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Closeup portrait unhappy, angry, mad, pissed off woman, giving thumb down gesture with hand looking with negative facial expression, disapproval, isolated orange background. Human emotion attitudeRMC Water and Environment, the company that was Cal Am’s project manager for the first attempted desalination project, has found itself in hot water again in San Jose.

Two recent news reports focus on a $4 million contract that was awarded to the San Jose company without competitive bidding by the Santa Clara County Water District even though one of the district’s top officials is married to one of RMC’s owners.

The new reports, on the San Jose Inside website and on NBC Bay Area, said the district’s board wasn’t aware of the relationship when it approved the contract on a 5-2 vote. The dissenting voters, including the board chairman, have called for a formal outside investigation.

The contract is one of several the district has awarded to RMC over the past several years. It calls for the company to draw up plans for a water-recycling project.

In Monterey County, RMC was accused in 2011 of making $160,000 in under the table payments to county water official Steve Collins while he and the company were working on Cal Am’s first effort at a desalination plant for the Peninsula. Collins pleaded no contest to conflict charges but RMC was never charged. The criminal case played an important role in ending the project, but Cal Am is attempting to move forward with a different plan. The current project has stalled, also because of conflict of interest concerns, this time involving a hydrologist who had been retained by the water company and the Public Utilities Commission to analyze water well technology for which he holds the patent.

According to the news reports, Melanie Richardson, deputy director of the Santa Clara water district, reported in a statement of economic interests filed in 2010 that she held stock in RMC worth between $100,000 and $1 million through her husband, RMC principal Tom Richardson.

Melanie Richardson and RMC have denied any wrongdoing. The district’s top official, Beau Goldie, told NBC Bay Area that the district had looked into the relationship several years ago and determined there was no conflict. He said Melanie Richardson has no role in awarding contracts to RMC.

The contract awarded to RMC without competition involves design work for a recycling plant that could cost as much as $800 million. District insiders told reporters they feared that RMC would have an inside track for that contract as well. Goldie said it was decided to hire RMC without seeking bids in order to expedite the process in response to the drought, but district critics said it would be at least four years before the plant could be operational.

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Monterey County Supervisor Dave Potter and former county water czar Curtis Weeks are among those expected to testify in the trial that pits the Marina Coast Water District against the team of Monterey County and California American Water.

The trial centers on the failed regional desalination project, which was a partnership between the three agencies that are now fighting over responsibility for millions of dollars in bills paid and unpaid. The trial is scheduled to start today in San Francisco Superior Court and to last about a week.

Potter and Weeks are included in the county’s list of expected witnesses. Lawyers for the county also plan to introduce videotaped testimony from Steve Collins. He is the former county water official whose side job with the project manager helped lead to the collapse of the project. After a long investigation, Collins pleaded no contest to one count of conflict of interest but maintained that everything he did was at the direction of Weeks, Potter and another county supervisor, Lou Calcagno. Collins is also expected to be called as a witness for Marina Coast.

Key issues in the trial are who was responsible for Collins’ paid relationship with RMC Water and Environment, the project manager, and when the county and Cal Am learned of his double role. The timing of their knowledge is critical to determining whether the county and Cal Am acted to void the project agreements in a timely manner or waited until contractual deadlines had expired.

Though Potter was heavily involved in the desalination venture on behalf of the county, he has said in depositions and in interviews with investigators that he did not know about Collins’ paid work for RMC for close to a year. According to lawyers for the county, he’ll be repeating that stance this week.

Perhaps the most interesting witness on the county’s list is Weeks. He was the chief executive of the county Water Resources Agency while Collins was an active member of the agency’s board of directors. Around the time Collins went to work for RMC, he and Weeks formed a partnership, a consulting firm that had visions of taking over management of the desalination project.

Under some amount of pressure, Weeks left the county position after Collins’ double role had been publicized. At one point, according to Collins’ lawyer, Weeks was considering seeking whistleblower protection and testifying on behalf of Collins. Things changed when the county offered him half of his contractual severance pay and he went to work for an environmental consulting company that has been working for the county under a series of contracts. That arrangement led to speculation that the county had essentially bought his silence.

Also among those on the county’s list are Cal Am President Robert Maclean and Lyndel Melton, a principal with RMC.

Jim Heitzman, former general manager of the Marina Coast Water District, is expected to testify about his role in helping to arrange for Collins to work for RMC, which eventually paid him $160,000.

Two lawyers are on the county’s list, outside counsel Dan Carroll, who represented the county throughout the troubled desal project, and Lloyd Lowrey, former general counsel  for Marina Coast.

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