Oceano manager’s history of mismanagement
April 12, 2011
Amid allegations of mismanagement, some former Oceano Community Service District (OCSD) directors question how similar problems from General Manager Raffaele Montemurro’s past were not disclosed in a background check performed shortly before his hiring in 2009.
During Montemurro’s two-year stint as head administrator for the county of Kenosha in Wisconsin, reports of his alleged mismanagement, failure to follow directions from superiors and inform the Kenosha County Board of Supervisors of financial deficits surfaced.
These shortfalls cost the county more than $3 million, documents show.
Last month, OCSD directors Jim Hill and Carole Henson resigned, citing disagreements with Montemurro over his accounting practices and failure to follow the board’s direction.
Montemurro, 59, faces allegations by Hill and Henson that he runs the district as he deems appropriate while keeping the board and the public in the dark.
Tasks, such as performing annual audits, keeping accounting records available and obtaining permits, have not been done, the two former board members say.
In fact, the remaining three Oceano board members told CalCoastNews that they agree with that assessment.
Prior to Montemurro’s 2009 hiring, the Oceano board hired the district’s Santa Maria attorney firm, Kirk and Simas, to run a background check on the prospective employee.
Even though dozens of Wisconsin newspaper articles provided details of Montemurro’s firing and the events that led to it, the report from the Santa Maria law firm only notes that Montemurro had some personal financial problems, such as a foreclosure and three accounts in collections.
Montemurro would explain his financial woes as a hardship he endured because of an “unjust firing.” And the $3-million loss that Kenosha County suffered was, in fact, the fault of County Executive Allan Kehl, Montemurro said.
“I turned my boss into the FBI,” Montemurro said. “It took seven years, but he was arrested and I was vindicated.”
Montemurro and Kehl were friends when Kehl, then sheriff, decided to run for Kenosha County’s top elective position. Montemurro worked hard to get his friend elected under the agreement that he then would be hired to the county’s top administrative job.
In 1998, Kiel followed through on his promise and hired Montemurro. But shortly afterward, county audits of its financial footing failed to get done on time.
This is the same problem that now plagues the Oceano district, San Luis Obispo County officials said.
Under Montemurro’s leadership in Wisconsin, numerous financial snafus caused the Kenosha County Board of Supervisors to ask for a change in management.
In 2000, Montemurro reported a budget shortfall of $2.6 million in health premiums that would need to be made up by a property-tax increase, partially because of miscalculations which almost doubled the medical benefit cost.
A few days later, Kehl fired Montemurro.
Montemurro fought back, blaming several county employees and Kehl for the budget snafu.
Montemurro, who said he will sue the OCSD if he is fired, quickly threatened a lawsuit against Kenosha County under a claim that he suffered a “significant physical disability” because of his termination.
He listed the cause of his illness as “false accusations, defamation of character; political scapegoat for someone else’s gross negligence and incompetence; and harassment and attempted coercion to force resignation and forfeiture of job duties and benefits.”
Along with family members, he lashed out at Kehl by making contentious appearances at board meetings, where they blamed Kehl for the shortfalls.
The feud quieted down in July, 2000, after an investigation report into the county’s financial failures described Montemurro as a rogue employee whose mismanagement was responsible for the medical-benefits shortfall.
The investigator also discovered Montomurro’s mishandling of a union grievance, that he insisted on handling his way and threatened to fire an employee who pointed out his errors, cost the county an additional $850,000.
A few months later, Montemurro sent a threatening letter to Kehl, “Cane (sic.) Kehl What you started I shall finish, what goes around comes around.”
Montemurro explained his wording, “Cane in the letter refers to the biblical Cain, who murdered his brother Abel. Kehl stabbed me in the back.”
Nevertheless, in 2008, Kehl was sentenced to two years in federal prison for accepting envelopes stuffed with $100 bills from an American Indian casino-backer after Montemurro informed the FBI of his former friend’s illegal acts.
Montemurro has battled against the Oceano directors, who asked for a performance review. The failure of the board to agree to order an performance evaluation was one of the reasons that Hill and Henson stepped down.
The three remaining board members, Lori Angello, Matthew Guerrero and Mary Lucey, have decided to put the issue of ordering a review on hold while they work to fill the vacant positions.
Angello and Lucey said they support Montemurro’s management of the Oceano district, saying that he is often overworked.