Wednesday, January 28, 2009
Three Days of the Condor and the Randleman Dam Scam
In the film THREE DAYS OF THE CONDOR (1975), Robert Redford played a mild-mannered undercover CIA agent working in a European bookstore searching through literature for terrorist activity.
Redford discovers a secret invasion of the Middle East Oil fields—but it’s coming from somewhere inside the Pentagon. He calls his CIA boss in Washington and tells him about the plan. The boss acts astonished and says he’ll get right on it. Redford then steps out for coffee and a few minutes later we see men in black coats arrive and assassinate all of his CIA coworkers. Redford returns with doughnuts and discovers the bloodbath.
Redford, stricken with grief and fear realizes his boss must be "in" on the illegal invasion plot. Redford phones another contact in DC who arranges a safe pick-up to bring Redford in. But not sure who he can trust, Redford is cautious and hides near the pick-up site. And it’s a good thing because the assassins were there as his pick-up. He is now a marked man.
Next he calls his most trustworthy friend in DC, but Redford refuses to give up his location because he does not know who to trust. This invasion conspiracy is so big that the conspirators will even “take out” their own people if necessary to protect it.
Like Redford, as Greensboro’s Water Conservation Manager I had to be “taken out” by the Randleman Dam Scammers. I was just a family guy doing my job and it began to interfere with a conspiracy to do an unnecessary $150 million dollar public works project designed to grow Greensboro. These scammers had pride, the potential for huge profit, determination and the rationale that the ends justify the means driving them to do wrong. I stumbled onto their scheme, and I became a marked man like Redford. I became a danger and I was expendable in the grand scheme.
It was not just my knowing their scheme that made me a threat to their dam . My successful water conservation programs reduced water use three years in a row. Deep inside city hall they were panicking because a declining water demand could undermine their plans.
Here’s how it all began….
I had lost a big job a year before Greensboro WC. I was a family man out of work. We were struggling to stay afloat. Then I saw the WC position advertised and I aggressively went after it. I got an interview.
I was Lee Kinard's guest on TV early on the morning of my interview so I made sure the City watched it. My TV spot went great and it helped me get the WC position at city hall. They offered me the job—at $28K—to reduce Greensboro’s water demand. Great--but why such a low salary?
The same week HealthTex offered me $50K to be its Training Manager. I sensed that the HealthTex job was ill-defined and therefore risky. My wife and I agreed that I should accept the City’s offer—for stability and job security. Besides, I knew that water conservation would be something I would love.
I phoned the HealthTex VP and told her I decided to go with the City. She said, "I think you are making the right choice." I was so relieved and I thanked her for being honest with me.
I could write a book about my experience but for this blog I will try to be brief. My salary was set low because Ray Shaw, the Water Director did not want to begin a WC program. The Council forced him to set one up. Shaw was a water seller and waterworks expander who was not interested in conservation.
He had Herb Williams, the Water Accounts manager interview me. And as soon as I took the job I discovered I would report to Herb Williams and not to the Water Director. That seemed odd but later I understood why. Next I discovered that I would not be attending the weekly Water Department meetings. It became clear that I was not on Director Shaw's team.
But what put a noose around my neck was my success. Greensboro’s water demand began declining while the economy was booming (see chart in previous story) and record numbers of building permits were being issued every year. If I had done school tours and water fairs and coloring books like most WC coordinators in the U.S. do because they are stifled by their water-selling directors I would have never gotten in trouble. In fact, I would still be employed and nearing retirement. My success was my downfall.
Director Shaw two floors up didn’t care what I did with WC. He tossed me a little budget and I knew enough to stay out of his way. My boss Herb Williams was a nice guy who admitted that he had no idea what I would do with WC. He gave me free reign to do my job.
I happened to be a very talented and creative INTJ on the Myers Briggs, and Greensboro did not know just how determined I was to reduce water demand 4% in just one year—a requirement that Director Shaw wrote into my hiring agreement.
Shaw and Williams told me Greensboro was running out of water. While they worked on getting the Randleman Dam they said it was my job to get customers to use less water. I believed every word they said.
