western border of Amador County, primarily west of Pardee Reservoir and State Hwy 104 (or only about 13.5 percent of the total area of the county).

“Previous groundwater level studies in those parts of western Amador County don’t indicate over-use of the groundwater there, but we need current data to prove that to the state water board,” said AWA General Manager Gene Mancebo. “The GSA will be able to apply for grant money for a comprehensive groundwater sustainability study and plan that will satisfy this new state requirement.”

If a local agency is not formed by June 30, 2017, state water officials could assume authority for Amador County’s GSA.

“This only affects a very small portion of the county,” said AWA Director Rich Farrington. “But we really have no choice but to form a GSA if we want local control over how groundwater is managed in Amador County.”

All three Amador County agencies must approve the JPA and will participate equally in the GSA.

Also at Thursday’s AWA Board meeting, Paul Molinelli, Jr. was sworn in to the Amador Water Agency Board of Directors, by Amador County Clerk Kim Grady.

Molinelli, Jr., was appointed to represent District 1 (Jackson area), after the resignation of AWA Director Paul Molinelli, to a term that expires in December, 2018. Molinelli, Jr. is partner, vice president and chief operating officer of ACES Waste Services.

PHOTO BELOW:  Paul Molinelli, Jr. was sworn in to the Amador Water Agency Board of Directors, by Amador County Clerk Kim Grady. Molinelli, Jr. was appointed to represent District 1 (Jackson area), after the resignation of AWA Director Paul Molinelli, Sr. His term expires in December, 2018.