A little something on the side

February 21, 2012

By KAREN VELIE

Ask Bob Nicholson and he can point out how households and businesses are wasting water and money. He tells people how to save.

Whether Nicholson’s advice is going to cost you anything depends on which hat he’s wearing that day.

Nicholson makes up to $66,352 a year giving advice to people on their water and sewer usage as a San Luis Obispo utilities conservation technician. But Nicholson also offers to sell the same services to people through an unlicensed private consulting business.

Nicholson says that there is nothing wrong with what he’s doing. However, SLO’s municipal Code says “employees must avoid conflicts of private interests with public duties and responsibilities and shall not do indirectly what may not be done directly.”

In June 2010, Nicholson conducted a city-sponsored water conservation clinic at the Farm Supply in San Luis Obispo.

Before the clinic took place, he sent an email to Mary Moloney, a local realtor, asking her to spread the word about his clinic. He noted that he is with the City of San Luis Obispo’s utility department and provided his private consulting business’ phone number.

Maloney posted the email on the Central Coast Real Estate website.

“Given the cost of utilities, this short clinic should provide the attendee with the tools to help keep costs down,” Nicholson wrote in his email. “Recently, the first three businesses I visited during the day had significant water leaks – Totaling about $3,000 per month in water and sewer charges. That can be a huge hit, and two of the businesses were restaurants who were not aware of the ongoing leaks.

“Mary, I would appreciate it if you would pass the word around to friends and colleagues, and your customers,” Nicholson wrote.

Nicholson, a contributor to the San Luis Obispo-based Information Press, writes about water conservation and gets advertising for his private consulting business.

“Bob Nicholson has a degree in natural resources management from Cal Poly, SLO with more than 20 years of experience in water conservation, irrigation consultation and leak detection. Bob is available for residential and commercial consultation. Call him evenings and weekends at 805-440-6977 and ask about his services,” the Information Press says in blurbs at the bottom of Nicholson’s articles on water issues.

Nicholson, who admits his private business is unlicensed and uninsured, says it really is a non-story because no one has yet called him to request his private consulting services.

“I was talking about doing it but I haven’t done it yet,” Nicholson said. “I have not done anything for money.”

However, a city employee who works with Nicholson said he has been conducting his private consulting business for several years using information he gets from city computers. The employee asked to remain unnamed to protect his employment.

Dave Wesolowski, who owns Sprinkler King, has been in the water consulting business for more than 25 years and says having access to city water usage information provides Nicholson an unfair advantage.

As a private water consultant, Wesolowski pays for contractor and city business licenses, insurance and marketing, while Nicholson markets his business through the city and is not licensed.

“That is totally inappropriate and a total conflict,” Wesolowski said. “This guy walks up to the door with no overhead using the fact that he works for the city. He comes to the table with all these securities such as health insurance that small businessmen have to pay for.”

In addition to questions of fairness, state and local laws prohibit employees from using government resources for private gain. The city municipal code also requires employees get permission from the city administrative officer before engaging in outside employment.

The city has approved his private consulting business, Nicholson said.

“The city manager gave me permission to do it outside of my local jurisdiction,” Nicholson said.


59 Comments

  1. Maxfusion says:

    Personally, if I have a leak I call a plumber, not a moonlighting bureaucrat. Who hires someone to tell them how to save water? Here’s a tip from Max, don’t use as much.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 5 Thumb down 0

  2. Side_Show_Bob says:

    Not only is he required to have his business licenses in order, I think the Department of Consumer Affairs, Contractor’s State License Board would like to have a word with him to! It is against the law for a business requiring a Contractor’s License to advertise without listing their State License number in their advertising. Having a State License would require him to have a Worker’s Compensation Policy on file with the Board or a signed exemption as well as the appropriate bond on file. I believe to conduct the type of business he is conducting requires a C61 Specialty Contractor License at the minimum.

    Welcome to doing business in California Mr. Nicholson. Now, bend over ‘cuz here it comes again!

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 24 Thumb down 5

    • slocorruptionhater says:

      @Side_Show…Are you sure he would need a C61 license? He is providing consulting services for water conservation. I don’t think that line of business is regulated by any licensing board. Also, I may be wrong, but if you don’t have any employees, I don’t think you need to carry Worker’s Comp (maybe someone with more knowledge can chime in).

      The main issue is the alleged “moonlighting”, using City resources and within City limits. That is just plain wrong. But, if Mr. Nicholson never provided any services (using City resources), then just the embarrassment of being called out by CCN is enough punishment. There are much bigger fish to fry.

      Like or Dislike: Thumb up 5 Thumb down 3

      • Cindy says:

        I’ll chime in. I don’t know about the C61 license but you’re correct about the Workman’s Comp insurance. It isn’t required unless he has employees. The owner of the company is never required to purchase it for himself.

