A little something on the side

February 21, 2012


Ask Bob Nicholson and he can point out how households and businesses are wasting water and money. He tells people how to save.

Whether Nicholson’s advice is going to cost you anything depends on which hat he’s wearing that day.

Nicholson makes up to $66,352 a year giving advice to people on their water and sewer usage as a San Luis Obispo utilities conservation technician. But Nicholson also offers to sell the same services to people through an unlicensed private consulting business.

Nicholson says that there is nothing wrong with what he’s doing. However, SLO’s municipal Code says “employees must avoid conflicts of private interests with public duties and responsibilities and shall not do indirectly what may not be done directly.”

In June 2010, Nicholson conducted a city-sponsored water conservation clinic at the Farm Supply in San Luis Obispo.

Before the clinic took place, he sent an email to Mary Moloney, a local realtor, asking her to spread the word about his clinic. He noted that he is with the City of San Luis Obispo’s utility department and provided his private consulting business’ phone number.

Maloney posted the email on the Central Coast Real Estate website.

“Given the cost of utilities, this short clinic should provide the attendee with the tools to help keep costs down,” Nicholson wrote in his email. “Recently, the first three businesses I visited during the day had significant water leaks – Totaling about $3,000 per month in water and sewer charges. That can be a huge hit, and two of the businesses were restaurants who were not aware of the ongoing leaks.

“Mary, I would appreciate it if you would pass the word around to friends and colleagues, and your customers,” Nicholson wrote.

Nicholson, a contributor to the San Luis Obispo-based Information Press, writes about water conservation and gets advertising for his private consulting business.

“Bob Nicholson has a degree in natural resources management from Cal Poly, SLO with more than 20 years of experience in water conservation, irrigation consultation and leak detection. Bob is available for residential and commercial consultation. Call him evenings and weekends at 805-440-6977 and ask about his services,” the Information Press says in blurbs at the bottom of Nicholson’s articles on water issues.

Nicholson, who admits his private business is unlicensed and uninsured, says it really is a non-story because no one has yet called him to request his private consulting services.

“I was talking about doing it but I haven’t done it yet,” Nicholson said. “I have not done anything for money.”

However, a city employee who works with Nicholson said he has been conducting his private consulting business for several years using information he gets from city computers. The employee asked to remain unnamed to protect his employment.

Dave Wesolowski, who owns Sprinkler King, has been in the water consulting business for more than 25 years and says having access to city water usage information provides Nicholson an unfair advantage.

As a private water consultant, Wesolowski pays for contractor and city business licenses, insurance and marketing, while Nicholson markets his business through the city and is not licensed.

“That is totally inappropriate and a total conflict,” Wesolowski said. “This guy walks up to the door with no overhead using the fact that he works for the city. He comes to the table with all these securities such as health insurance that small businessmen have to pay for.”

In addition to questions of fairness, state and local laws prohibit employees from using government resources for private gain. The city municipal code also requires employees get permission from the city administrative officer before engaging in outside employment.

The city has approved his private consulting business, Nicholson said.

“The city manager gave me permission to do it outside of my local jurisdiction,” Nicholson said.

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I would expect the residents of SLO City might want to have had advance notice that a private consulting business was sifting through their personal utility records, trying to find the residents who used the most water, the ones who were behind in their water bill payments, etc.

This stinks. Clearly, Nicholson has a dual relationship with the water users in SLO City, where he works: he is both a water conservation technician who is sent out on calls to assist people in decreasing the amount of water they use AND he has a private consulting business that does the same thing.

This is very unethical, and is a poor reflection on what is the true agenda of the city’s water conservation staff.

If his supervisor knew about it, or if his supervisor didn’t know about it, either way, it makes the city, his supervisor and the water conservation services look bad.

Oh Wow! Now the miscreant is going after people “behind in their water bill payments.” Where in the world did you glean that tidbit? Besides, if somebody can’t pay their bills, what consultant is going to try to sell them services. Geez.


