San Luis Obispo employee accused of bilking city

November 24, 2010

By KAREN VELIE

A San Luis Obispo Public Works inspector is under investigation for misappropriating public property for his own profit.

Sources claim Ron Faria, president of the San Luis Obispo City’s Employee Association, asked his supervisor if a mower that had been previously used to service city parks and deemed surplus should be sold for scrap.

“Per the City’s Financial Management Policy, Department Heads are authorized to approve the disposal of property that is essentially without value due to technical obsolescence or its unrepairable (or economically unrepairable) condition,” City Manager Katie Lichtig said. “The Batwing Mower was determined to be an obsolete piece of equipment.”

Faria then took the Batwing mower to Chipper Industries, a recycle yard in Arroyo Grande, and sold the approximately two ton mower as scrap metal. The owner of the yard said he paid the city a little over $150 for the mower at a rate of about $80 a ton, in March.

“The check from Chipper’s was deposited into the City’s general fund for miscellaneous revenue on March 31, 2010,” Lictig added.

Without removing it from the truck he arrived in, Faria then paid the owner of the recycle yard almost double what the city had received and took the mower to his home in Atascadero.

He ran an ad in Ag Source Magazine from April through May advertising the mower:

“14 ft. Batwing mower, $3,500 or trade for 4×4 mule/rhino/Toyota pickup?? Ron 805-391-3514, rfaria@charter.net, Atascadero #101509.”

When questioned about the mower, Faria admitted to selling it but said he didn’t think he purchased the mower from the recycle yard.

“I don’t know what you’re talking about, but it doesn’t sound right, Faria said when asked if he sold the city mower and then repurchased it for financial gain. He then hung up abruptly.

Several frustrated city employees claim Lichtig was informed about the issue at least three weeks ago and had not taken action. Lichtig said she recently became aware of the allegation and has initiated an investigation.

“The intent of the investigation is to determine if any policies or procedures were violated,” Lichtig said. “The city takes allegations involving even the appearance of impropriety very seriously and is committed to thoroughly investigating and addressing such allegations.”

However, the owner of the recycle yard said that other than CalCoastNews, no one has inquired about Faria’s purchase of the mower. In addition, staff at the recycle yard said Faria has sold scrap metal several times claiming it is his personal property from “a farm.”

Generally, government entities sell surplus equipment that has value through auctions or to auction houses.

“The City does not currently have sufficient facts to determine whether the city could have obtained greater value for this piece of equipment in its non-operational condition at the time it was sold for scrap value,” Lichtig said. “The City doesn’t allow city employees to use their positions with the City or city resources for personal gain.”

Misappropriation or theft of government property are violations of California government codes.

“Violations of the laws prohibiting misuse of public funds may subject the violator to criminal and civil sanctions,” the State Attorney General’s website says. “These penalties may include imprisonment for up to four years and a bar from holding office.”


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willie

What is sad is this guy and the City Manager are “PUBLIC SERVANTS” whose salary comes from tax payers.

They do NOT behave like a service to the public and it is against the law for us not to pay taxes (They’re salaries).

Perhaps the homeless and those on welfare and disability should pity us!


Cindy

“I don’t know what you’re talking about, but it doesn’t sound right”, Faria said when asked if he sold the city mower and then repurchased it for financial gain.


Mr Faria was certainly correct when he said , “it doesn’t sound right”. At least that part of his statement was true.


bearjennab

This is a very disturbing article! It is disturbing on two fronts…that it could happen in today’s world is of concern, and that the City of San Luis Obispo has not taken any action to clarify the chain of events that allowed such a blatant violation of public trust and the less-than-vigorous effort to prosecute the wrong doers is amazing.


1) It seems there is never a rush to investigate any claims of impropriety in this city.


2) According to Karen Velie, there has been virtually no investigation into this claim of misappropriation of city funds. City Council, lets go, turn loose the investigative folks and let them do their jobs.


3) I clearly remember the local newspaper advertising the “public auctions” held years ago, that met the smell test. What happened to that process? Does it still exist? If not, why was it abandoned?


4) Does Mr. Faria work in the Parks and Recreation Dept.? If not, why is he meddling in their affairs with regards to what goes out for “scrap” or “public auction”, if that last choice even exists? If he is a Public Works Inspector, where is the connection with him selling old Parks/Recreation landscape mowing equipment for scrap metal? he has no reason to be involved in this decision making process. Did Mr. Faria’s first-line supervisor take his line of reasoning for this request to scrap the mower on a nod/wink? No other oversight is required? He also drove a city vehicle to the actual recycling center? Bravo!! And it is out of the city limits, whereas the city usually requires all city recycling efforts to be conducted locally. Interesting.


