Clifford Young, president of the board of directors for the West Valley Water District in Rialto, during a recent interview.

By Joe Nelson | jnelson@scng.com | San Bernardino Sun
Published: January 17, 2018 at 4:42 pm | Updated: January 17, 2018 at 11:30 pm

A lawsuit accusing a Rialto water district’s board president of improper hiring and spending backs the accounts of current and former top administrators who were placed on leave and are under investigation after speaking out.

Former West Valley Water District Chief Financial Officer Suzanne Cook alleges in her lawsuit, filed July 13, 2017, in San Bernardino Superior Court, that board president Clifford Young pressured the district’s then-general manager to fire her after she spoke out about Young’s activities.

In the suit, Cook accuses Young of expensing a hotel bill for a consultant, which Young charged on his personal credit card to earn Marriott reward points, and then having the consultant reimburse the water district — a violation of district ordinances. When confronted about the procedural lapse and asked to have the consultant reimburse Young instead of the district, Young “became very upset” and refused, saying, “How would that look? A consultant paying ME back?!” according to the lawsuit.

The suit also accuses Young of engaging in unethical hiring practices that violated district protocol. He rejected job candidates recommended by the district’s interview panels and pressured the general manager to hire his preferred candidates, many of them Young’s former colleagues from Cal State San Bernardino.

Cook began working at the water district in October 2010 as an accounting supervisor and worked her way up to chief financial officer before she was fired by General Manager Matthew Litchfield on Aug. 24, 2016, despite prior praise from the board about her hard work and diligence, according to the lawsuit. She claims she was fired for speaking out about Young, but the reason given for her dismissal was that she did not pass her probation period.

Young called Cook’s allegations “outright lies” in a telephone interview.

“A lot of this has to do with governance issues of the board. I have done zero wrong,” Young said. He said a pending audit will show that his use of district funds and expense reporting habits are above board.

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