As the Marin/Sonoma Mosquito and Vector Control District prepares to vote Wednesday on its annual budget, a growing number of critics are complaining that the district has withheld budget information from the public and failed to adequately disclose committee meetings and membership.
<NO1><NO>Among the criticisms is that president of the district's board, who is on the committee that recommends the general manager's salary and retirement package, has a personal financial arrangement with general manager, having prepared his tax returns for at least a decade.
One former board member said she resigned after she couldn't get budget information she had been requesting for a year. This year, the board refused to vote on a budget until it received a full spending plan.
Concerns about the district's lack of transparency come as the district is poised to increase its annual budget by $1 million in 2011-12, a 12 percent increase over the budget approved a year ago. <NO1>The projected spending is about 6 percent higher than what was actually spent in 2010-11, because the district revised its spending plan at mid-year.<NO>
Jim Wanderscheid, general manager of the district, said that he has paid Board President Charles Bouey to prepare his taxes for 10 or 15 years, and that Bouey also was a tax preparer for the district manager that preceded him.
"He prepares my taxes. That's all he does for me, period," Wanderscheid said. "If it comes down to a vote for something like my salary, he abstains. Charlie's been on the board for 25 years, so there's friendships that develop over that stuff."
Wanderscheid said that although he has not officially disclosed the accounting relationship to the full board of directors, "It's never been a secret."
The district, which has a proposed budget of $8.6 million, has 22 board members.
Bouey did not return phone calls for comment. In a previous interview, he declined to answer when asked whether he was Wanderscheid's personal accountant, citing client privacy.
"Charles Bouey may have a huge conflict-of-interest issue here and this could be the reason the manager's proposed final package was originally going to be so lucrative for him," said board member Frank Egger, who represents the city of Fairfax. "I noticed the night of the final pay package vote Bouey abstained. I think he knows he has a conflict."
Other board members interviewed about the tax preparation relationship were unaware of it, or knew about it but were not very concerned.
"I might be uncomfortable with something like that, and I might not do it myself, but I don't know if there's any legal reasons not to," said Sandy Ross, who represents Mill Valley.
Tom Bradner, who represents Larkspur and was formerly president of the board, said that when it came to discussions for Wanderscheid's final contract, Bouey stepped back.
"Whatever Charlie's interest was in this, whatever his participation was, was mitigated by the fact that everything was aired correctly," Bradner said.
Many discussions about salaries and retirement packages occur in committee meetings, not just full board meetings. Egger said committee meetings are rarely publicized.
"The question is, did he participate in the committee meetings about the salary?" asked Egger, who has been critical of what he says is the district's lack of transparency. "Since there are never any minutes about the committee meetings, it's difficult to pin down."