Special districts across California are numerous, highly variable, and regionally-based. Keeping tabs on the thousands of districts that range in function from airport oversight to water resource management is arduous task, to say the least.

Recently, reporters at the Orange County Register rolled up their sleeves looked into how local board members collect their pay.

The findings reflected the nature of special districts themselves: the number of ways board members are paid by their subsequent districts are numerous, highly variable, and regionally-based. For example:

  • A board member of the Serrano Water District charged ratepayers for his attendance of a Villa Park city councilman’s funeral in 2012
  • A Mesa Water District director attended two Tea Party meetings in Costa Mesa and received $207 (or a “day of service”) for each visit
  • Directors of the Serrano Water Board claimed meeting stipends for enjoying appetizers and mingling at a bowling alley during a party through by a former Anaheim mayor, whose public relations firm held contracts with the district

Each instance above was justified by a claim that board directors were “working” by interacting with constituents.

The questionable claims are made possible by the fact that directors of special district boards receive daily payments rather than salaries. Because of the nature of the part-time positions and the technical/policy understanding that accompanies the job, the payment “system is meant to encourage participation,” yet according to the Orange County Register, “can be vulnerable to abuse.”

“There’s a temptation to consider some things business when they’re really not… What does the average citizen care whether the water board is sending someone to a social event?” stated Terry Francke, general counsel for watchdog group Californians Aware.

For more on the state and local laws that govern special district pay, read the full story at the Orange County Register.