Oceano general manager’s job on the line
March 14, 2014
By JOSH FRIEDMAN
The board of directors of the embattled Oceano Community Services District may fire yet another general manager Friday, this time less than six months after hiring him.
On Wednesday night, the board reviewed the performance of General Manager Lonnie Curtis for the fourth time since hiring him last October. On Thursday, the board scheduled a closed session meeting for 4 p.m. Friday, in which the topic of discussion is firing Curtis.
Since 2008, the board has hired four full-time general managers.
Prior to hiring Curtis, the board fired then general manager Tom Geaslen after learning he had overpaid himself more than $45,000 of district funds. Two years earlier, the board fired Geaslen’s predecessor Raffaele Montemurro after he paid himself for working full time and being out sick simultaneously. Montemurro’s predecessor Patrick O’Reilly resigned after about one year with the district, citing differences with the board.
Curtis’s brief tenure has included allegations of California Ralph M. Brown Act and Public Records Act violations, as well of plagiarism. As part of his application for the position, Curtis submitted a plagiarized PowerPoint presentation as a writing sample.
“We all agree that our district has management and directional challenges,” Director Karen White stated during Wednesday’s meeting. “Everything is in a tangle — our minutes, our agenda, our rules and policies and even our goals.”
Prior to closed session Wednesday, the meeting focused on Curtis’s recent practice of overcharging development fees to residents requesting water and sewer service. The board has granted multiple appeals and has had to return money to property owners Curtis has overcharged. In some cases, Curtis has charged back fees for development conducted by previous owners, though no corresponding liens existed on the properties.
Curtis has also irked board members in recent weeks by attempting to force frequent critic Julie Tacker to sit in a certain location at board meetings. Prior to Wednesday’s meeting, Curtis directed district staff to zip tie chairs to the boardroom floor. Director Lori Angello then cut two zip ties, and Curtis scolded her for doing so.
Angello’s issues with the district have even penetrated her own home. Last month, water flooded Angello’s home after a district water main burst behind her house.
“I was directly in front of it,” Angello said. “I have a swimming pool downstairs that got flooded.”
The busted pipe also caused water to flood neighboring houses. The affected houses received a combined bill of about $15,000, which the district is expected to cover, Angello said.
Curtis’s contract includes six months severance pay, which equals $63,000. The board can avoid making severance payments if it chooses to fire Curtis with cause. Doing so, however, may prompt a legal battle.
The board hired Curtis in early October 2013 at $126,000 annually.