Sanitation district lays off alleged whistleblower

September 16, 2010

By KAREN VELIE

A San Luis Obispo South County Sanitation lab employee’s complaints to the water board resulted in the plant receiving a notice of violation that included allegations that the plant discharged dirty water into the Pacific Ocean.

On Sept. 14, the district board voted 3-0 to eliminate Devina Douglas’ lab technician position, and contract with an outside laboratory to handle the bulk of its wastewater testing in order to allegedly cut costs. Douglas contends plant officials are retaliating against her for informing regulators of mismanagement.

On April 6, Douglas says she refused to throw away a sample that showed high levels of bacteria when instructed to do so by Jeff Appleton, the plant superintendent.

“Jeff said the chlorine dosing system is down, throw the sample away and give us some time to fix the system,” Douglas said. “I refused.”

John Wallace, president of Wallace Group and the district’s administrator, said that the release did not result in any problems. He also said he does not consider Douglas to be a whistleblower.

Douglas told CalCoastNews that Appleton asked her several times during the past year to manipulate samplings in order to cover for problems at the plant. Douglas then took her concerns to Wallace.

“Wallace took notes, but nothing changed,” Douglas said.

On March 29, Douglas received a poor employee performance evaluation. In less then a week, Douglas filed her first of six grievances.

Approximately a month later, Douglas said she informed the state and local water board of the plant’s mismanagement. An investigation that followed resulted in the plant being placed under a notice of violation

On July 21, the State Water Resource Control Board Enforcement Unit sent a notice of violation to the district.

According to the notice of violation, the plant had operating and maintenance deficiencies including a failure to retain discharge records and a 10 year failure to produce monthly reports required by government code. In addition, the plant had written procedures which said not to test during a regularly scheduled procedure that increased bacterial numbers.

“The procedure or direction of avoiding sampling when the effluent is anticipated to be of poor quality violates the discharge permit and constitutes improper effluent monitoring,” the violation says.

Following the notice of violation, Appleton stopped coming to the plant and filed for disability leave because of a stress, sources said.

A few years ago, Douglas was a lead investigator into a search to find out which entity was responsible for high levels of metals and other compounds that were being released into the American Canyon’s city sewage. As a result of the investigation, a bottling plant owned by Coca-Cola agreed to pay $7.6 million for alleged the violations.


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Arniearsekicker

Gee……what does Coca Cola and Wallace group have in common? both mulitmillionaire corporations, typical smug scumbags.


SLOChuck

Someone posted on the Trib site that the lab tech won both national and state awards for dedication to the field.


So let me see if I got this straight: An award-winning professional (who was involved as a lead investigator in successfully finding violations at Coke,) complies with ethical obligations to report violations of water quality requirements, and gets let go? What in gawd’s name is going on at that treatment plant? Can they be any more egregious? This John Wallace guy should be ashamed of himself and the Board of Directors should be investigated themselves for allowing this to happen under their watch.


Vallybear

Chemist, shimest. She evidently was placed in Ms.Douglas’s job as retaliation. The ‘public employees’ making exorbitant salaries are not your average joe doing his job, but the private contractors who become public employees when they accept tax payers monies.

Seems that Wallace and the attorneys Seitz (the two brothers) are a familiar sight in various government agencies arount SLO.

Doesn’t anybody care how their $$$$ are being spent?

Even the Trib today in their article, gives the impression that Wallace’s word is law and that to dispute it is unthinkable…………..


Arniearsekicker

To clarify ,Wallaces flunkie isnt a chemist, she’s nothing more than a poser who legally cannot do any of the testing an real Lab Analyst can do under ELAP regulations. Seems Wallace, (aka Humpty Dumpty) dosent understand the word “legal” quite yet, but hey when you a legend in your own mind what can on expect.


Vallybear

Too bad you didn’t mention in your article that the substitute Wallace hired to do the lab work is an employee of his and is now charging the district $9000 a month for her services at the taxpayers expense. Obviously the citizens of Arroyo Grande, etc do not mind paying exorbitant salaries to their public employees – like Wallace at $80,000 per month and his chemist (now doing the lab work) at $9000 per month.

Also, do you know where your sewer lines are in AG? Maybe right under your house?????


pro_con

Vallybear, what is your source for these costs?


Arniearsekicker

Sounds like the Good Ole Boys at the District not only wont allow public access to records per legal requirements, there also forwarding incorrect information the the media. Its Appleton the top dog at the plant, not Administrator, who after being fingered for “misleading” the EPA and Regional Board is out on “Stress leave” per sources. The lab tech is stand strong and in their faces standing against the lies, unlike Appleton and the Board of Directors who are nothing more than Wallaces puppets.


