Oceano board appoints ex-official and newcomer to vacant seats

May 12, 2011

Oceano Community Services District board members voted unanimously to appoint former board member Rick Searcy along with Felma Hurdle to the board on Wednesday evening.

Searcy and Hurdle were appointed to fill vacancies created by the resignations of Jim Hill and Carole Henson who cited disagreements with district manager Raffaele Montemurro over his accounting practices and failure to follow the board’s direction. Both will serve until the November 2012 election when the voters will decide who will fill the seats.

Board members and the public interviewed the six candidates asking questions about the budget, selling water rights and the possible development of the Oceano County Airport.

Searcy said he was against the sale of water rights and in favor of bringing the airport, currently under the control of San Luis Obispo County’s Board of Supervisors, back to the district. He added that he was unsure if the airport should be closed and the property developed.

Several members of the public spoke either in favor of Searcy’s appointment or opposed because of his former time on the board when he voted in favor of building a community center. The district was unable to pay the mortgage and lost the building a few years ago.

Kevin Rice countered that with three appointed board members it was important to have someone with experience on the board.

Hurdle said water rights are sacred. However, she added that she would have to research the issue of selling water rights before she would feel comfortable commenting on the issue.

When asked about her view on developing the airport, Hurdle said she was not adverse to partial development.

Following the pairs’ appointments, the board voted to temporarily forgo appointing a new board president and vice president.

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If you listen to people talk in Pismo Beach and Arroyo Grande, you’d think they were doing Oceano a favor by offering to buy the town’s water. Oceano is to the Five Cities what the Clampetts were to Beverley Hills.

People know less about the town than they do about its characters, so when you mention Oceano to anyone who has lived here less than 20 years, they say either, “Oceano? Where is that?” or, “Oceano? Oh, that!” referring to their image of those scruffians you see being hauled out of the shrubbery at the intersection of Grand Ave. and Hwy. One. At seven in the morning, and still looking sleepy, they are made to sit on the curb in public view –when everyone else is on their way to work;– while the Sheriffs take their time righting up tickets for sleeping in the plover habitat and other crimes…

Like pissing down a well, for example. This was one of the issues raised by the husband of District Director Lori Angello, during district discussions about raising the water bill. With righteous indignation, Mr. Angello urged the board to muster the financial resources to put a lid on the well (Oceano has five water wells), and for once, this suggestion was met with unanimous approval.

Before leaving the podium and the bright lights of the televised proceedings, Mr. Angello hiked up his blue jeans with pride (which was good, because the locals sitting behind him began betting amongst themselves that if he lifted his tee shirt, they could see his “crack”, and they weren’t talking about the earthquake fault.)

Oceano’s wealthier residents say the town has “an image problem” which should be “cleaned up.” At the last meeting of the board, suggestions ranged from planting palm trees, to using the town’s “excess ground water” to build public showers for the homeless. But no matter who gets elected or appointed to the district board, Oceano’s image remains that of a town populated with the “land rich and dirt poor.”

For a while, bureaucrats banished from positions in County government were able to lend their neo-metropolitan “air de prestige” to the town’s Community Services District. That is, until their pasts caught up with them, –as it usually does in a small town. At this point, in deference to all who have crawled out of the local bar on all fours at two in the morning, I must digress, if only out of humility to the fallen.

When I was in my twenties, I used to worry about whether people liked me or not. It seemed that nothing I did made people like me. But a barmaid at Camozzi’s once told me, “In this town, if you do something wrong, you might as well own up to it, because everyone is going to know about it. And if you do everything right, people are gonna’ resent you and make stuff up about you, anyway. So you might as well live your life the way you want to and enjoy yourself, ‘cause life is just a temporary problem anyway.” Yep, I’ve lived here long enough not to worry about such things—character assassination appears to be the local pastime; so much so, it’s enough to make you believe in reincarnation….

Take Mitch Cooney, the OCSD’s former General Manager, for instance. Before he came to the OCSD, Cooney was the clerk supervisor of San Luis Obispo Superior Court’s Civil Division. Cooney ruled the roost until three of his female coworker’s complained that he sexually harassed them, whereupon he left San Luis Obispo, and took up his seat of authority at the OCSD. That lasted for a number of years, during which time he gave himself an $18,000.00 dollar a year raise–in one fell swoop– with the approval of District Directors. Then, to keep Oceano’s Fire Dept. on the cutting edge of the fight against terror, Cooney championed the purchase of a piece of “fire-fighting equipment” which could purportedly “see through walls in an emergency.” As it was explained at the district meeting, it was useful in a case “where the smoke was so thick that the inhabitant could not be seen with the naked eye.” The cost was $35,000.00. But that did not seem to deter the district board, who wanted to do their part for “homeland security,” after 9/11. They okayed the purchase.

