MODESTO -- Allen Short, the Modesto Irrigation District's general manager for 19 years, will retire Dec. 31.
He was not forced out, Short and some board members said a week ago, though they acknowledged biting public criticism in recent times and some dissatisfaction at the board level.
"I think it's probably time," board member Nick Blom said. "It's a good thing to get some change."
Short, 59, said, "I'm gratified at the work we've done, but it's time to do something a little bit different."
He quickly landed a job as executive director of a new coalition of six water agencies whose members include the Modesto district. Short already had been leading the San Joaquin Tributaries Authority since it was created in May.
His hiring formalizes the arrangement, though his salary has not been determined, said Doug Elmets, spokesman for the authority. Short's annual MID pay is $240,507.
The San Joaquin Tributaries Authority combines the Modesto district with the Turlock, Merced, Oakdale and South San Joaquin irrigation districts. San Francisco, which gets drinking water from the Tuolumne River, also belongs; the Tuolumne, Stanislaus and Merced rivers drain into the San Joaquin River.
Short, 59, last week announced his Dec. 31 departure from the Modesto district, saying he would "retire to pursue other professional goals." The next day will be his first with the San Joaquin Tributaries Authority.
Despite his lengthy tenure and accomplishments, Short and his administration came under fire for ambitious plans to sell water to San Francisco, the botched construction of a water treatment plant to serve Modesto, delivering power outside the Modesto district's core service area and steep electrical rate hikes imposed in recent years.
The most contentious issue was the proposal to sell water at a premium to San Francisco, an idea the board abandoned in September after months of public controversy.
No decision on replacement
The board has not decided whether to choose an interim leader from within the district or launch a wider recruitment, board chairman Tom Van Groningen said.
Board member Glen Wild said, "Allen has been nothing but professional."
Van Groningen praised Short as "an asset to the MID."
Shielded by other board members, Short survived open animosity from former board member Mike Serpa a few years ago.
But top-level support seemed to erode after Blom and Larry Byrd were elected last year. Byrd on Tuesday asked the board next week to consider changes in policy that would augment their power and restrict Short's.
The fifth board member, Paul Warda, said Wednesday: "He's entitled to his retirement. I don't want to say anything good or bad."
News of Short's retirement drew mixed reaction from inside and outside the district. Some praised him as a strong and visionary leader while others said he is a control freak.
"I wish him well," said John Duarte, a critic of the water transfer pushed by Short. "MID is due for a new generation of leadership and this is part of that transition," Duarte added.
Frank Clark, an Oakdale Irrigation District board member, said Short's retirement "is one of the things that had to happen for MID to move on. You just can't move on unless you make a lot of changes."
Modesto Bee staff writer Garth Stapley can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (209) 578-2390.