5) Who authorized this chain of events, from the bottom up? Who do they report to ? When does the “Chain of Command” kick in during this process? How did the process fail?


6) Ms. CAO: How about a little more transparency from the top to the bottom, from your office to the local media. No other news outlet seems to have this story!! Have you sent out a FAX Blast to all of the media to keep them informed? Are you insisting on circling the wagons and only doling out information as legally required, rather than being procative on the part of the taxpayers and keeping them in the loop?


7) Indeed, is Mr. Faria on some kind of Adminstrative Leave while this process is sorted out? Is he facing any charges from the District Attorney such as Grand Theft? Please explain to us confused citizens/voters how this entire process works Ms. CAO. I don’t think the majority of us understand the timeframe and process necessary to prosecute one of your own. Take a moment to enlighten us all woud you please??


8) Will Mr. Faria have to pay back the money he was able to cleverly abscond with, or do the taxpayers lose again? There doesn’t seem to be much of a reason for employees to play by the rules with the existing system of checks and balances (ha ha ha)!!! As it stands now, he is enjoying his well paying job with excellent benefits and no repurcussions from his actions – the only thing missing here is a hammer for seemingly derelict employees who run amok – that would be the discipline portion that he is so unaware of.


9) Ms. CAO: Have you been in contact with the District Attorney’s Office to discuss this case and made it a priority to refer it to them for prosecution? If not, WHY?? We are not judging Mr. Faria, however, his side of the story sure smells like a load of manure. When might we expect an open and responsive comment from you regarding your intentions to pursue criminal charges and a public statement regarding the firing of Mr. Faria from City emloyment? The clock is ticking and we are waiting.


10) Ms. CAO: You, the City Council, and local taxpayers are facing budget deficits, lack of tax dollars to fund necessary city services, and criticism from many fronts. The last thing the city taxpayers want to see is this type of abuse of financial responsibility by City Employees – employees who are entrusted to adhere to and value the City Charter including upholding their service ethic and oath of loyalty to you and I. They should serve with honor, and with the needs of the taxpayers always in their thoughts and actions. To deliver nothing less is unacceptable. Maybe your task force has some thoughts on this topic? We are waiting, Ms. Lichtig, we are waiting!!!


Smacks Forehead

Scary wall of text…must…look….away.


bulwark

I have no idea what Faria’s city salary is, but I’m sure it’s substantial given what we’ve all read lately.


So let’s see, the city (and and our own county) administration tells us that they have to pay these high salaries so that they can attract the best and brightest employees. Yet here we have a knucklehead that jeopardizes a high paying job for 2 or 3 grand in ill gotten gains. Not exactly the brightest and best.


Faria grabbed this bonehead play right from Randy Ghezzi’s playbook. Of course, someone in the county at least had the stones to can Ghezzi. I guess that we can only hope that Faria didn’t hurt his back unloading the mower.


I’m trying to figure out if we attract these losers to local government or do we simply create them within the system.


racket

Something isn’t equalling four when I add these twos together…


Faria did the misappropriating, and yet we in the peanut gallery are calling for Lichtig’s head on a pike.


Does this have something to do with Faria being a union boss, or Lichtig being new and unpopular, or both, or what?


Seems to me that we ought to be stoning Faria for stealing our stuff, and only slightly peeved with Lichtig for not noticing/mobilizing sooner. What am I missing?


SLOBIRD

I think it is obvious that Faria’s deal was inappropriate and considering his position and being a role model (union boss) he definitely should be fired. But given that he is one of Lichtig’s fair head boys and she appears to be lying about the investigation tagged with all the other costly and riduclous actions she has made during her short tenure she needs to go. For what we are paying this manager, she needs to be right on the ball and make better decisions. Of course, her track record at other Cities she has worked for verify what we got. Boy, I bet Beverly Hills is laughing at us. Anyone remember Murphy’s Law, well, Lichtig has achieved it! But take nothing from Faria, he absolutely did wrong and should be fired unless this is the normal at the City.


