The Merced Irrigation District general manager recently declined an offer by the board of directors for a new contract and a pay increase.
"I was notified that there was intent to offer me a new contract," said MID General Manager John Sweigard "For personal reasons that I'm not going to discuss, I declined."
The move, which came weeks before three of the five seats on the board are scheduled to change hands, has been labeled as controversial by some. Voters ousted all incumbents in the November election.
"It's the wrong thing to do to come in there last minute, lame duck and give him a raise and a new contract," said Gino Pedretti, outgoing director for Division 2. "The people voted us out so that means they're not happy with what's going on."
The board reviewed the general manager's performance in close session on Nov. 20 at their last meeting. Pedretti said he was the only member to vote against offering the contract.
The general manager received good marks and the board decided he was due a pay increase, said Tim Pellissier, director for Division 1.
"There should be no controversy," he said. "I guess some people thought the new board should do the evaluation, but I don't know how they could be fair to John because they haven't worked with him."
Sweigard's three-year contract expires Jan. 11. The contract automatically is renew on a yearly basis from here on out, unless he or the board gives written notice 60 calendar days in advance.
Under the contract, Sweigard makes about $170,000 a year, and participates in the CalPERS retirement program.
The new board members are scheduled to be sworn in this month.
Scott Koehn, a regional representative with Balchem Corp., replaces incumbent Pedretti in Division 2, which includes south Merced and El Nido.
Winton almond farmer Kevin Gonzalves will step in for Chairwoman Suzy Hultgren in Division 4, which includes the cities of Livingston, Cressey, Winton and a small part of Atwater.
Billy Pimentel, a former board member defeated Wil Hunter in the contest for Division 5, which encompasses most of Atwater and the area southwest of the city.
Pellissier and Dave Long, Director for Division 3, will be up for reelection in 2014.
The new board is scheduled to have its first meeting Dec. 18, according to MID officials. The board has signaled it may call one last special meeting with the outgoing members.
Reporter Joshua Emerson Smith can be reached at (209) 385-2486 or firstname.lastname@example.org.