Lonnie Curtis talks Oceano politics

July 23, 2014
Lonnie Curtis

Lonnie Curtis

Recently fired general manager and current candidate for the Oceano Community Services Board of Directors, Lonnie Curtis, spoke with CalCoastNews Tuesday about his candidacy and the state of Oceano politics. Curtis did not hide his distaste for the current board of directors, but he said he is running for office out of care for the community as opposed to revenge for his termination.

“Working with people who terminated me, I think it would be fun,” Curtis said.

This week, former San Luis Obispo County public works director Paavo Ogren became the district’s fourth full-time general manager since 2011. The board fired the previous three, two of whom were accused on stealing district funds.

Curtis, who did not face theft allegations, did face accusations of violating the California Brown Act and Public Records Act, as well as of plagiarizing a writing sample he submitted prior to the board hiring him.

While applying for the general manager job, Curtis turned in a PowerPoint presentation authored by another person. In defense, Curtis claimed that he had received permission from the author to use the PowerPoint and that he altered it before submitting it along with his job application.

On Tuesday, Curtis said that the plagiarism allegation was an example of inadequate governance by board members.

“They did not do a proper vetting of me,” Curtis said. “I was picked out of 50 applicants. The fact that the board did not vet that deeper, that’s on the board.”

As with the general manager position, problems have plagued board members in recent years. Board members have stepped down in the middle of their terms due to scandals, and the ones who have stayed on have frequently feuded with each other.

Curtis said he attributes the general manager turnover to poor governance and leadership at the board level.

“What they have done has been detrimental to the district as a whole long before I came on board,” Curtis said.

Curtis does not have a clear campaign platform. But, if elected, he says he wants to upgrade deteriorating district infrastructure and reform the planning and engineering processes.

“All these changes need to be brought current to today’s standards,” Curtis said. “They have not been current for fifteen to twenty years.”

The board, though, has little funding it can tap to make major upgrades. The district routinely operates in the red and is now paying Ogren a base salary of $196,000 to manage a six-employee operation. Three years ago, the general manager made less than $90,000 a year.

Curtis said he does not object to Ogren’s pay and that he requested comparable pay to Ogren. The board is paying Ogren to handle accounting duties in addition to managerial ones.

Curtis, an engineer by trade, said that prior to his hire he requested that the board pay him additionally for engineering duties. The board did not agree, though, and Curtis received a salary of $126,000.

Despite losing his job, Curtis said he really enjoys living in Oceano and does not plan to move any time soon.

He is running for the lone two-year seat on the CSD board. Three seats on the board are up for grabs in November, and the incumbents will likely run for reelection.

It is unclear, though, who else, if anyone, will run for the two-year seat.


6 Comments

  1. kayaknut says:

    I guess feeding at the public trough is all some people know what to do.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 12 Thumb down 1

  2. falconbh says:

    We really need to elect New Board Members in November.

    I believe that things have reached the point that more drastic measures need to take place before more financial harm takes place.

    We need to merge the district with another agency as soon as possible or have the state appoint someone like in Detroit to control the budget and spending in the bankrupt district.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 11 Thumb down 2

  3. Ben Daho says:

    The district is, has been, and will continue to be a circus. Is he running for revenge? How will THAT help Oceano? How will we get to a place that is professional, progressive in it’s infrastructure and conservative in it’s fiscal policies? I would replace the entire board. Hiring the latest guy at that price? We could have someone at $90k and hire 2 more part time maintenance employees, or more. The sewers don’t clean themselves. Generators don’t change their own oil, paint themselves to protect themselves against the sea air. C’mon.. Watching the board meetings is embarrassing and they plan to stifle that? What reason would they have to be less transparent?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 18 Thumb down 1

  4. Mike Byrd says:

    Let me see if I have this right: He plagiarized the work of someone else to get the job but it is the board’s fault for not catching him earlier? Interesting defense. Wonder how well that might work in criminal court. “Your honor, it isn’t my fault I robbed all those banks. Blame it on the police because they didn’t catch me sooner.”

    Hot debate. What do you think? Thumb up 32 Thumb down 4

    • NorthCountyDude says:

      But he had permission from the work he borrowed from some one else, so it’s legal. Let’s not compare apples to oranges.

      Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 4

    • Julie says:

      From the Trib, December 13, 2013.

      “The Oceano application calls for a professional writing sample composed by the applicant, but numerous pages in Curtis’ presentation are identical to a presentation prepared six years ago by a former chair of the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California.

      Curtis’ submitted presentation, titled “The Road Ahead — An Agenda for Sustainability,” was authored by Timothy F. Brick, managing director of the Arroyo Seco Foundation, a Los Angeles-based nonprofit group.

      Curtis said Friday that he had received permission from Brick to use the slides when he was working as mergers and acquisitions manager for Golden State Water Co. in Southern California.

      “This is what I used in a presentation with my staff in Orange County,” Curtis said. He acknowledged that he did not create the slides but said he made the presentation his own.

      Brick said he didn’t specifically recall talking to Curtis but he did remember making the presentation at a Golden State Water Co. event.

      “I don’t have a problem with him using it for presentations, but I am surprised he used it as a sample of writing in a job application,” Brick said.”

      I say, not exactly “permission”.

      Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 1

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