As for me, I could only imagine Cooney driving around half-tanked with his fellow Kiwanis Club coharts (these included the Davis’s who used to be in charge of water billing and maintenance at the water yard; and former Sheriffs’ substation commander Martin Basti,) beaming his new toy at the walls of houses to see if the new equipment could make out the details of unsuspecting females in their underwear, getting ready for bed. The locals held court over beer at the Eagles, discussing whether those four government employees conducted more official business at the Kiwanis Club than they did at work.

Cooney got run out of Oceano for attempting to condemn private property so he could then sell the property to a 501(c) (3) private non-profit. But he met his match when he went up against the property owner, Pamela Dean, a thirty-year veteran employee of the State of California. Cooney’s plan was defeated when Dean decided to run for the district board and won. During the same election, Jim Hill won a seat on the board after promising his voters that he would televise the district meetings and bring new transparency and accountability to the district’s operations. Hill came through on his promise. And change was in the air.

But Oceano was still “in of the soup,” as surfers like to say when they refer to that place between the shore and the breakers, where the rip tides can be the strongest. It’s the place where you can’t get in, and you can’t get out. New transparency shed light on years of fiscal mismanagement, but it would take some time to get out of the soup.

After several months, Cooney was asked to resign. But a second banishment did not deter Cooney’s blazing, bureaucratic trail. From Oceano, Cooney went on to Pismo Beach to administer the town’s new parking plan. Cooney shortened the hours of free parking, put in parking meters and kiosks and hired Mark Koppas at $80,000.00 a year to be the new parking czar of Pismo Beach. In addition to being the sole person in charge of parking enforcement, Koppas’ job duties include collecting the coinage, ticketing cars, and handling the parking appeals—a direct violation of the Vehicle Code. But who cares? That’s Pismo Beach. If you ever feel like visiting Koppas, his office is located in the same building as Pismo’s Chamber of Commerce.

If politics were a “science”, then going to an OCSD board meeting would be like passing through a “black hole in space” only to emerge into the world of “anti-matter,” and a parallel universe (so the theory goes,) where everything we know appears backwards and turned upside down. Politics at the OCSD is the opposite of science, it’s a crap-shoot.

So, it seems only fitting that the only persons who expressed any interest in being appointed to the two empty seats on the board include a gambler, an alcoholic, a convicted sex offender, and an academic whose rap sheet bears more testimony to her political experience than her graduate coursework. These are candidates who truly represent the character and spirit of Oceano. In order to protect what is left of their reputations, I shall omit the names for the sake of a candid rundown of the candidates.

Though the gambler was eloquent and well versed, the board settled upon two candidates who appeared to best suit the town’s needs—the alcoholic and the convicted sex offender. The good news is, the board not only reflects the local character of the place, but the local needs of the town as well.

I first met one of the candidates while making calls to residents on behalf of the Democratic Party. I was quickly taken in by this person’s willingness to discuss politics, which many of my fellow voters seemed reluctant to do. She told me that she had considered running for the OCSD board but had not yet come to a decision. I encouraged her to take the step because she seemed enthusiastic about political grass roots action. She said she had spent many years working in the bureaucracy, and when I asked her which branch of government she had been in, she admitted that she had worked in Corrections, in Vacaville and at the California Men’s Colony. My unbridled enthusiasm came to a dead halt. I had been played. How could anyone with a soul spend thirty years keeping the human animal inside a concrete box?

We had a frank discussion about what it was like to work in the prison system and “how hard it must have been,” especially since my “voter” was not just a female in a workforce where the ratio of men to women was 10:1, but a woman of color. I asked her how she managed to survive the power plays and she frankly admitted that she had entered the field of corrections at the age of twenty-two, as a new mother with a child to feed. “I had to do what I had to do.” she said. But she was clearly proud of the fact that she had stuck with it to retirement. This was an achievement, but of what kind? How can you tell someone that thirty years of this kind of work is anathema? I tried to stay positive. But I felt like we were each on our own board, bobbing on the waves in morning haze watching each other drift further and further away….

As the conversation progressed, I could hear the ice clinking in her glass, and her voice got more fervent. She began to sound more and more like a politician. “If you’re good, then we aren’t gonna’ have any trouble. But if you break the law, I’m gonna’ arrest you. If you break the law, I’m gonna’ arrest you!”

(It is poetic justice to think back on that conversation and know now that the seat she won on Oceano’s board of directors will be shared with a former district director who was arrested for paying for a prostitute.)

