Another controversial West Valley Water District figure resigns as GM – San Bernardino Sun

Shamindra “Rickey” Manbahal, whose hiring at Rialto’s West Valley Water District in 2019 sparked controversy following his departure from the city of Hawthorne over fiscal management there, has resigned as the district’s general manager.

Manbahal’s resignation was announced during a special meeting of the water district’s board of directors on Thursday, May 19. Following a closed session meeting of the board, Robert Tafoya, the district’s general counsel, announced that the board unanimously voted to accept Manbahal’s resignation.

The reason for Manbahal’s departure was not disclosed. He was appointed acting general manager on Oct. 12, 2020, interim general manager on April 1, 2021, and general manager on July 1, 2021, water district spokesman Naseem Farooqi said in an email Tuesday.

Manbahal’s employment remains effective until June 30. Until then, he remains on paid administrative leave from the district, which which serves about 82,000 customers in Bloomington, Colton, Fontana, Rialto, unincorporated areas of San Bernardino County, and Jurupa Valley in Riverside County.

The board has appointed Van Jew, the water district’s former assistant general manager, as acting general manager. Farooqi said Jew has 30 years of experience in the water industry, more than 15 years of experience in executive management positions and is a licensed civil engineer and certified water distribution and water treatment operator.

“Our highest priority at this time is to build on our success and continue to provide ratepayers with best-in-class water and water services,” Farooqi said.

Under his separation agreement with the district, Manbahal will receive 10 months of severance pay totaling $201,049.33 plus 10 months of health insurance coverage. Additionally, he was allowed to cash out his unused vacation and administrative leave time, according to the agreement.

The district’s board of directors will also provide Manbahal a letter of recommendation according to the agreement, which also includes a confidentiality agreement between the district and Manbahal prohibiting him from discussing with anyone the reasons for his resignation and the terms of his separation agreement “as much as is permitted by law.”

In the past three years, the water district has paid out more than $1.3 million to more than a half-dozen employees, most of them former administrators, in separation agreements. In addition to Manbahal, included were former General Managers Clarence Mansell Jr. and Matthew Litchfield, former Human Resources Director Deborah Martinez and former Assistant General Manager Jeremiah Brosowske.

Manbahal’s hiring as the district’s chief financial officer in November 2019 was met with controversy because he had admitted to fiscal malfeasance while working as Hawthorne’s finance director in 2015, including taking a secret $25,000 loan from the city and for misleading officials about the city’s solvency by using millions of dollars in reserve funds to shore up budget gaps.

It didn’t help that the district was facing sharp scrutiny of its own at the time amid alleged corrupt practices and rampant cronyism by the board of directors and Mansell, who received one of the largest severance packages in the district’s history — $450,000 plus $9,000 in medical benefits — shortly before his death in May 2021.

Mansell, who was at the center of much of the alleged misconduct, wound up taking legal action himself against the district amid the scrutiny, seeking whistleblower protection and alleging workplace retaliation and discrimination after reporting alleged illegal conduct by certain board members.

But Manbahal turned a new leaf at the water district as general manager. Following Mansell’s departure, he executed new board directives and policies that led to improved communication among the board, management and employees. It brought rapid resolution to existing employee complaints and essentially brought new ones to a standstill, Manbahal said in a prior interview.

Manbahal also brought in a new assistant general manager of operations and engineering and a new human resources and risk manager, and was instrumental in the board’s adoption of a reform plan to increase transparency and accountability.


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