Sanitation district fires second alleged whistleblower
February 23, 2011
Another South San Luis Obispo County Sanitation District worker who complained to state and local regulators that the district had violated laws was terminated on Friday.
Over the past few years, former shift supervisor Scott Mascolo reported incidents of suspected misuse of public funds and problems with the plant complying with safety and health requirements to several government agencies. Before he informed regulators about plant violations, Mascolo took his concerns to district administrator John Wallace.
Wallace listened to Mascolo’s concerns, but did nothing, Mascolo said.
Wallace is the chief administrator of the district that provides services to about 38,000 customers. He is also owner and president of the Wallace Group, a private engineering consulting firm located in San Luis Obispo that receives about $80,000 a month for plant administration and engineering services.
Not long after Mascolo informed regulators of plant violations, in early 2010, Wallace served him with a notice of intent to discipline which claimed Mascolo verbally assaulted coworker Devina Douglas and his supervisor Jeff Appleton. Douglas, however, said the reports were unfounded.
In February 2010, the district’s attorney, Michael Seitz, amended the notice of intent to discipline and added an additional charge. The next day Wallace placed Mascolo on paid administrative leave for allegedly throwing a wrench at another employee.
As part of the disciplinary process, Mascolo was permitted to have a reviewing officer oversee a Skelly hearing. Wallace hired business associate Bob Perrault, the city manager of Grover Beach, to review a brief from the district and conduct an informal hearing in the Grover Beach city hall building.
“Wallace said, ‘My good buddy Bob Perrault, the city manager of Grover Beach who owes me a favor, is going to be your Skelly hearing officer,’ ” Mascolo said. “How do you proceed when someone who is handing you a disciplinary action says my good buddy is going to be making the determination?”
Mascolo appealed Perrault’s decision to demote him.
When questioned about Wallace’s allegations, another employee said the district’s claims that Mascolo acted aggressively were untrue. Rick Jackman, the employee Mascolo allegedly threw a wrench at, said in a declaration that the allegation was false and also that he fears he will be retaliated against for telling the truth.
In August, following a formal hearing, mediator Craig McCollum said the district’s allegations were unfounded. McCollum ordered the district to reinstate Mascolo to his former position and pay rate.
The district refused to comply and filed a new allegation, claiming that Mascolo had filed a false police report regarding misuse of public funds.
Mascolo reported to law enforcement that Trinidad Rodriquez, a plant employee, sold scrap metal belonging to the plant for $676 with the approval of his supervisor, Appleton. Instead of placing the monies into the general fund, Rodriquez placed the cash in his desk.
On Feb. 10, Perrault sent out a letter under the city of Grover Beach’s letterhead, saying that he concurred with Wallace and that Mascolo had filed a false police report.
Mascolo is again appealing Perrault’s decision to fire him.
Meanwhile, the same day the district became aware through a news article that Jackman backed Mascolo, Appleton sent Wallace an email saying that Jackman had voiced concerns that several systems at the plant were not working correctly and that Wallace Group engineers should be held responsible.
In the message Appleton went on to say that Jackman’s actions constitute negligence or incompetence.
Wallace concurred and the two began discussing taking disciplinary action against Jackman through a series of emails.
Following Mascolo and Douglas’ complaints to the water board, the sanitation plant received a notice of violation including allegations that the plant operators were only collecting samples when they knew the discharged water would be the cleanest. Douglas was then fired. The notice of violation confirmed Mascolo and Douglas’ allegations.
Last month Douglas filed a lawsuit against the district for unlawful termination.