Shown below is the advertising that is presented subsequent to Bob Nickolson’s article upon your iFORMATION PRESS website, dated February 3, 2012.

“Bob Nicholson has a degree Natural Resources Management from Cal Poly, SLO with more than 20 years of experience in water conservation, irrigation consultation and leak detection. Bob is available for residential and commercial consultation. Call him evenings and weekends at 805-440-6977 and ask about his services.”


Barring the fact of his phone number being shown, of which you state is seemingly wrong, but still remains, the facts remain as shown below;

1. Bob states; “The city manager gave me permission to do it outside of my local jurisdiction.” No where, I repeat, no where in his advertising shown above does it state this fact!

2. Bob admits the fact that he has yet to get the proper licenses but still advertises as if his business is in full operation.

3. Mr. Nickolson has “inside information” from his day job at the city of SLO, whether inside or out of his jurisdiction.

4. Whether Bob is paid or not relative to his “side job consulting” is still a blatant act of unfair competition to the likes of a Dave Wesolowski of Sprinkler King, et al.

Furthermore, even if Mr. Nickolson has allegeldy not started said business, what has been shown above relative to his forthcoming business is deceitful because YOU promote his business as if it has already been started as shown in the link above! What’s wrong with this picture?

It’s a joke that you promote Bob Nickolson’s insidious business practices at this time on your web site, and then have the audacity to wrongly disparage Cal Coast News for bringing it forth in a factual way!

Bob Nicholson gets an advertising paragraph at the bottom of articles he doesn’t even write.

In addition, if the city sponsored the Farm Supply workshop, why was Nicholson’s business phone number and hours of operation given for contact?

Is the city actually allowing an employee to get customers from a city-paid-for workshop event?

Man, the city of SLO gets its poor customers coming in and going out the door. The customers pay for the a water conservation department, a water conservation workshop and its advertising, then get referred to a a private business for help with their water conservation.


You’re forgetting what I was told by Martin D, and of which is stated by Mr. Nickolson in the article above! That is, Bob isn’t in business yet; remember? It matters not in how long he has advertrised that he is in business!

He just goes around at this time by advertising his trade with his “inside information” from the city of SLO. But, if he ever does start this business, he will bring forth his unfair business practices to likewise business’ under the auspices of San Luis Obispo! What’s new?

We can only assume that this concept is a new business practice being taught, uh, somewhere.

I don’t think Mr. Nicholson is being truthful. As of 2010, when he gave the workshop at Farm Supply, he was hoofing for customers to call him at his business phone, after hours.

I think Mr. Nicholson and his managers know they have made a big mistake; thus, Mr. Nicholson’s new “is-he-is-or-is-he-ain’t” in businses story.

I think Mr. Nicholson is going to end up as the patsy.

If businesses are not required to have a business license until they start making money, then I hope businesses in SLO file a class-action suit for all the monies in licensing and other city fees they paid before they made any money off the business.

Think of Barnes and Noble. They didn’t have to get a business license until the first sale was rung up on the cash register? The city allowed B&N to move in and start the finishing of the inside of its space without a business license?

This entire train of argument is patently absurd. Maybe Mr. Nicholson’s managers aren’t very bright and will fall for such a ridiculous story, but the rest of us are quite a bit smarter than that.

It’s worth noting that the “advertisement” (actually a statement of the qualifications of the author of the article, not an advertisement) makes no mention of his city work. He’s doing his writing as a private person, which every public employee has the right to do because of some silly constitutional right called commonly the First Amendment. It’s the same constitutional thingy that gives the people who write irresponsibly on this website the right to do so. So, if you want to take away this guy’s rights, just remember that when the blowback comes your way.

Show me the money. You neglected to provide financial evidence that any “side business” had ever taken place, which is pivotal to your accusation. You have only one source (with no name) and no financial records to back up your case. You are no Mike Wallace! Nice try Karen. Get your facts, prove them out, then write the story.