If you want to know what kinds of WC I did you’ll need to review my previous stories. I want to just give you the big picture in this one. I knew I had the right skills to do WC, but what I did not know was that I would be very good on live TV and live radio. I achieved almost a celebrity status in the Greensboro broadcast media because I was very good on camera. Many times I was seated right next to the anchor on the six o’clock news because I did TV so well. The red light came "on" and off I went speaking directly to water customers about Greensboro's situation. I felt like Peter Jennings.
Greensboro gave me chicken feed for a WC budget, but my radio and TV appearances were free and more than made up for it. I was able to reach many thousands of citizens with water efficiency messages. I also had invitations to speak at all kinds of luncheons and affairs because I am very good on my feet. I was a high school teacher for 9 years. So despite my very small budget I was reaching a maximum number of people.
My boss let me design and place lots of ads in the local papers. I did Saturday morning workshops at local hardware stores and the TV cameras were there. I am a shop teacher by trade and I was in my element. City Manager Bill Carstarphen had me do a presentation to Council and I won its support. Wow! I was I off to a great start. I was not earning enough to support my family but at least I was fulfilled in my work. Besides, my boss said the money would come when my program grew and I hired staff.
City Manager Carstarphen called me up to his office one day and told me I was a huge asset to city government. He praised me….and then he asked me to head up the City’s United Fund Drive—in essence a full-time job. *GULP* I dread assignments like that. I explained how much WC work needed to be done and I declined his offer. He apparently did not value WC very much, and neither did my Water Director.
The big trouble began when water use declined in 1996. Shaw and his water managers were tossing out every excuse rather than admit that citizens may be using less water. They even recalibrated the output meters at the plants because they were dumfounded by the decline. I studied the inflow at the wastewater plants and proved that water use had gone down. The water managers and engineers said it was just a fluke. No, it was the real deal.
I sent out a press release that water demand had gone down. Then I began getting bad vibes from the water bosses. Next I learned that the Greensboro Chamber of Commerce was giving me its 1996 Environmental Stewardship award for reducing water demand. Some city bosses and managers had to pretend for the cameras that they were happy about my award. But they probably began to worry about me.
Things got worse when I was given the 1996 United States Environmental Protection Agency’s 1st place Award for a Water Efficiency Demonstration Project---the three apartment complexes I did where water use declined by a measured 33% over the following year. Some on City Council thought that was great. I could sense that others in charge were getting very uptight about my awards and water demand going down.
Halfway through my 5-year tenure in Greensboro I knew I was headed for trouble. My Directors and other managers became jealous of my skills, my TV appearances and my awards. And that’s when it dawned on me that water demand going down was a threat to the Randleman Dam. What would they do to stop me?
The City was still claiming that water use was climbing when it had fallen 2 years in a row. So, they were lying to lay the foundation for the dam. It declined for a third year and the City did everything it could to hide the decline and claim that water use was still increasing. In fact, in 1999 City Manager Kitchen approved a Water Resources video that claimed water use was increasing when he knew it had declined 3 years in a row. By this time I was furious with my employer.
In 1997 I won the 1st Place United States Environmental Protection Agency award again—this time for being the Best Municipal Water Efficiency Program in region 4. By now Director Shaw retired and Allan Williams was hired to replace him. I was invited to a ceremony at EPA headquarters to receive this prestigious award and Director Williams would not allow me to attend.
I suspect that when Director Williams was hired he was told, "We need to find a way to restrict the efforts of Mike Baron." Once Williams was on board I sent him a memo requesting that I begin attending the Water Department meetings after 3 years on the job. I was sure that a new Director would see the wisdom in that. Williams declined my request and I was still unwelcome at meetings. Not only that but other water managers like Jim Moorefield began withholding information from me.
And soon after that I started having more restrictions placed on me. I no longer received water department memos and yet I was on TV speaking to citizens about water. I was getting pretty frustrated and I let Williams know. He finally permitted me to attend meetings---after three years on the job.
Then Director Williams made a change that would have surely destroyed me and my program. He announced in a memo that from now on I would not have any contact with the media—and that his new person would contact the media for me. I was infuriated. Working with the media was crucial to my program’s success. I was angry at Director Williams and I let him know it. I knew what was happening. I was being muzzled and I would not stand for it. I got very loud and he backed down, probably because I still had some strong support from The Council and Mayor Allen. Maybe they thought if they made things more difficult for me I would quit.
