Lonnie Curtis talks Oceano politics
July 23, 2014
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.