MSWD Directors, Randy Duncan and Steve Grasha, are the subject of an investigation into whether they meet residency requirements to hold office
DESERT HOT SPRINGS — Two directors of the Mission Springs Water District Board of Directors —Randy Duncan and Steve Grasha — are under investigation for possibly violating the residency requirements essential to serving the district that each is elected to serve.
After meeting in closed session, the Board of Directors voted 3-0 last week to authorize the board’s general counsel, John Pinkney, to initiate the quo warranto process on behalf of the district. Directors Russ Martin, president; Nancy S. Wright, vice president; and Ivan Sewell, director, all supported the formal inquiry.
Quo warranto is a special form of legal action used to resolve a dispute over whether a specific person has the legal right to hold the public office that he or she occupies. Quo warranto is used to test a person’s legal right to hold an office, not to evaluate the person’s performance in the office.
The hasty action follows a June 3 letter from District Attorney Mike Hestrin in which he only addresses Duncan’s residency, not Grasha’s. The board’s motion, for a reason not clear, includes Grasha, too. You may read Hestrin’s letter by clicking here.
“Without a qualifying residence within his district, Mr. Duncan vacated his position as a director on the Mission Springs Water District Board,” Hestrin states in the letter.
“According to Government Code …. Mr. Duncan’s position became vacant when he ceased to be an inhabitant of the district for which he was appointed, and within which the duties of his position are required to be discharged,” Hestrin stated. “Based upon the facts as we understand them, our legal analysis has concluded that Mr. Duncan’s current position as a Director on the Mission Springs Water District Board constitutes a clear violation of Water Code $30508.”
Duncan, whose current term expires in December 2024, acknowledges owning a second home in Arizona, adding that he’s had it for 10 years. Beyond that, he declined to comment.
If Duncan has vacated his position, as Hestrin asserts, it calls into question whether he will be forced to pay back the money he has earned since being elected. MSWD directors earn $100 per meeting with a maximum of 10 meetings per month.
It also calls into question any and all votes Duncan cast. Will they be null and void?
Desert Hot Springs City Councilmember Russell Betts said, “It is unfortunate to see something like this, more so when it is not just the possible loss of office but also the possibility of having to reimburse past compensation received from the date in which ineligibility is determined. I suppose MSWD Board will also have to determine if any actions taken by vote of the Board of Directors will be impacted.”
Duncan, an insurance broker, told Uken Report that he has lived in Desert Hot Springs since 1988. He said he votes there and has his business license in California.
Grasha, who has been the subject of a similar inquiry before and cleared of any wrongdoing, attempted to explain that to the board, but was abruptly and rudely cut off and the meeting adjourned. He declined to comment on the board’s action. You may watch the vote and brief discussion by clicking here.
You may also read the results of the first investigation into Grasha by clicking here.
Grasha’s term expires in December 2022. He has told Uken Report that he will not seek re-election to the MSWD Board of Directors. He will instead seek a term on the Desert Water Agency board of directors.
The issue all started with a request that the Riverside County District Attorney’s Office received to investigate a substantial violation by Director Randy Duncan of the residency requirements needed to serve on the Mission Springs Water District Board. The complaint alleges that Duncan no longer lives in the division he was elected to represent. Such a violation may jeopardize the finality of actions taken by the Board since the violation occurred.
According to the Mission Springs Water District’s website, Duncan was most recently appointed to the Board of Directors Oct. 7, 2014, after having served on the board a few years prior. The website also mentions that Duncan “has lived in Desert Hot Springs for more than 25 years.”
Why would someone who calls Desert Hot Springs and California home, need — or want — Arizona license plates, his critics ask.
In the letter, Hestrin states that his office recently learned that Duncan no longer resides within the Mission Springs Water District, having purchased a home outside of California in November of 2020.
“While Mr. Duncan used to live in Desert Hot Springs within the District, we determined that he sold that residence upon purchasing a new home out of state,” Hestrin’s letter states. “We have also discovered that Mr. Duncan stays with a friend in Desert Hot Springs about 4 days per week, but that friend’s residence is not within Mr. Duncan’s Water Board district.”
Mission Springs Water Board directors must reside within their respective divisions. If the director moves out of his or her division, then they are deemed to have vacated their position if they fail to reestablish proper residency within 180 days.