Her words became slightly slurred. Yeah, you’ve got the authority, you’ve got the persona, I thought. But you probably watched a lot of innocent people get convicted while working your way to a nice retirement.

And now, you’re newly appointed and in charge again, in Oceano. So, now you’ve got a chance to make up for your crimes, your abuses of power which went unchecked because you knew you could get away with them. How will you respond when you have to chose between what’s best for you, and what’s best for the people of Oceano? You’re not outta’ the soup, honey. Don’t lose your board and don’t lose sight of where you are.

Now that I’ve got that off my chest, I’m looking forward to the next district meeting, which promises to be a history making event for the town of Oceano in many ways. Of the five members on the board, two are men and three are women. Two directors are of Spanish descent, one is of African American descent, and two are of Western European descent. (“White” is, after all, a state of mind.) The candidates who didn’t make the grade this time around included a woman who is a native New Yorker from Brooklyn, and a man who is a native Hawiian. And no one is admitting their age.

Just as physics posits a parallel universe that exists like a mirror opposit to the world as we know it, scientists are now discovering that these opposits–matter and anti-matter,– have similar qualities. What is even more startling is the fact that the subatomic particles which hold our universe in place can change their charge as they pass through time and space. When I read about it, I thought they could be talking about the OCSD…

“Neutrinos, elementary particles generated by nuclear reactions in the sun, suffer from an identity crisis as they cross the universe, morphing between three different “flavors.” Their antimatter counterparts (which are identical in mass but opposite in charge and spin) do the same thing.”

Anne Trafton, MIT News Office



What an odd thing to say about no one admitting their age. I’m 63. Care for any other information?

I have nothing to hide including who I really am. How about you?

I don’t know reality from gossip with reference to this lenghty synopsis of Oceano and its citizens, but not for a minute do I think that Oceano is the lone entity that elects or appoints those that have trouble withstanding public scrutiny. For example, Arroyo Grande which awaits the trial of a past Councilmember. PB has had its share of characters, though it seems to have overcome that reputation.

My feeling about Cathy’s replies is that she is straighforward, truthful and not afraid to state her opinion. More than ever, I hope she runs for a seat on the board come election time.

You sure have a lot of room to talk. Jeez… someone with all the skeletons you have in your closet.

Leave the Airport alone. The OCSD can barely manage their Community Center, there’s no way in hell they could come close to handling the management of an airport.

If anyone needs to develop in Oceano, they should just go buy and tear down a few blocks of that stinkin’ ghetto and start the renovation there.

Bring Oceano Airport back to the district? An airport isn’t just another piece of real property to hold.

Oceano Airport is currently part of the SLO Regional Airport under General Services. That means management is done remotely by SLO Airport management.

Bringing it back to the district means another layer of management and O&M staff, which in the best of time, Oceano could never afford.

The OCSD doesn’t need any more control over anything. Rather, the County needs to take over the OCSD. Searcy doesn’t even know what he wants to do with the airport. This board needed new blood, like Felma and the others who were not asppointed.

“The others who were not appointed” —

That would be Lucey and Angello (the only elected board members).

“The others who were not appointed” —

I wasn’t very clear. My reference to “others” meant the others that applied for the 2 vacant seats this time, such as Cathy Young etc. Searcy had his turn, and his resume is dismal, imho.

Yes, you weren’t very clear. In fact, you were dismally nonfactual from top to bottom. Ask county residents if they think “the county needs to take over OCSD.” I’ll lay money the last thing county residents want or “need” is OCSD. Talk about dismantling the district is talk from those who seek to destroy instead of build.

Moving on, you identified “the others who were not appointed” as what the board needed. Clarifying, you added that means Cathy Young. Only Cathy Young? What about Kenneth Lua? He was very well spoken and professional. Giselle Naylor? Always at meetings and desirous of being involved. Elizabeth Raye? Driven, and full of ideas.

Did the board need Lua, Naylor, or Raye? Or, just Cathy Young? I’m simply asking to know if you were genuine when you wrote “the others”.

Next, you criticize Searcy about the airport. Were you there last night? Rick was clear with his thoughts on the airport–that it isn’t under district control, and probably won’t be, and indicated no intent to take it over.

Or, are you simply speculating from one sentence in a report that hardly does more than touch on what happened over three hours? You shouldn’t make proclamations based upon brief news reports; the actual story is often much more broad.

Finally, you speak about vague things like “new blood”–as if that is any sort of valid argument. Is there any general wisdom that validates throwing out knowledge and experience? What does “new blood” mean? I suppose it means Cathy Young, right? Well, I’m sorry, but Cathy Young is the “old, bad blood”. Cathy Young is about directors suing the district and other directors–she stood up for that, she applauded that. Yet, she said she “didn’t like the infighting” as if she wasn’t a complicit participant in it all!