Williams backed down that time, but I knew eventually he would return with more restrictions. My news releases about declining water demand were being contradicted by the City’s claim that we were running out of water. Revenue from lost water sales because of conservation was upsetting Williams. He and Kitchen, in front of the TV cameras and reporters were always praising conservation and calling for more--but they were bluffing. If they and Mayor Allen were all for conservation like they claimed, why wouldn't they invest their money in conservation?
I sensed the dam scammers were making it clear to Council and Mayor Allen that WC was destroying the City’s argument for the Randleman Dam. Mayor Allen did nothing to expand my program even though she was supposedly an environmentalist. That’s because they got to her. She became a dam scammer too. Like Robert Redford in CONDOR I did not know who I could tell about what I knew. I told John Robinson of the N&R about water demand steadily declining and he said that was not news. Is he on the scam team too? I did not know how many in city hall were still pro-conservation and how many joined the dam scam. After he retired longtime city hall editor Richard J. Harriman wrote on November 22, 1999, “As Editor for the City of Greensboro and as a publisher of news releases I was naturally interested when the city hired Mike Baron for a position that would require extensive communications skills. I quickly became acquainted with Mike and his unique operating style. Perhaps because of the outstanding job Mike did, few were aware of the overwhelming obstacles he faced. The city administration was not only uncertain about what it expected but it also showed little interest in providing direction or support.” Harriman and other managers at city hall could not believe how I was being shunned and kept out of water department meetings. Many could not believe after all my success how little I was given to work with. Harriman and many others in city hall did not know about the scam. Like the masses, he thought Greensboro was really running out of water. Harriman wrote, “That apartment demonstration project established the Water Conservation Office as a viable force. Later, a whole series of ventures followed for which Mike was widely recognized. I believe Mike’s success was attributed to a number of factors. He had the ability to see the problem clearly and to devise a number of possible remedies. His printed materials, made presentations and did media productions that always sparkled with clarity and humor. He is at ease in front of audiences and the camera. Mike is highly inventive and has that rare talent of presenting material in a memorable way. Single handedly, with minimal resources, and often against obstacles, Mike forged a water conservation program that was nationally recognized by the US Environmental Protection Agency.”
By then I had become an expert in Greensboro water. I discovered many lies that were being told to justify the Randleman Dam. Greensboro was not running out of water, it was wasting water on purpose. The reservoirs were lowered deliberately using all the available tricks like selling irrigation water below cost, free irrigation meters with no off-season fees, promoting lawn watering, giving decreasing block rate discounts to large users, forcing contractors to include irrigation systems, increasing pressure, requiring the washing of cans, bottles and jars in the recycling program, and pricing water 47% lower than what other NC cities charge. I cannot even list all the tricks they employed to waste water here because they are so numerous.
I knew that surrounding communities were offering Greensboro their water and Greensboro was refusing it—until after the Dam was approved. I offered dozens of ways Greensboro could reduce water use even further and grow the reservoirs. They were all rejected. I made many proposals and never got any responses. They were not interested is preserving the reservoirs. Instead they wanted them empty because the visual effect was supurb for the Randleman Dam.
For three years they kept saying water use was increasing when it was decreasing. They lied. They said we were running out of water. And they knew that I knew they were lying. And since I was their chief spokesperson on TV I was expected to repeat the lies and suppress the truth. I would not comply.
I knew Director Shaw’s 1995 water forecast (see chart) was completely bogus and fashioned only to argue for the Randleman Dam. I knew that Buffalo Creek was at capacity for the disposal of used water and that Greensboro could never grow the way it wanted because it had no stream capacity left. And my boss Herb and I talked often about the mills closing and all the water we would have.
The whole case for Randleman Dam was a scam, a fraud against the public. And some scammers had different reasons than others for participating in the conspiracy. Some wanted unrestricted growth in Greensboro—can you guess who they were? For some like Shaw and Williams it was pride and the expansion of the waterworks, their giant Erector Set. By the way, Greensboro assumed it would operate the Randleman Water Plant and Reservoir. Sorry Charlie. And some wanted to outgrow Charlotte and Raleigh. City Manager Kitchen prevented WC from expanding because he knew what was expected of him—to produce the Dam. Mayor Allen joined the scammers, and so did much of the Council---the very same City Council that brought you the PROJECT HOMESTEAD scandal. And some of those scammers are still in Council seats today.
