Candidates trade shots during IID Div. 1 Forum
EL CENTRO — The fifth and final Imperial Valley candidate forum had enough fireworks to serve as a worthy grand finale to the series.
Incumbent Imperial Irrigation District Division 1 Director Juanita Salas and her opponent, El Centro City Councilman and former Mayor Alex Cardenas not only had opposing views about energy and water policy, they also didn’t have very nice things to say about each other.
Over the course of the forum, Salas made three allegations regarding Cardenas that he didn’t directly address but also as of Thursday evening could not be verified.
For starters, Salas alleged Cardenas personally threatened some of her supporters who voiced support for her.
She also said that Court Appointed Special Advocates, the non- profit organization for which Cardenas is executive director, had not filed IRS 990 forms for the last five years. Finally she charged that last year Cardenas sought to become IID board member through a possible appointment, rather than by voter approval.
“It’s really unfortunate that some of my supporters have been called attacked, messaged by my opponent threatening them to take their name off my website, it’s been happening, and I don’t accept that,” Salas said.
Though he didn’t specifically address the issues brought up by Salas in the forum Cardenas also took some shots at her by questioning past controversies and questioning her motivations.
After Salas said he didn’t have any water or power experience relevant to the position he was seeking Cardenas responded:
“You can have all the water and experience in the world, but if you do not have ethics that is a problem. My opponent is surrounded by unethical behavior that follows her everywhere she goes from IVC (Imperial Valley College) to now at the IID,” Cardenas said. “You need to have a foundation of moral principle, not someone who is consistently on the front page of the newspaper because of the unethical decisions she makes and the controversies that surround and follow her.”
When it came to the talking points of the forum, the one issue in which Salas and Cardenas clearly differed was the current litigation the IID is involved in with Michael Abatti.
Cardenas was vocal about his support with the board’s decision to appeal the ruling made by an Imperial County Superior Court judge and criticized Salas for asking the board to consider withdrawing the appeal in February.
Salas questioned how much Cardenas knew about the lawsuit, she said board members get all the information regarding the case.
She also told the public the big reason she has opposed the appeal is to avoid to continue to spend money on litigation rather than find common ground.
When it comes to the issues related to former IID engineering consultant ZGlobal, both recognized the severity of the matter but expressed different approaches as to how to handle the situation.
Salas voiced her frustration that employees of ZGlobal have been hired by IID after the district terminated its service contract with the firm last October. “We cannot continue to do business, as usual, we cannot continue to be in the front page of the Desert Sun and the IV Press with regard to all these scandals going on with ZGlobal,” she said.
Cardenas said he believes transparency can lead the IID to move away from the controversy and said he wants the next energy manager to be fully aware of the importance of their decisions and he or she “needs to be and should be held accountable.”
To close the forum, both candidates were asked what policy changes they would like to see changed in the future. Cardenas said he would seek to explore avenues to invest in education and training advancement opportunities for IID employees who want to better themselves. He also expressed interest in trying to reduce or eliminate a board director’s ability to spend thousands of dollars when traveling out of the region.
For her part, Salas said her goal was for the district to rely more on local service providers rather than on outside firms. However, she said she would insist on a stipulation preventing IID from hiring any firm that has individuals related to any of the IID board members.
The five candidate forums were organized by the Coalition of Labor Agriculture and Business and the Imperial Valley Vegetable Growers Association. The forums were intended to allow the public to familiarize with some of the different candidates ahead of the June 5 election.
Incumbent Juanita Salas and challenger Alex Cardenas had the opportunity to address the public during the candidate forum in El Centro on Thursday evening ahead of the June 5 election. EDWIN DELGADO PHOTO