Cathy Young stood there last night telling Oceano she believes in “cooperation, everyone getting along, no animosity”–thirty minutes later, she is outside delivering her ultimatum that she will not serve next to Searcy. Next, she packed up and left the room before the new directors could even get to the front of the room to be sworn in! Cathy Young isn’t there for Oceano; she was there for herself. Every other candidate stuck around, but Cathy Young was OUT THE DOOR the second it wasn’t about her anymore.

And, twelve hours later… it’s all castigation, bad blood, snipes and spitting.

Who here doesn’t believe “Catnip” is not “Cat”-hy Young or, at least, a close cohort? After all, we also have “cat”-lover. I can’t think of one Catnip post that hasn’t been personally spiteful.

And let’s be clear: Cathy Young is exceptionally bright, talented and credentialed. She could go far, and she could do a lot for the community. Just as soon as she really means “cooperation, everyone getting along, no animosity”.

1. The OCSD needs help, and since it’s doubtful any other city would be willing to take it on, that leaves the county.

2. Did you notice I said “Cathy Young ETC?” She’s one of the other names with which I’m familiar, and in my attempt to be clear, I chose a name I knew, again etc. I know none of them personally. Judging from their application letters, ANY would have been superior to Searcy.

3. No, I was not there because I didn’t want to take a seat from an Oceano resident for what I expected would be a packed house. Remember, I’m not a resident of Oceano. The article quotes him as saying he didn’t know if the airport should be developed. Isn’t that the crux of the current discussions? His past backing of the CC doesn’t speak well of his logic.

4. As far as Young being “old blood,” I don’t recall her having served or voted as a board member. She knows as much as those serving, I’d wager, and is smart. It was a shame Dean had to take the step to sue to establish legality, but then evidently you don’t care about the law?

5. Perhaps Young disapproves of Searcy’s M.O., perhaps disgusted to think he’d be chosen.

6. You speak of “getting along.” When was the last time this or the past board didn’t have to endure rude, accusatory remarks from the likes of Lucey, Hill etc.? I think you only support those who support your cause, rather than those who serve honorably and intelligently.

7. I agree that Cathy Young and the “others” that applied and were not chosen are very bright, including Felma, who thankfully was selected.

8. I wish the OCSD luck, and they’d better get their GM under control.

Wow, I guess I’m really glad I didn’t get appointed. I’ve not felt the need to get on this blog in the past. However, I will not hide under a false name. I will say to directly to someone anything I have to day versus your method.

I don’t need to be on the board to help my community. I plan on still continuing to help the people and what is their desire.

I completely agree Ms. Rae and Mr. Lau were also excellent candidates and I would have been pleased to have them appointed as I was to see Felma appointed and I have spoken to her to tell her how happy I am she was appointed.

I am very proud I supported Pamela Dean in suing to force the district to obey the law. It is the responsibility of a board member to obey the law and see that is done. You fail to state that after she was drug thru the dirt and 9 months of Ms. Angelo’s attorney and the district fighting having to obey the law she did win, the judge declared it was an illegal appointment and she was the prevailing party. If you can justify how it is wrong to believe the law should be followed please let me know. If you can justify how the people will now have to be the ones to pay the bill for his please say so.

I always was frank with the Angelos and told them I disagreed with them. And I was sincere in saying I would be able to work with the entire board. I am interested and care and sincere about what is best for the district and its people

You did give me a good chuckle in saying I was all for myself. Oh, yes I want to be castigated by someone like you who does it behind a false name.

The people at the meeting supported and endorsed myself and Felma Hurdle. Yes, I was not pleased that once again what the people wanted was ignored.

Yes, I did not believe Mr. Searcy should be appointed. The people did not elect him the last time he ran. I am concerned about his close friendship with the GM. I do not believe Mr. Montemurro is doing a good job and I don’t believe that honest assessment is one I have alone.

I did leave the meeting. Not because I didn’t get appointed. I was discouraged to see the will of the people once again ignored.

Now you can you be man or woman enough to say who you are?

Since appointment = selection NOT election, I believe you will stand a fighting chance during the next election. You are smart and honest and you will get your chance to have the people decide.

You can click on the “linky” I provided below to read the public information from 2005 on your new selected OCSD Director…

Thank you.

Things work out the way they are meant to be. I would have been very happy to be on the board and give my all for the people of Oceano.

I completely support Felma and know she will do a wonderful job.

If my honesty failed to get me on the board this time I am perfectly happy with this outcome. I have a clear conscience and a happy soul.