        Like or Dislike: Thumb up 5 Thumb down 2

    • standup says:

      You don’t need a contractor’s license to consult especially if you are doing jobs for less than $500.00. Look at all the illegals driving around in pickups with lawn mowers calling themselves landscapers. No business license, no pesticide license, no nothing. I turn them in any chance I get. Worker’s comp is optional for a sole ownership company.

      Like or Dislike: Thumb up 7 Thumb down 2

      • OnTheOtherHand says:

        There is no requirement for a Contractors’ license to do Landscape work either unless you are doing work for more than the base $500/job. However, a Pest Control License is required for ANY and ALL pesticide applications done for hire (including “Weed & Feed” or “Roundup”). Plus, some of these low-rent landscape guys use employees which are paid under the table — also illegal.

        You can imagine that they don’t carry insurance either so if you hire one to do your yard and his “employee” cuts off a finger with the mower, you would likely also be liable for the injury — and you would likely have “deeper pockets” than some guy with a pickup undercutting those of us who try to do things legally. This may be an example of over-regulation, but if you try to save money by doing business with those dodging the regulations, you are taking risks beyond a greater possibility of low-quality work.

        Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 0

    • hijinks says:

      What evidence is there is business requires a contractor’s license? Consulting isn’t contracting.

      Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 8

  3. SLOBIRD says:

    If anyone heard Karen tonight, it seems that she has 3 similiar stories to be told aboutSan Luis Obispo City employees conducting conflict of interest work. Can’t wait! Also, why is the City spending time trying to find out the “leaks” at the City instead of fixing the problems. Management just has it wrong, and I’m sure they must know, because they hire the only the best that whistle blowers are now protected and shame on you for trying to uncover the blowers…

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 16 Thumb down 3

    • SLOChildrenAtPlay says:

      What was really funny, is when Dave opened the show – he mentioned that Karen would be on later with (in Dave’s opinion) what may or not be “a real news story” about another SLO city official. Then after appearing to question the content Velie had to offer, the great Dave Cognalton went on to do a “on-air radio swap meet” in his first hour. I go to the Sunset Drive-In on Sunday for a “swap meet.” I listen to KVEC for news and information, wheter Dave thinks it’s “real” or worthy, or not.

      Like or Dislike: Thumb up 17 Thumb down 4

      • MaryMalone says:

        Sour grapes takes many forms, including in the form of radio hosts.

        Like or Dislike: Thumb up 12 Thumb down 6

      • Scarlet says:

        What is with Congalton lately? Karen’s not on so much but he frequently has that conspiracy theory kid on. Boring. And if I have to hear one more hip replacement segment I will tune out for good.

        Like or Dislike: Thumb up 13 Thumb down 1

        • MarkJames says:

          I’ve noticed some strange undertones with Congalton lately. I thought it was just me but then my wife mentioned it and now it’s being mentioned by some of you who listen to his show. Kathy (my wife) say’s she has the impression that Congalton has a personal peeve with Velie about something. Audiences are sensitive to those things, we pick up on them.

          Like or Dislike: Thumb up 9 Thumb down 2

          • hijinks says:

            Maybe it’s just that she doesn’t know how to report, yet keeps on sliming peoples’ reputations. Dave may just think that’s unfair, or not good journalism, or who knows what. It doesn’t have to be a “personal” peeve, maybe just a professional one.

            Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 9

            • msminiver says:

              Hijinks, your post are really self serving. Let me guess your name is Bob and it is no surprise that another repeat posters IP address on this article is also associated with the same IP address Bob used as hijinks.
              Here are some facts: The advertisement posted by Mr. Nicholson under California and Federal law is itself is prima facia evidence of intent to commit fraud (i.e. a government employee advertising to go out and charge unsuspecting customers of the City’s water department for the very same services he is paid to do as an agent of the City). Secondly the advertisement promotes Mr. Nicholson’s business using an apparent personal cell number, but then it includes the caption “Bob Nicholson, City of San Luis Obispo, Utilities Department” and this is where another blatant conflict exists. Mr. Nicholson is using his affiliation with a governmental agency to promote his personal side business which in most jurisdictions is a misdemeanor. Lastly, Mr. Nicholson’s business affiliations as a representative of a governmental agency have been misused to promote a pecuniary personal benefit which is another misdemeanor outside of the City of San Luis Obispo. Someone needs to turn this over to the State Controllers Office since they often handle government corruption of this type.

              My thoughts or better yet a quote – Do not be deceived: God is not mocked, for whatever one sows, that will he also reap. For the one who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption, but the one who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life. So much for eternal life, Bob!

              Like or Dislike: Thumb up 8 Thumb down 0

  4. HarryMalone says:

    Nicholson is REQUIRED to have a business license in San Luis Obispo.

    Doesn’t anybody remember the CalCoast article regarding this issue….

    http://calcoastnews.com/2010/08/san-luis-obispo-seeking-business-fee-and-tax-revenue/

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 17 Thumb down 2

    • hijinks says:

      Only if he’s doing business in SLO, which he says he’s not doing.

      Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 7

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