Martin D,

Shall we use logic 101? Sure we can!

In calling Mr. Nickolson for help on his “side job”, whether he is paid or not, *cough*, is a blatant infraction relative to his SLO city paid day job, and getting inside information from the city for his off duty “side job”.

In the fact that the city manager gave Bob the permission to do his trade outside of his local jurisdiction is unfair as Dave Wesolowski of Sprinkler King so states! Again, whether Bob Nickolson is paid or not, have you heard of the term, “unfair competition” relative to Bob’s inside information that Sprinkler King doesn’t have? Sure you have.

Nice try Martin. Use logic the next time to prevent any further embarrassment on your part.

Dear Mr. Slanders,

You are missing the point. The point is, although permission was granted (fair or not) to do consulting on the side, the business never actually was started. Period.

You and Mrs. Slanders (Karen V.) need to stop slandering people who have done nothing wrong.

Martin D,

The FACT remains, that Bob Nicolson’s services are advertised in the “iNFORMATION PRESS” link below, and the fact also remains that it is unfair competition WHEN AND IF IT IS STARTED, and this is barring the alleged fact that he has yet to get the proper licenses.

So, we’re to assume that Bob Nickolson’s self-promoting advertisement at the end of his article at iNFORMATION PRESS hasn’t received any responses within the eighteen days that it has been shown! Really? I have a bridge to sell in San Francisco, are you interested?

Then it deduces to either Bob is not getting any responses to his FREE ADVERTISING at Sandra’s website, or he should not even venture forth in this business because of no responses in eighteen days! But, if he has received responses, and acted upon them without the proper paper work, then this is another entity that is wrong!


I need to stop slandering people that have done nothing wrong? Surely you jest! I am noting that it is WRONG when Bob Nickolson does start his “side job” because of the inside information that he has at the city!

His self promoting, and obviously FREE advertisement in said link above, DOES NOT STATE THAT HE HAS TO BE OUTSIDE OF HIS JURISDICTION AS THE CITY MANAGER HAS ALLOWED! What do we call this, oh yeah, DECEITFUL ADVERTISING, PERIOD!

Sorry, I will not address your child like remark pertaining to Mr. and Mrs. Slanders , other than to say, that I don’t want to get in the same Kindergarten sand box that you play in.

Mr. Slanders,

You need to go back and read the article. There were no responses.

Test marketing does not require a business license.

No response = no business = no need for a license.

Now go play in your own slandbox.

Whoa. Martin D opened a can of whoopa$$!!!


You have a very weak definition of “whoopa$$” relative to this thread’s facts. But, what did we expect from you, other than what you gave us?!


Martin D,

On iFORMATION PRESS, it alludes to Mr. Nickolson’s business is in fact, already started!

Test marketing my @ss! First and foremost, the protocols for obtaining a business license in San Luis Obispo is like jumping through hoops that are on fire! Logically, you don’t put the cart before the horse in this respect until you know for sure that your business has passed the cities graces! That is, unless you have inside cronies.

In other words, an individual that wants to start a business under Mr. Nickolson’s conditions, sees if they will be able to pass all of the protocols the city brings forth BEFORE you present it and advertise it as well. HELLO?

You stated; “no response = no business = no need for licensing? So, what you’re saying is that from this day hence, we’re not to see any further advertisements, or read about, or see any other entity relative to Mr. Nickoson’s business in any way or form whatsoever? He is done, kaput, over, no more? Great!

Thank you for this enlightenment!

P.S. okay, I’ll give you a thumbs up on the “slandbox!”

Well, perhaps he runs a non-profit business.

There is coruption in any city, but there is really no story here, no evedince, nothing but just another Karen V. dead end.

Where I come from, a man is inocent until proven guilty.

I’m getting bored now so I’m out of this conversation.

So long Colonel Slanders. Nice talking to you.

