Northern California Air District Accused of Overpaying Top Staff

 

MONTEREY, Calif. (CN) — Northern Californians have sued the Monterey Bay Resources District and its chairman, claiming they pay administrative salaries about five times more than the law allows.

Nadine Ceyer of Pacific Grove and John Sutton of Hollister sued the district and its Air Pollution Control Officer Richard Stedman on Friday in Monterey County Superior Court. They say that the district is allowed to spend no more than 6.25 percent of the fees it collects administering its AB2766 Program, to reduce air pollution from automobiles, but the district has spent more than 30 percent of the money.

The Monterey Bay Resources District (MBRD) collects $6 for every vehicle registered in Monterey, Santa Cruz and San Benito counties, with $4 to be deposited in the AB2766 Fund. The district has collected an average of about $3.75 million each year the past three years, with about $2.5 million going into the AB2766 fund.

Over the past three years, “at a minimum, respondents have charged the AB2766 fund $1,457,470 more for administrative expenses than is authorized by statute,” according to the complaint.

The air district was created by the Monterey County Board of Supervisors in 1965. Santa Cruz joined in 1968 and the following year the state created the North Central Coast Air Basin, made up of Monterey, San Benito and Santa Cruz counties. Since 1991, local governments have received AB 2766 funds to implement programs that reduce air pollution from motor vehicles. The money is often used to buy low-emissions vehicles or retrofit fleets of vehicles used for local governments.

Records show that in 2015, the air district employed 110 people. Board Chairman Richard Stedman’s total pay and benefits were $224,747. Nineteen other staff members had total pay and benefits of more than $150,000 and 45 employees received more than $125,000. According to the lawsuit, the district has spent $1.5 million more allowed in the past three years.

“Stedman has recommended and the MBARD has charged excessive administrative costs of almost $500,000 annually to the AB 2766 Fund for the last three years,” the complaint states. “Documentation contained in respondents’ official records indicate that respondents have actually expended in excess of 30% of its AB 27 66 Program fees for administrative costs, which is 5 times the maximum amount authorized by law.”

Ceyer seeks declaratory judgment that the district must abide by the law, and that it reimburse nearly $1.5 million to the fund and stop charging administrative costs until they can be clearly documented.

Stedman said Friday that he was not aware of the lawsuit and asked who the plaintiffs were and the nature of the complaint.

“This has been brought before by a former employee that has sued the district as well,” he said in a telephone interview. “And I just stand behind that we are following the state law as required.”

The plaintiffs are represented by Richard Francis of Oxnard and Jean Getchell of Ventura. Neither could be reached for comment. Ceyer, when called, disconnected immediately. Sutton could not be reached.

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