Opinion: Sewer plant manager’s $875,000 payout is over the top

Opinion

BY DAVE PRICE
Daily Post Editor

I think the public is owed an explanation as to why a government agency, Silicon Valley Clean Water, wrote a severance check of $875,000 to its former general manager, Daniel Child.

A severance check of this amount to an administrator who was making $384,320 a year is over the top. The severance equals 2-1/2 years pay.

Maybe the board of this agency thought his severance wouldn’t be noticed by anyone. The agency isn’t widely known even though it provides an important service to 220,000 residents and businesses. Silicon Valley Clean Water runs the sewer plant at 1400 Radio Road in Redwood City on behalf of Belmont, San Carlos, Redwood City and the West Bay Sanitary District, which serves Atherton, Menlo Park and other areas.

Those entities have seats on the board of Silicon Valley Clean Water. Longtime Belmont Councilman Warren Lieberman is the chairman, and others on the board include George Otte of the West Bay Sanitary District,
Alicia Aguirre of Redwood City Council and Mark Olbert of San Carlos City Council.

The idea behind the agency was that it would be less expensive if the cities cooperatively ran one plant to handle all of their sewage processing needs, rather than each of them building their own plant.

But the sewer customers in these cities indirectly fund Silicon Valley Clean Water, so they have a stake in Child’s severance. Since they’re footing the bill, they should know why the district spent so much money to get him to leave without a fight.

Dan Child

We don’t know why the agency’s board decided to fire Child “for cause” after 12 years as general manager. The “cause” wasn’t specified in the nine-page severance agreement. The agreement is frustratingly vague. It does say that he had claims against the agency, though they weren’t specified. And the agreement says that in exchange for the money, he won’t sue the agency.

So much for government transparency.

There is one hope, though. The city council members who aren’t members of Silicon Valley Clean Water’s board have every right to hold a hearing to get to the bottom of this $875,000 payment.

Such a hearing could answer the following questions:

• Why did Child get so much money?

• What were his complaints against the agency? Were those complaints legitimate?

• How did he breach his contract, as the agency’s board claimed?

• And, the most important question, how can such a dispute be avoided in the future?

Silicon Valley Clean Water’s service area.

While Silicon Valley Clean Water isn’t widely known, it’s embarking on a big project — a 2.4-mile long, 16-foot diameter tunnel under Redwood Shores Parkway to replace an aging pipeline that leads to the agency’s treatment plant. The project will cost $495 million, making it one of the larger infrastructure projects in the mid-Peninsula, ranking up there with the Hetch-Hetchy rebuild and the expansion of San Francisco International Airport. On July 17, the agency unveiled a machine that will bore the tunnel underground.

With a project of this size and expense, a lot could go wrong. This isn’t meant to be a knock on Child’s replacement, Teresa Herrera, but if there is an underlying problem the severance agreement papered over, it would be better to know what it is now, so it can be corrected, rather than have the problem re-emerge in the future.

Editor Dave Price’s column appears on Mondays. His email address is price@padailypost.com.

5 Comments

  1. I live in San Carlos. Now I know why my wastewater bills are going up all the time. Nobody is watching the store, and things like this happen. What a joke!!!

  2. The secrecy speaks for itself. If this was on the up and up, you’d see everyone in this case talking about what a wise decision they made. But because they’re hiding, you know they’ve been caught doing something wrong.

  3. Thank you for highlighting such a gross action by local government. No wonder why critical transportation and social needs continue to be neglected.

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