Oceano managers pay questioned
June 15, 2012
OPINION By JULIE TACKER
Oceano Community Services District (OCSD) will be “celebrating” the first anniversary of the hiring of its General Manager Tom Geaslen later this month. Geaslen worked for over eight months as “interim general manager” without a written agreement or contract, a risky move for both Geaslen and the district.
Geaslen was required, by nature of the position, to be legally sworn in and to file a Statement of Economic Interest (i.e. Form 700). Geaslen balked at the idea he needed swearing in, suggesting that his swearing to serve and defend the Constitution as a member of the Republican Central Committee would suffice. It took Oceano CSD Legal Counsel, Molly Thurmond, to let Geaslen know that he was indeed required to be sworn in, the County Clerk did so in late March.
To date Geaslen has not filed the required the Form 700. These statements are due 30 days from assuming office, so what date did he “assume office?” Was it June 22, 2011, when he was hired as interim general manager? Was it when the board illegally hired him as permanent general manager in a February closed session — triggering threats of litigation for violating the Brown Act from more than one local activist? Was it in mid-March when the OCSD Board considered the permanent position in public? Or late March when the board corrected the illegal contract that included a retroactive pay increase and PERS contributions calculated back to January?
Maybe it was April 1st when the term of the contract commenced? Or perhaps April 10 the day he finally signed the lucrative contract?
The question will be left for the county clerk and the Fair Political Practices Commission to consider once he does file the form. Late statements are subject to $10 a day fines.
Depending on when he actually “assumed office” it could be thousands of dollars. Not to worry, Geaslen can afford any fine. While Interim General Manager, Geaslen made $7,750 a month for the first quarter of 2012, he had accumulated $23,250 by late March when the board approved his contract. The contract provides that Geaslen will receive $144,540 for the period of April 1 through December 31, 2012 for a whopping total of $167,790 for the year.
Geaslen’s six-month severance package will cripple the district financially should it be necessary to exercise its clause before June of 2013. The five-year contract with subsequent automatic one-year extensions, the equivalent of a lifetime job, makes Geaslen the highest paid, with the least experience, general manager in San Luis Obispo County.
Geaslen talks a good game, but it’s clear he is out of his element, inexperienced and unfamiliar with government. CSD law is particularly different than other municipalities; layers of complexity that take years of study. Geaslen has made basic blunders that even a novice wouldn’t. He has difficulty following board direction, the Brown Act, the California Public Records Act and as stated above requirements of Government Code and the Fair Political Practices Act.
Municipalities around the state are facing budget cuts, layoffs, downsizing, reduced benefits and furloughs. Only after his hefty contract was secure, has Geaslen suggested shortfalls in the district’s funding.
He is now searching for revenue generating “profit”. Geaslen’s mis-characterization of the district’s bank accounts as “cash on hand” is patently false, most all district funds are earmarked for restricted uses, such as public facility fees, directly related to new development’s impact on fire facilities, and water and wastewater enterprise funds that can only generate what it costs to operate and maintain those services. The district’s water infrastructure suffers from years of deferred maintenance and important water saving projects are underfunded. But Geaslen’s salary is secure.
This past April, OCSD ratepayers experienced the second increase of a five-year progressive water and wastewater rate increase schedule. Water and wastewater project improvements were identified as the reason for the increase and the district is bound by the 218 process that those funds related to that increase be used expressly for those purposes.
Geaslen’s 2012-2013 proposed budget numbers show no contributions to sinking funds for capital improvement projects identified in the district’s water master plan. However Geaslen continues to represent funds are budgeted for the capital improvement program.
In January, Geaslen told his Board, “Our server has been hacked, our website has been hacked, my personal computer has been hacked.” In a case of “the cover-up is always worse than the crime” Geaslen spent scarce district funds and an inordinate amount of time creating reasons for not completing tasks the board had directed.
Sheriff’s investigators did a forensic analysis of one computer tower and found that a couple of files had been moved, no damages or losses were realized, the “inactivated” investigation proved “no victim and no arrest.” For all practical purposes, the system was accessed remotely by the server for an update. No harm no foul. The Sheriff’s Department might not be so cavalier.
The districts past audits remain incomplete; the 2012-2013 proposed budget overstates revenues and underestimates expenses (giving a false sense of security to the board). Promises made to begin infrastructure repairs continue to be deferred; where is the money from the increased water rate going? Reducing office expenses by purchasing iPad’s for the board to save paper and ‘pie in the sky’ suggestions to shave utility expenses by incorporating solar and windmills to district facilities, really? Geaslen is no Don Quixote, or maybe he is.