Former Vernon city official, Eric T. Fresch, whose financial dealings were at the center of a major state audit, was found dead Thursday night at a state park in Northern California.
His body was found on the shore of a rocky beach on the east side of Angel Island State Park, said Tiburon Fire Department Battalion Chief Ed Lynch. Fresch was 58 and a resident of Tiburon.
Park officials first received a report early Thursday afternoon that Fresch had missed two scheduled ferries back to Tiburon. Park superintendent, Amy Brees, said they conducted a search. At 6pm, they found Fresch’s bike, which led them to his body.
The news of Fresch’s death comes as auditors for the state, looked into Vernon’s finances. In a report released that same day, auditors said Fresch failed to respond to repeated subpoenas for information. Senator Kevin de Leon, who on Thursday called for a criminal investigation into Fresch and the city’s finances, found out his Fresch’s death the next morning and released a statement expressing his “deepest condolences and sincerest sympathies to his family and wife.”
The state’s report that prompted De Leon’s call for a criminal probe pointed to numerous financial problems stemming from “past poor decision making” that left the city’s energy utility with a $24 million deficit, and the city itself with $60 million a year in debt services for the next ten years. The report also said the city, which has long touted its energy utility, lacked “a clear energy strategy” and had no policies to “guide decisions to issue debt.”
Fresch who last November announced his intent to resign, and continued to consult with the city until May, was involved in many of the city’s big financial deals, especially ones that involved its light and power department, such as the purchase of a 15-year prepaid supply of natural gas for the power plant.
At a recent Vernon city council meeting, city officials admitted the purchase of the natural gas supply was a bad deal, and that the value of natural gas had gone down significantly since they purchased it.
State’s auditors said the city sold off a newly-constructed power plant two years after they purchased the 15 year natural gas supply.
One businessman in the city who has seen his electricity rates and cost of doing go up in recent years told city officials at the meeting, “If we were your stockholders, we would fire you.” Others threatened to move part of or all of their operations elsewhere.
City officials once praised Fresch for his financial work with the city, but last week in response to the business community’s outrage at higher electricity rates and a proposed utility tax, they admitted that deals like the natural gas purchase was part of what landed the city in its current situation.
The city released a statement Friday afternoon, offering “its heartfelt condolences to the family of former Vernon City Adminsitrator Eric T. Fresch in their time of great personal loss due to his unfortunate passing.”