Crusader

“…Lichtig’s tenure has been marked by constant staff turnover, although this has been a problem for Malibu even before she began working for the city. Since Lichtig arrived, the city has gone through four planning directors/managers and two interim planning managers. Numerous city planners have come and gone, with many only staying for a few months…”


http://www.malibutimes.com/articles/2005/12/15/news/news2.txt


SLOBIRD

The City is going to pay dearly for this mistake, She is totally overpaid and a horrible manager if she stays and we give her 9 months of salary/benefits if we fire her. AGAIN, taxpayers are the losers and the employees are the winners. What a shame at City Hall and I don’t see anything good on the horizon but debt, competence, back room deals and more lies. And for any of you that think those unions just waved those contracts last week, they all just DEFERRED them until times are better. The general employees have been on deferred paid raises for a couple of years. You see, it’s all the verbage and we don’t talk their language. The reason government employees have a great pension and benefits is because there was a time we could afford the private sector pay. But that changed and while the pay became comparable the benefits just kept getting better and better. I say either take a 10% permanent paycut to strings attached or lose one of those 13 holidays, 9/80 work schedules (you know they work 80 works in 9 days – anyone see those guys in the streets at 7 am or 5 pm?), the City pays employer AND employee contribution into retirement, and they all get $1100 + a month for health insurance – use it or get in paid to you. This is all out of control!


SLOBIRD

After reading the malibtimes article, I get a little better grasp on Lichtig. Since 2001 she has gone from Long Beach, to Malibu (where most of the Dept heads left), to Beverely Hills for a salary of $180,000 and supervised 759 employees, to San Luis Obispo for a salary of $320,000 and supervising 350 employees. Our elected officials are downright stupid! Does everyone know that she did not require our new fire chief who is coming on board Dec 6 to have a physical although he is a seasoned Fire Fighter with 30 years of service. Again, he will work for 5 years and then go out with a $7,000 pension like Callahan. Our elected officials are downright stupid. All employees for the City are required to have physicials before the job is offered except for Department Heads, our highest paid employees. Our elected officials are downright stupid.


LensCleaner

If you think that article is bad …. Check this one out …….


http://www.malibutimes.com/articles/2006/03/31/news/news4.prt


“Additionally, the issue of city staff turnover was discussed at the forum. Malibu has had a high rate of staff turnover, including a large number of department heads in its short history.


Mazza blamed the problem on poor leadership. Although he did not mention her name, he alluded to Katie Lichtig, who left her post as city manager in January, as being a poor leader. He said the city needs to be sure to hire an excellent city manager when it selects a permanent replacement for Lichtig.”


Stern and Barovsky said the reason for the high turnover was because people left Malibu for higher pay and to be closer to where they live. With Malibu’s small budget, Stern said it was unlikely wages could be increased. Barovsky said the city hires rising stars on their way up, and unfortunately they are called for bigger jobs in other cities that pay more.


“Maybe we should hire people who can’t get better jobs,” she joked. “Then they would all stay here and be incompetent.”


LensCleaner

So lets get this straight.


Employees supposedly reported the matter 3 weeks ago and Lichtig claims the matter is being investigated.


Per the article the owner of the scrap metal yard claims no one from the city has interviewed him or looked at his records. Who’s doing the investigation? Is it that ace investigator, Capt Parkinson?


Is Faria on admin leave while this investigation is underway? If not why?


I dont know for sure but the tea leaves tell me Lichtig is not telling the truth.


We got a real lemon as a city manager and please remind me again how much she is paid? Isnt it over $300,000.00 a year. What a deal we got!


Somebody please bring back Ken Hampian and quick.


R.Hodin

Katie’s been too busy with the economic task force, didn’t you read this week’s Shredder?


Cindy

I suppose Faria could always claim that he took the mower home and spent a great deal of his own time and money to repair it and bring it up to it’s current value. No doubt, we will hear a story like that and it will all be swept under the rug. Unlike the last guy that was caught misappropriating property from the county works yard, Faria will keep his position rather than being reassigned a position working at our county court house. While the above scenario might have been a plausible excuse, Faria has already denied all knowledge. Lichtig is nothing but a yes girl and an over paid mouth piece, IMO.


Crusader

I don’t know about SLO City but many govt’s bodies simply don’t allow employees to buy stuff in this manner (no matter what the condition) unless it’s via public auction.


Waterman

This is not the only agency this type of practice takes place at unfortunately. There was also an embezzlement investigation by an independent source the Dist hired and the Sheriffs dept at the Sanitation District in Oceano for similar practices and naturally it was swept under the rug. Declared surplus items scrapped and the funds used exclusively for employee perks instead of being returned to the general fund. Between what the administrator hides from the public, is clueless of then misleads the media over its business as usual in SLO. To bad the board members haven’t the cahones to do the right thing and terminate those allowing it take place.