Martin D,

How many times have I heard the excuse that you’ve now given, so as not to continue in this discussion? I can’t count the times! lol

I understand, when the facts start to pile up against you, and you can’t save face anymore, then the “excuses” come forth for you to stop conversing on this matter.

Besides, I can see that you’ve run out of logic to what you propose in vain. As shown above, the only things that you have left is “name calling” and “hypotheticals”. So, it is best that you leave post haste to try and recover in time for your next bout with Brother Ted!

So, I suppose SLO City is now going to reimburse ALL of the SLO City businesses who took out business licenses before their first sale was rung up.

Either they nail Mr. Nicholson for not having a business license (and a few other things), or the city sets precedent for other businesses, as well.

That’s going to be a lot of refunding to businesses who didn’t pull a Nicholson on the city, and will provide lots of incentive for future businesses in SLO City to NOT take out business licenses until CCN writes about it.

@Ted Slanders,

Thanks for your response. It’s not like that. Not at all. It’s just that I have already made my point and I’m done.

You are making this all about you and your great debating skills. I am not interested in that at all. You are talking in circles. I’m talking about the original issue.

My point -The business never started, and if there was enough interest based on the adds, he had already obtained permission to start it outside of the jurisdiction area. Karen could not produce one customer that Nicholson ever had done business with, in or out of the area.

So as far as I can see, it is not a story. Does it have potential to be one? Perhaps if there were actual transactions that took place. But nothing did. Nothing will. And advertising itself is not against the law and does not require a business license. Okay?

Nothing personal, but now I’m done with this discussion. Now you can have the last word and “win” if it makes you feel better, but I’m sure you can find someone else to argue with.You mention you have had people drop out of your discussions before. Perhaps you don’t know when to quit.

Now this discussion is almost as boring as the original story she wrote…


Martin D.

Martin, Mr. Nicholson has clearly acted in an unethical manner. Not only has he sifted through the accounts of the city water users, but he divulges, as part of a cheap come-on for a workshop, water use information about city residents!

In addition, when he pimps his day job as a water conservation tech for the City of SLO, clearly he is using his position at the city as an advertisement point, implying that he has the endorsement of the City of SLO for his water conservation abilities because, after all, SLO City employs him.

Is SLO City now selling its image brand for advertisement? That’s the only way Mr. Nicholson should use that kind of implied endorsement by the city.

I’m certainly glad I don’t live in SLO City. In the first place, I don’t want businesses using my utility records to solicit business, without my permission.

What other businesses does SLO City allow access to its water customers utility records?

I once “marketed” a consultancy for years, and never did a job. So, yes, it’s believable.

Obviously, you have never been in business, and certainly not in San Luis Obispo. The minute you rent, you advertisement and you go in work mode the City considers your doing business. No one ever has to make a sale, a profit or perform a service to have a business license. Just advertise and your good to go. You can’t even open a bank account with a business license (obviously he has not deposited any money into a business account). If he is advertising, has a phone number, puts out the statements he has, then, he’s totally in business.

OK Cal Coast…. You’ve gone too far once again.

Bob Nicholson does NOT get free advertising in exchange for his articles in the Information Press. Check out our article guidelines, ask other writers and you’ll see “i DON’T DO THAT”. The clipping of his phone number has accidentally missed the editing crew occasionally but not if it caught my eye.

My gosh, I can’t believe you would waste your time on attacking people without doing some fact checking first. But that is you MO, isn’t it. Speak first, get the facts later. Great journalism.

It was at my request, during an Earth Day event several years ago, that Bob began to furnish helpful tips to Information Press in an attempt to educate the public. His tips are read by people throughout the county and on our website. I believe he has the same right to freedom of the press as you do. He can write letters to the editor or volunteer to submit helpful tips without your permission.

With Bob years of experience he has become a resource of valuable information that should be shared freely. He has not received a dime from his short 260 word monthly column. This has been a community service; it should not take away from his job in any way and he sure does NOt benefit from it in any way.


This time you shot the messenger.

