Grover Beach attorney warns council to keep quiet
August 31, 2012
Attorney Martin Koczanowicz said that if the South San Luis Obispo County Sanitation District administration is found responsible for a 2010 sewage spill, the rate payers would likely end up paying more than a million dollars in fines.
However, Regional Water Resources Control Board prosecutors said that if the court determines district administrator John Wallace’s failure to properly maintain or operate the plant led to the 2010 sewage spill, he could be held financially responsible for the proposed $1.4 million fine and also the damages to 40 Oceano homes inundated with sewage during the spill.
Wallace is the owner and president of the Wallace Group, a private engineering consulting firm located in San Luis Obispo that receives from $50,000 to $80,000 a month for plant administration and engineering services.
Grover Beach city attorney Martin Koczanowicz said in his email that he had been “informed that investigators from the State Water Quality Control Board are trying to interview individuals regarding the South County Sanitation District in an attempt to gather information to be used against the District in the upcoming hearing regarding the potential fines. The proposed fines that the District is attempting to appeal are on the order of a million dollars and, if actually assessed against the District, would end up likely being funded from rate increases.
“I wanted to provide some words of advice and caution on this issue to City Council, Planning Commissioners, and staff. First of all, please be advised that absent a subpoena to testify, there is no mandate or obligation to speak to these investigators. Secondly, as we have discussed during Council meetings when these issues are continually raised by the public, care needs to be taken to first of all observe confidentiality of information dealing with personnel issues and rights of privacy of individual employees and information obtained during closed sessions of the Council or the District Board.
“Secondly, the District Board is a separate sovereign body and should be afforded due respect and ability to deal with and address issues that pertain to its authority and responsibility. Also, unless any of you have first-hand knowledge of facts, not information that was transmitted by public speakers at Council meetings or by the newspapers, repetition of such unverified information to others may expose you or the City to potential liability.
“To be clear, you are not precluded from speaking to these individuals, but if you choose to do so, please keep the issues raised above in mind. As always, feel free to contact me with any questions.”
Koczanowicz’ email was sent shortly after Phyllis Molnar, a Grover Beach council woman and mayoral candidate, sent an email on Aug. 16 to a member of the South County Oversight Group noting her concern over the safety of those opposed to Wallace’s management of the district.
“Hi sorry I have not been in touch with you, I wanted to think about things and I am concerned for you and your husband,” Molnar said in the email. “I have been independently told some very scary things and I do not want to be the cause of any harm for innocent people. On the other hand, things are out of control at the San District and I am going to try to bring about change. As you know our council is not going to make any changes at this time and I have been given a warning not to get involved. It is getting a bit dicey here too.”
“I am going to take a chance and forward something to you,” Molnar added. “Do you want to meet? Is it safe for you? When the hearing takes place most of our council is at a conference in San Diego, I know Mayor Pro Tem Bill Nichols is our voting delegate. Unless something happens he will be there, a good place to hide when it all comes out.”
Regulators have set a public hearing on the complaint for Sept. 7 at the water board office in San Luis Obispo. At the hearing, Wallace will have an opportunity to argue against the complaint.