I am straight forward and will express how I think and feel to someone directly to them. Ms. Lucey and I have butted heads and disagreed but we have mutual respect for each other and I know she cares for the welfare and what is good for the district and the people as do I.

Mrs. Angelo does not like how I feel and think about things and though we may disagree on issues I defend her right to vote her conscience.

I promise those who supported me I will always be there to defend what is right.

I can assure everyone I am not catnip or catlover and have not even the slightest idea who they are. If you are going to make hateful accusations SLOrider I still challenge you to come forth and show you are not afraid to do so with your real name.

FWI, if you click on SLORider’s name you will see who he is. He’s very open and actually gets quite irked at people like me that don’t use our names. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not getting in this one, just wanted to let you know that SLORider is very open about who he is. Although he and I disagree politically we are firends in real life and usually agree on the state of the OCSD.

Thank you Typoqueen. At least I now am aware. I have never spoken to Mr. Rice nor he me. He doesn’t have the slightest idea who I am or what I am about. I don’t always agree with Mr. Rice but thought he did research before he attacked people at OCSD meetings. That was a misconception on my part. Certainly shows his lack of credibility in my eyes at least. I am not always successful but I do my best to be sure that what I say is factual. It isn’t wise to call someone a liar or accuse them of things unless you know it is a fact.

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Wow, and just 6 short years later, he’s on the board! So *that’s* how one gets to be involved in politics around here…

Yep’ Yep’ Yep. roy. Now ur trackin.

Oh my GOD!

I really don’t think that even the BEST writers in Hollywood could come close to writing this script!

I’d question if there has been any good writers in Hollywood for some time! Still, if our “little local problems” get to the point of being so bad, maybe they’ll make a movie based on it. I’m sure it would work for many small towns throughout the U.S.

Also, I could swear that the photo for this article was a Windows XP desktop background… is that really Oceano? Where are the dune buggies? ;-) Looks more like something out of The Sahara Desert. Very beautiful, either way.

It does have that “China Town”-ish feel to it, doesn’t it?

No surprise here re: Searcy. In reading their application letters, his was a joke. And his past with the law…..no surprise that this board selects him. Sad. Felma, on the other hand, has promise, just like Matt. Time will tell. Searcy may receive the rude treatment he gave others from the audience.

Searcy is the guy who got arrested in the prostitution sting about four years ago. It wasn’t released whether he was soliciting for a boy or a girl.

He is also long time friends with GM Rafaelle Montemurro and has been going out to lunch with him on a regular basis since Montemurro was hired. So forget getting rid of him now.

Of course he is also friends with Angello, and with the Guitons/Autin’s , the two families that have controlled OCSD forever.

There was only one person in support of Searcy and that was Kevin P. Rice, who doesn’t even live in Oceano. This district is going through one of it’s darkest periods ever.

You mean, Kevin P. Rice + the 100 or so Oceano resident signatures of support on the petition + the 3 board members who sided with the community.

Directors suing other directors is no way to gain needed support. That is the “old, bad blood.” Today, we can all see right through the lie at the podium last night:

Q: How would you move the district forward?

A: “Transparency, cooperation, everyone getting along; would personally come to the board with no animosity, work to cooperate, work hard together”

Congratulations to Felma and Rick. Felma, your desire and persistence is honorable. Glad to see you reach your goal. Kudos to Giselle for all your hours caring and being involved–keep at it.

SLORider. I’m still waiting for you to reveal yourself and have an open honest dialog. You are doing yourself what you accuse others of. You accuse me of lying. I find it completely humerous you are fabricating assumptions and things about me yet accuse me of lying. “Who here doesn’t believe catnip is not “Cat” hy Young? I am able and was willing to put the legal battle in the past where it belongs. Again I don’t apologize for supporting someone who wanted the district to follow the law. I don’t understand what you would rather happen. An elected official ignore that the law was not followed? If the district still believed they were right and Ms. Dean and the judge was wrong why did they require a unanimous vote from all three directors on Wednesday night? Something good came of that sad situation. The district is now been forced to follow state law in how they appoint a board member. As far as I was concerned this was over and done with. Yet you seem to want to drag it on and on and call someone you don’t even know a liar. Shame on you for not having the courage to use your real name while making slanderous remarks. I swore to myself I would never participate in these blogs but I can and will stand up for myself and am not afraid to use my real name.

This should be interesting as Mr. Searcy has the perfect chance to mark his place in Central Coast history as the man who had the nuts to run Wallace and Sietz thru the Sanitation District like the rest of the turds its treats, and tidy up the OCSD at the same time.

I don’t think it’s possible for a turd to clean up a turd.