Becoming a director of the Moraga-Orinda Fire District was never on John Jex's bucket list.
Since he retired as an audit partner with Deloitte in San Francisco, Jex has served on boards of numerous national and regional trade associations, and he and his wife Marlene volunteered for three years as directors of humanitarian services in Eastern Europe and southeast Africa for a large nongovernment organization. As Jex told a friend who encouraged him to run for the seat now held by Kathleen Famulener, he was not a candidate to serve on the MOFD board.
"I was concerned about the time commitment," Jex said. "I was also concerned about what I was reading in the paper. I knew there were financial difficulties, but I knew the district was an important part of the community." So after another request three years later from the same friend, Jex agreed to run for the directorship vacated by the retirement of Fred Weil. Jex ran unopposed and was appointed to the MOFD Division 2 seat in lieu of election.
One might reasonably think that a man who coordinated disaster relief efforts for three years in Africa would be unfazed by the problems of a suburban fire district. "I did not know the depth or the detail," Jex said of the district's financial situation. "I found out this was going to be a challenge."
He talked with Fire Chief Stephen Healy. He absorbed industry background from both management and the firefighters union. He went through the district Comprehensive Annual Financial Report as a "cold and independent" board member. He did not like what he read.
"I needed to see why they did what they did," Jex said of the district staff and of the auditor who confirmed the CAFR. Before he would approve the document, Jex insisted that the risks faced by both the public and MOFD employees be properly disclosed, such as the exact amount of the district's unfunded pension liability. The newly elected district finance committee will recommend to the board any revisions to the report.
"Employees need to know what they're faced with and what the district plans to do to honor that obligation," Jex said. "People rely on these financial statements to make decisions. We need to communicate more effectively with our stakeholders."
Born in Utah, with bachelor's and master's degrees in accounting from Brigham Young University, the 43-year Moraga resident said he was impressed with the overall operation of the district. "It just needs to be more realistic and direct in its financial reporting," Jex said.
Being realistic and direct are attributes of which Jex is not in short supply.