When they caught on that I would not be a dam scammer I was charged with “Not being a team player.” The harassment and the shunning I was receiving got much worse. I had to begin taking an anti-depressant it got so bad. And I risked insubordination because I kept speaking and writing the truth about water conservation—and declining demand. And I stopped saying, “We must have the Randleman Dam by the year 2000” because it was a lie. I am a devout Christian and even a licensed minister. I would never lie to the public like the scammers did. The public deserved the truth, and that’s my motivation for this blog—to get the truth out and expose this municipal fraud. This kind of thing goes no across the country and it is a threat to our nations' water resources. As long as water sellers and waterworks expanders are in charge of conservation programs water will continue to be sold and not conserved.
My evaluations said that I was making an outstanding contribution to city government, and now suddenly I was judged a maverick and not a team player. I began backing up my files and taking home my plants. I knew they would eventually find a way to fire me but it would take all of their nerve to do it. I had my responsibilities taken away. I was put on the telephones. Then during the drought Kitchen put his incompetent Assistant City Manager Harrell in charge of Water. Harrell eventually informed me that I was no longer in charge of Water Conservation—that he was taking it over. He began giving me make-work assignments.
I was so distraught from depression and knowing that very soon I would be out on the street again—jobless--and looking for work at 54. I had a family to support. I never got the raises I was promised. I had so much success, so many awards, and thanks to me Greensboro did not run out of water. I saved 2 billion gallons with my programs. I created a new lake and called it "Lake Efficiency." If I was compensated just one-penny for every gallon of water I saved, Greensboro would have owed me $20 million dollars for my work. That’s right, 2 billion gallons @ a penny a gallon is $20 million dollars.
Eventually City Manager Ed Kitchen gave me a written warning to “join the team” or be fired. What he really meant was that I should sing the party line...or else. I wrote back, “The reverse side of my City ID badge states that our City Code of Values is Honesty, Integrity, Respect, and Stewardship. Those are my Christian values as well. Spreading the lie that water demand is increasing violates our code of HONESTY. Deliberately selling down the reservoirs to achieve an end is poor STEWARDSHIP. The City’s fraudulent reporting of increasing water demand has gone on for three years now. Do you not worry that you and your conspirators will eventually be found committing fraud?”
A few weeks later Water Director Williams and Assistant City Manager Harrell trumped up more charges and then fired me. I was given 10 minutes to pack and then escorted out of City Hall. I received 2 weeks severance pay. Not a single City Council member ever contacted me about my termination. That’s rather strange given my success… unless of course they had all become dam scammers too.
I was used and abused by the City of Greensboro just to get the Randleman Dam approved. They could not have completed their scam without starting some kind of Water Conservation program. It permitted them to claim they were doing everything possible. Little did they know I would become one of the top ten WC manager’s in the United States and water conservation would succeed and water use would decline. Here’s how good conservation got in Greensboro—I was making (releasing) new water at a lower cost than what our water plants were spending to make water.
A decade has passed and the scam and the cover-up continues because the dam project is not complete and reputations are at stake. If I knew just how much pain and anguish I would have suffered on the job and after my dismissal I just may have taken the bullet.
Robert Redford discovered a conspiracy and became a threat. He narrowly escaped being “taken out.” Now Jack Bauer is fighting a conspiracy and they are out to kill him. And as one of the nation’s top WC managers I was “taken out” because I knew too much, I had too much success and I became a threat to the conspiracy to trick the public into a dam and reservoir it never needed.
Whoever thought that water conservation could be such a dangerous job?
Please spread the word about my municipal water fraud story. Email Greensboro citizens, environmentalists and water professionals and tell them to Google two words--dam scam--to be taken to my blog. Thanks for your interest, and special thanks to those who are encouraging me!
Come back tomorrow and discover what Water Conservation professionals across the U.S. are saying about this story.
Posted by Mike J Baron at 10:38 PM