Former Vernon city official Eric T. Fresch, whose financial dealings were at the center of a major state audit, was found dead June 28 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 received a report early that 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.
According to Keith Boyd of the Coroner’s division of the Tiburon Sheriff’s Department, it could be weeks before the cause of Fresch’s death is determined.
The news of Fresch’s death comes on the heels of a state audit into Vernon’s finances that was released on the same day Fresch was reported missing. In it, auditors noted that Fresch had failed to respond to repeated subpoenas for information.
Following the release of the audit, State Sen. Kevin de Leon, in a harshly worded statement, called for a criminal investigation into Fresch and Vernon’s finances. Upon hearing of Fresch’s death the next morning, De Leon released a statement expressing his “deepest condolences and sincerest sympathies to his [Fresch’s] 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 boasted about benefits from its energy utility — lacked “a clear energy strategy” and had no policies to “guide decisions to issue debt.”
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Last November Fresch announced his intention to resign, but he continued to work for the city as a paid consultant until May of this year. He was involved in many of the city’s biggest financial deals, especially those that involved Vernon’s Light and Power Department, including a once highly touted deal to purchase a 15-year prepaid supply of natural gas for the power plant that has since gone sour.
At a recent Vernon City Council meeting, city officials admitted the purchase of the natural gas supply was a bad deal, noting that the value of natural gas had gone down significantly since they closed the deal.
State auditors pointed out the city’s selling of a newly constructed power plant just two years after making the deal to purchase a 15-year supply of natural gas.
A Vernon business owner, who has seen his electricity rates and cost of doing business 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 have contributed to the city’s current financial mess.
The city released a statement Friday afternoon, offering “its heartfelt condolences to the family of former Vernon City Administrator Eric T. Fresch in their time of great personal loss due to his unfortunate passing.”