• Thu. Nov 24th, 2022

Powerful California Water Influencer Birmingham Resigns From Westlands Post – GV Wire

ByPatricia S. Stevens

Nov 24, 2022

Longtime general manager of the Westlands Water District, Tom Birmingham, announced on Wednesday that he would be retiring on December 31.

“I’m retiring with extreme pride in what Westlands has accomplished over the past two decades,” he wrote in an email announcement.

Birmingham faced the likelihood of a newly elected majority on the Westlands board being willing to replace him after the new members were installed on 2 December.

Instead, according to a Westlands announcement, he will step down from the district where he has served for more than 36 years.

Birmingham’s settlement amounts to more than $660,000

Birmingham is expected to take away a healthy severance package of at least $664,000.

In 2020, Birmingham earned $442,196 in salaries and $55,633 in benefits for a total package of $497,892, according to Transparent California, a website that tracks public employee compensation.

According to the contract, he is to receive a severance payment based on his monthly salary multiplied by the remaining months of his tenure. In December 2021, the Westlands board extended his contract to November 2024 with a full year to spare.

This contract extension was a major bone of contention among Westlands producers, who have grown increasingly frustrated with Birmingham’s management style and direction in recent years.

Producers said they felt new ideas to regionalize water supply were being ignored by Westlands management and that Birmingham continued to focus on litigation and legislation rather than working with other districts and community groups.

The “Change” board election

Frustrated producers formed a coalition that successfully fielded a list of candidates in the recent election, giving the Change group a five-strong majority on the nine-member board.

And they made no secret of their desire to replace Birmingham.

“Leadership change is fundamental,” said Sarah Woolf, who once served on the Westlands board and helped organize the Change coalition.

In addition, the group had four main objectives:

  • Urgent development of more groundwater recharge.
  • Providing producers with clear and consistent pumping regulations.
  • Develop a plan to incentivize agricultural alternatives.
  • Improve relationships with other water districts, disadvantaged communities and environmental and drinking water stakeholders.

Birmingham had overseen Westlands during a period of significant changes in California’s water world, including major restrictions on exports from the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta, on which Westlands depends almost exclusively.

The water world has been further complicated by the state’s Sustainable Groundwater Management Act, which will enforce restrictions on groundwater pumping.

The district’s slow and uninnovative response to SGMA was a major impetus for Westlands growers to take action, Woolf said.

The new board is expected to appoint an interim general manager and begin searching for a permanent replacement after he is sworn in next month, Woolf said.

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