Powerful Kern water agency paid more than $600,000 to oust its longtime attorney

May 28, 2024
by Lois Henry
The Kern County Water Agency headquarters in Bakersfield. Lois Henry / SJV Water
Lois Henry

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A settlement agreement obtained by SJV Water shows the longtime attorney for the Kern County Water Agency was paid $640,000 when she was fired in March.

The agency voted to fire Attorney Amelia Minaberrigarai after a March 18 special meeting. She had just three months left on her contract. The agency stated she was not fired for cause, which meant she was entitled to be paid for the remaining months on her contract, or about $80,000.

Instead, she received $640,000 in exchange for not suing the agency, according to the settlement agreement. The agency also agreed to treat Minaberrigarai as a “retiring employee,” meaning she was also paid for any sick or vacation time she had banked.

Amelia Minaberrigarai

That may have been a substantial as Minaberrigarai negotiated an extra 200 hours of vacation back in 2020 when she temporarily took over the General Manager duties while the Agency was hiring and onboarding Tom McCarthy for that position.

“I think it’s a reasonable settlement,” said Tim Ashlock, General Manager of the Buena Vista Water Storage District.

The agency declined further comment.

Minaberrigarai was hired as the agency’s General Counsel in March 2005.

Her base annual salary in 2022 was $308,007, according to the most recent numbers on Transparent California, a nonprofit site that collects pay data from government entities. She also received $10,434 in “other pay” and $210,039.56 in benefits for a total compensation package of $528,480.56.

However, in June 2019, she also assumed general manager duties while the agency searched for a replacement for Curtis Creel, who retired. After it hired Tom McCarthy in March 2020, Minaberrigarai acted as co-general manager for six months while McCarthy learned about Kern’s water world.

For those duties, Minaberrigarai was paid significantly more. Transparent California shows that in 2020 she received an additional $154,124 in “other pay,” bumping her total package to $733,936.68. An addendum to her contract shows she also received an additional 200 hours of vacation for taking on the general manager duties over 2019-2020.

Replacing Minabaerrigarai will not be simple as the agency is a complicated organization with fingers in almost every water aspect of California water and the general counsel is a key position.

Just some of its activities include:

  • It holds the second largest contract in the state to bring water to Kern County from the delta.
  • It owns rights to the Kern River.
  • Most exchanges, sales and movement of water into and out of the county have to be authorized by the agency
  • It owns the Cross Valley Canal, which moves water east and west across Kern County and also ties into the federal Friant-Kern Canal.
  • It is a part owner of the vast Kern Water Bank and operates its own separate bank along the river called the Pioneer Project.
  • It is one of three members of the Kern River Groundwater Sustainability Agency.
  • It oversees Improvement District 4, which imports and treats drinking water for large sections of northeast Bakersfield
  • It is a large player, both politically and financially, in the Department of Water Resources’ quest to build the Delta Conveyance Project, a tunnel to move Sacramento River water beneath the delta to farms and cities in the south.

SJV Water is an independent, nonprofit news site dedicated to covering water in the San Joaquin Valley. Get inside access to SJV Water by becoming a member.


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