As the water conservation technician for the City of SLO these writing sholuld be in the scope of his job. He should not be writing as an independent business person without the consent of his employer who is paying him $66,000 annually plus all the holidays, health care, vacation/sick time. This is his job as a local government worker! Did he post a disclaimer that this was a personal business vs government job. Let’s see his tax returns if he is so innocent of not conducting business yet. Home home deductions there Bob!

Illiterate, the guy wrote the articles for free. How does that get into any of the issues you raise?

It would appear that this comes down to two simple questions:

1) Is Bob running his business without the proper licensing and at an unfair advantage to his competitors? If Bob has access to the utility usage of potential clients then he clearly has an unfair advantage as he is able to identify high usage entities through comparative analysis compilations prior to approaching these potential commercial and residential high end users. No doubt, this sort of analysis is something that he is already paid to do in the scope of his position with the city. All of the above would clearly place Bob at an unfair advantage.

2) Is Bob soliciting customers who reside within the boundaries that encompass the scope of his employment duties. If so these services are already provided for by the “tax payers” and contacts should be made as a “taxpayer provided service” and not through a private fee based/”for hire” consultant.

This is just plain common sense. The only messenger being shot here is CCN, which is nothing new.

So I must say : Sandra M , “thou dost protest too much” ! pftttt……

Sandra M, look up a phrase, such as “shot the messenger,” before you use it. When you use a common phrase in a manner that clearly indicates you don’t know what it means, it tends to undercut the credibility of your opinion.

Maybe she wanted to say “screw the pooch” but was too timid.

Or perhaps “screw the messenger”?

So, Bob, Mr. Water Conservation, works for the City for 20 years, earns over $66,000 annually WITHOUT HIS BENEFITS, and the City does not know he is conducting the same business as his daily job on the side. Considering the little side businesses these employees are conducting (Ron Faria selling City property, buying it back for a profit, Mr. Bob using his position with the City to unfairly compete with private enterprise, and lord knows the police/fire dept employees have a reputation for doing construction, etc.) I would strongly recommend that the City Human Resource Dept issue a letter immediately to all City employees (including management staff who teach at Cal Poly) to complete the necessary forms and requests as provided by the City Municipal Code. Department heads have taught at Cal Poly for years although this is not in competition with private enterprise. If it is done after hours and weekends and it is a conflict with the job you are paid to do, there is not a problem as long as you do the paperwork and notification because of injuries that may occur after afters, use of City time and supplies (computer, records, copies, etc.). Why can’t these people play by the rules. Maybe all the cities in our County (including the County) need to re-educate the employees that stealing is stealing, being it is time, supplies, use of City equipment for personal gain, etc. These folks need education!

I think the first thing the city should do is contact all of its utility customers, apologize for allowing a business owner to have access to their utility records for marketing purposes (without the city first asking their utility customers’ permission to do so), and then formally ask their utility customers whether or not they agree to opening up their utility records to business owners.

Because, if they allowed it for Mr. Nicholson, then every other business owner should be given the same access.

Otherwise, it not only is conflict of interest for Mr. Nicholson, it is also a conflict of interest for the city.

It would seem the individual municipalities in SLO county should be the ones doing exactly what Bob is doing…but fo free. After all isn’t that part of being and green, energy conscious, conservative city?

In his defense, I am sure that he is green and thrifty to the core.

He is so committed to saving water, he even does it in his off-time.

The City of SLO should recognize his commitment and give him a plaque and a raise.

A mere plaque & a paltry raise are not sufficient for this valuable city employee.

How about a new Prius?!

A crook a day keeps prosperity away.

Our county has more corrupt individuals working for the local governments than anywhere. The list just keeps getting longer.

I can’t believe his supervisor allowed Nicholson to do it. His supervisor has been with the city for a very long time, and certainly knows better.

“His supervisor has been with the city for a very long time, and certainly knows better.” Just make it up, Mary. Good work. Actually his supervisor has NOT been with the city a very long time. Do you fact-check before writing your slanders?