The 2019 payout authorization form for Chief Financial Officer Hosny Shouman. Document courtesy of the Idyllwild Water District

Idyllwild Water District (IWD) Chief Financial Officer Hosny Shouman processed a payment cashing out 160 vacation hours in October of 2019, when the district was without a general manager to approve that vacation payout. The sign-off on the payout did not occur until early December. 

Former General Manager Michael Creighton was fired from his position in a special board meeting on Sept. 25. To replace Creighton, the district hired Darren Milner, whose first day with the district was Oct. 21, 2019. Milner abruptly resigned about one month later on Sunday, Nov. 17 and, according to internal emails obtained by the newspaper, Milner’s last day in the office was Wednesday, Nov. 13. The district did not appoint newly hired (start date Nov. 1) Field Supervisor Mitch Freeman as the district’s acting general manager until Nov. 27. 

In response to a California Public Records Act (CPRA) request to IWD, the Town Crier received a document (Supplemental Pay Authorization Form) showing that the sign-off by Freeman on the October vacation payout to Shouman did not occur until early December, about two months after he had processed the check. At the bottom of the eventual payout authorization to Shouman is an initialed note from then-acting general manager Freeman: “This was actually done in October. No GM at the time.” Freeman approved the payout on Dec. 6. The approval document was signed by Shouman and Freeman only.   

The newspaper reached out to Board President Dr. Charles Schelly, Freeman and Shouman for comment as to why the payment (vacation cashed) was processed before it was properly authorized. A 2014 Supplemental Pay Authorization Form obtained by the newspaper used by Shouman required general manager and “board” signatures. 

The newspaper received a response only from current General Manager Leo Havener (hired during a March 4 special meeting), “In response to your question, although the vacation pay out was not signed by a GM or Board President at the 

time, this is solely because the District was temporarily without a GM, and there is no place for a member of the Board to sign the form in the temporary absence of a GM. In addition, the District’s procedures do not require the Board President to sign such a form. More importantly, under California law, an employee generally has a right to cash out unused vacation time, and the Acting GM ratified the pay-out of vacation when he started, which had, in fact, been earned by Mr. Shouman.”

It was brought to the newspaper’s attention that Freeman may no longer be with the district. Havener responded to a CPRA request, “We have completed a search for responsive records in your emailed Public Records request dated July, 13, 2020 for a resignation communication by Mitch Freeman. No disclosable public records exist in response to the request of July 13, 2020 (1:45 p.m.) because under section 6254(c) of the California Public Records Act, certain personnel records are protected from disclosure under the exemption for ‘Personnel, medical, or similar files, the disclosure of which would constitute an unwarranted invasion of personal privacy.’ In this instance, the District finds the public interest in employee privacy clearly outweighs the public interest in disclosing such records (Govt. Code Section 6255). Thus, any such exempt record would not be produced. The determination as to these exemptions was made by District General Counsel.” 

When the newspaper asked for clarification as a result of his CPRA response that Freeman did in fact resign, Havener responded, “I am not answering that question.”