Oceano violates the Brown Act again
March 22, 2012
OPINION By JULIE TACKER
At the Wednesday, March 14 Oceano Community Services District Board began their evening in what appears to have been a Brown Act violating St. Patrick’s Day dinner held in the board chambers for only staff and Board members. It was determined a quorum of the bboard was in attendance.
During the regular meeting, the board voted 5-0 to rescind a Brown Act violating contract extension for $10,000 per month with Interim General Manager, Tom Geaslen, previously executed in Closed Session on February 8.
A “Public Employee Appointment” was identified on the evenings Closed Session agenda, but senior board member Mary Lucey with concurrence from District Legal Counsel Molly Thurmond and bboard President Matt Guerrero, another attorney, pulled it from closed session to opens session for consideration and action. A draft contract was only made available to the public during the meeting; however the appearance was Board members had advanced copies, if in fact they did, this too would violate the Brown Act. See section 54957.5, which provides as follows: “(a). Notwithstanding Section 6255 or any provision of law, agendas of public meetings and any other writings, when distributed to all, or a majority of all, of the members of a legislative body by any person in connection with a matter subject to discussion or consideration at an open meeting of the body, are disclosable public records under the California Public Records Act (commencing with Section 6250) of Division 7 of Title 1), and shall be made available upon request without delay…”
There was no prior public access to the contract and no way of knowing action was to be taken. This clear Brown Act violation deprived the public of the opportunity to comment on the details of the contract and provide valuable input to the Board.
The Board again voted 5-0, to make Geaslen the district’s permanent general manager, this time letting a five-year, $126,000 annual salary, retroactive to January 1, with a sizable severance package. It included one year’s pay if Geaslen is terminated for any reason other than for “cause” any time before June 30, 2013.
The increase in salary is 45 percent over that budgeted for the position a year ago and the retroactive nature of the contract is unconstitutional. Article XI section 10 of the California constitution prohibits it as follows: “(a) a local government body may not grant extra compensation or extra allowance to a public officer, public employee or contractor after service has been rendered or a contract has been entered into and performed in whole or in part, or pay a claim under an agreement made without authority of law.”
In an attempt to justify his need for a ‘golden parachute’ severance Geaslen misrepresented to his board that Los Osos Community Services District General Manager Bruce Buel was fired after the 2005 recall in Los Osos changed the complexion of the Board. As a member of that Board from 2004-2008, I have firsthand knowledge of the facts in that case. Buel was placed on paid administrative leave and after a few months on leave he resigned of his own accord and was hired by the Nipomo CSD. Buel’s salary was $90,000 annually to manage the LOCSD, a similarly sized (budget and operations) district to that of the Oceano CSD. Buel was highly qualified, having had a BA in economics and Masters in Ecology and Public Administration; qualifications Geaslen lacks entirely.
Perhaps the current OCSD Board, made up of mostly non-elected appointees, made this strategic decision in an attempt to retain their four seats, Lucey, Guererro, Felma Hurdle and Rick Searcy, are all up for re-election in November. This board’s reckless behavior borders on a gift of public funds in providing such an exorbitant severance for Geaslen. This action holds the new board “hostage,” as stated by District Legal Counsel, Molly Thurmond; unless they choose to pay the very high price to sever ties or live with Geaslen until the severance is reduced to 6 months (or $63,000) at the end of the fiscal year 2013.
Just one year ago, the OCSD levied a five-year progressive water and waste water rate increase upon its ratepayers. On April 1, ratepayers will see the second round of increases. Geaslen claims the district is under budget this year, but three years of audits remain incomplete and his single-page budgets are vague and do not reflect his claims that the District is now financially sound. If the District is indeed on such sound financial footing, perhaps the rate increases should be rescinded.
I thank CalCoastNews for allowing this forum in which to present my observations to those who may be interested and challenge others, including Tom Geaslen, to rebut.