Coincidence? You be the judge
March 26, 2013
OPINION By LIN HILL
Oceano Community Services District General Manager Thomas Geaslen appeared on the March 6 episode of Charter California Edition.
Hosted by attorney Brad Pomerance, this show broadcasts locally on cable channel 41 and statewide on the California channel. The video is also available on youtube.com.
During the nine minute interview, Geaslen stated to Pomerance that upon Geaslen’s hire, he had “indoctrinated the staff,” put in a plan, and “righted the ship” with regard to the district’s financial health. With audits still delinquent, it is unclear if “the ship” is upright or if Geaslen is only indoctrinating his board and the public with fluff and puff. Recent financials show the district continues deficit spending.
When Pomerance questioned Geaslen about the no-outside-sale water initiative spearheaded by Oceano citizens in January of 2011, Geaslen spoke affirmatively saying, “When the Board changed, that Board immediately put in a provision that said we would not sell water permanently.”
Contrary to Geaslen’s claim, the agendas posted on the District website do not reflect any such Board action by resolution, ordinance or policy since “the Board changed” in May 2011. Any such “provision” would be a public document and should be readily available. When asked for a copy of this alleged document, Geaslen said that when the Board elected not to sell water to Pismo Beach, that was the action he referred to. When challenged further for a copy of the “record”, the story changed again with Geaslen saying it happened before he was hired (June of 2011). Flustered by public interest in actually obtaining a copy of this nonexistent record, Geaslen said he would have his staff find it.
Geaslen then sent a letter, dated March 12, apparently attempting further indoctrination. Instead of delivering an adopted board document, Geaslen explained “policy” and “knowledge measurement” and referred to the May 9, 2012 OCSD Board meeting where the required election procedures for the water initiative were discussed.
The fact is there no valid provision prohibiting OCSD from selling water on a permanent basis. The May 9 action did not implement anything other than what is stated in the resolution, putting the measure on the ballot, and even though the ballot initiative passed by an 84 percnt margin, the initiative has no legal force to compel OCSD compliance. The OCSD can sell water, permanently or temporarily, to whomever they want.
What Geaslen’s letter fails to mention was the board’s lengthy discussion on September 26 where district legal counsel Molly Thurmond confirmed that if the board changed from its current makeup, the ballot initiative may be challenged at any time. The board’s discussion included consensus that the ballot initiative was illegal. Vice President Mary Lucey said, “If it passes, we can all cry together.”
Despite the public’s perception that this board would not sell water on a permanent basis, Geaslen personally attempted to sell water on a “temporary” long-term basis to Nipomo CSD on January 25 of this year. He stood before the NCSD Water Alternatives Committee and said that the Oceano initiative was, “very, very ambiguous” and “there would be some technical and legal challenges to it.” The Oceano initiative can be overcome, Geaslen suggested; the OCSD Board, OCSD legal counsel and the county counsel’s impartial analysis all agree that the initiative has no legal effect. Sale of Oceano water is an administrative matter not within the power of the voters to control.
Gealsen’s proposal to NCSD included a “10-year contract with multiple five-year extensions.” At least 20 years tying up Oceano’s water could hinder development of the community in favor of development in Nipomo (which by interesting coincidence is Geaslen’s home) instead. By further coincidence, Bob Blair, a long-time mentor to Geaslen, was just re-elected to the water-thirsty Nipomo CSD Board. As a Nipomo property owner as well, I am also interested in that community’s water pursuit and wonder who would be asked to pay for the $14M-$18M in infrastructure to “temporarily long term” supply only a fraction of what is needed. Would Oceano residents have to pay for their end?
Oceano CSD has been plagued by General Managers that could not properly account for district funds, as reflected in a series of incomplete or inconclusive audits. Geaslen was handpicked by OCSD Board members who had approached Nipomo resident Supervisor Paul Teixeira (another coincidence!) asking for help for the District. That help resulted in a bogus selection process that allowed only Geaslen, Teixeira’s 2010 campaign manager, access to the district office over a series of Saturdays ahead of the interview process. It is unclear if he was bonded at the time or how the district’s sensitive files were used to develop Geaslen’s “plan.” The potentially illegal advance access at least gave Geaslen an unfair advantage over as many as five better qualified candidates. Geaslen seems to be carrying on the unfortunate OCSD tradition, while outsourcing many of the duties he was hired to perform.
Geaslen should avoid attempting to rewrite history and be more responsive with actual public records. Being more transparent about his attempts to secure Oceano water for Nipomo would be another positive step.
Lin Hill is an Oceano property owner.