Sanitation board meeting turns contentious
March 19, 2011
Two members of the South San Luis Obispo County Sanitation District board sparred with board member Tim Hill and members of Surfriders over requests for an investigation into the financial cost of having the administrator of the district also act as an engineering consultant at Wednesday’s board meeting.
In the end, Hill’s request for an independent investigation was nixed by board members Tony Ferrara and Bill Nicolls. The board unanimously agreed to bring a proposal for a peer review of best practices back for discussion in about a month.
What began as a normal meeting quickly denigrated into shouting, mockery and anger as members of the public asked the three member board to vote in favor of Hill’s request for an investigation into allegations district administrator John Wallace has been using his position to funnel monies to his private engineering company, the Wallace Group.
John Wallace, Ferrara and attorney for the district Michael Sietz blamed allegations of misdeeds and violations dogging the district on former plant employees and the media.
Nicolls became agitated and repeatedly cut off Surfrider members who wanted time to discuss the issue.
“I take offence to that, we should be able to talk,” said Brad Snook, a member of Surfriders. “This is not Mr. Wallace’s plant; this is our community sanitation plant.”
In an interesting twist, the board packet for Wednesday’s meeting was put together by Wallace Group staff. They contended that allegations of overcharging had already been investigated by Rich Thomas of Thomas Consulting, who concluded projects were completed ‘within regulations and district policy with full board approval.”
Thomas’ report only looked into allegations the district had paid Wallace Group too much for a roof painting job and a chemical tank purchase.
According to the report, the district paid $57,627 to have a roof painted including charges to Wallace Group of $19,921 for specification review, bidding tasks and contract administration. The district paid Ingham Painting $38,811 for painting the roof.
Another bone of contention is the cost of purchasing a tank with Wallace Group’s involvement. Thomas’ report says that no charges for a second tank purchase went to the Wallace Group which was only paid for administrative expenses.
When one of the plant’s chemical tanks cracked, plant operators ordered a new one for $11,556. An almost identical tank of a different color was purchased a few months later.
However, this time Wallace Group engineers charged for preparing specifications, bidding tasks and contract administration almost doubling the total cost.
Several plant employees contend they could have ordered the tank without any extra expense to the district and the rate payers.