Arniearsekicker

Wow, quite a comment there Racket, so what your saying its OK for an employee who is legally bound under federal law to be ethical and honest to lie and risk their livelyhood because corrupt managment attempts to force them to? You my friend are an idiot and if I didnt know better Id say your probably Wallace or Appleton himself. And for you Ferrera, who in the Trib quotes Douglas as a liar regarding the violation, your a jackass with no clue as to what goes on under your own nose and a discrace to this county.


racket

Dude,


She intentionally knocked a hole in the side of the ship. How can the captain trust her to continue her job of making the ship go?


The rest is fluffery.


Arniearsekicker

Yo dude,

The sinking ship with a hole in it is your tax dollars. About the captain, He should be Keel hulled for being piss poor expample of a public servant.


racket

I admire Douglas for taking a strong stance on what is important to her.


From what I have read here — which is my only connection to the saga — it sounds like she was insubordinate. It sounds like she chose to test/monitor on *her* schedule, not on the schedule as proscribed by management. Further, it sounds like she knowingly took actions that directly harmed her employer. There is no way to be a team player in that scenario. While a business does not need to be comprised solely of “yes men,” she went beyond the pale in harming the company that employs her.


I, and you too I suppose, have become inured to the sinking ship of where our tax dollars get misspent.


ApathyWillKillYou

RACKET – She did not test on ‘her’ schedule. She tested per State regulation!


And your comment that she ‘took actions that directly harmed her employer”…

she did her job as prescribed by law which in turn protect our environment!


Her employer by the way is the TAXPAYER you idiot!


kitten

Racket-Do you not GET that they are talking about a WASTEwater treatment plant???? ALL plants are REQUIRED to test ANYTIME they think their may be a problem with the outflow waters. For any employee at a sanitation plant to say “don’t test until we get this cleaned up” is violated STATE and FEDERAL laws. If you don’t believe us, go to Regional Water Quality Control Board. Management has absolutely no say in when the testing is to be done, the instructions come directly from RWQCB and the EPA in conjunction with NPDES Permit.

Wise up!


south

Racket – are you Appleton or Wallace? Hopefully you are just being sarcastic.


ApathyWillKillYou

Racket…

If she ‘knocked a hole in the side of the ship’ then a lot of fecal contaminated water leaked in!


Feses Overboard

Actually isn’t it feces overboard? The knocked hole was the allowance of crap into our ocean. This is where we all, the public, go to make use of our public beaches and sometimes swim, wade, or even go surfing. Sometimes we may get slammed while we are in the water and ocean water inadvertently may get into our mouth or even swallowed! In this case, the crap is the management or lack of, which allowed contaminated waste water to be discharge into our public waters where we take our children. Wallace appears to be the ringleader and should also be held accountable. Who is steering this ship? Are the pigeons the fall-guy? Or are past beach closures related? Could this situation somehow potentially be a contributor?? Who steered the ship in the Valdez disaster in Alaska ? Who was really steering this ships disaster? HUH??


easymoney

Same as it ever was…

The process and oversight of all out sourced testing is a very closely guarded inside operation and when the light shines on it, the shiner of that light will always take the fall if impropriety is found…

Leadership and oversight are in short supply, yet the money seems to always flow regardless of this shortsight.


calcoastgirl

Appleton is the plant superintendent. He obviously got worried when the Notice came.

That poor girl.

Well, if you’re reading this Ms. Douglas you have my support.

Now, what are our local elected officails going to do about this?


standup

This is retaliation at its best. Appleton is the one who should be fired for polluting and not reporting it. He KNEW it was happening and this is the first we heard of it? It appears she was doing her job which was to test the samples and report. “Oh don’t worry”, said the Chinaman to his employees who built the toys filled with lead. “Let them find out when their kids start dying”.


racket

It seems that Douglas and the District are going in separate directions, to state the obvious.


This being the case, the District should have every right to fire her for insubordination or whatever else they choose. In harpooning the company, she made it clear that working together is impossible. There is no way you can keep people working at cross purposes on your payroll and be effective at what you do.


That said, the District does need to answer to the Notice of Violation.


ApathyWillKillYou

Wait a minute RACKET….

Douglas was NOT fired…

She was layed off for financial reasons.


And no you can’t FIRE anyone for “what ever they choose”…

like whistle blowing!