Oceano needs to replace questionable board member
October 9, 2013
OPINION By JEFF EDWARDS
Have you ever met someone who says such outrageous things that you scratch your head and question your own intelligence? For a while, I thought it was me; out of my environment and my comfort zone, but the more I participated, listened, studied and learned, the more I knew it couldn’t be me. It was her.
She is Mary Lucey, the Oceano Community Services District (OCSD) vice president. Elected in 2008, she’s served the longest on the board and is the only board member who was actually elected by the people of Oceano. The others were appointed after resignations for personal and political reasons and then skated through the most recent election with no challengers; likely because no one would want to sit on a board with Mary Lucey.
Lucey holds herself out to be the district’s water guru. She has served as the board’s liaison to the county’s Water Resource Advisory Council, Integrated Regional Water Management Planning Committee, Zone 3, Zone Tech 3, Zone 1-1A, and the district’s own water/sewer committee. She presents herself as the district’s foremost authority on all things water.
This summer she gave a presentation to her board explaining that they needed to buy state water “surplus” from the county.
She went on to explain, “The State of California buys most of its water from the Cascades up in the Washington State area, starts at the border and moves down, Oregon wasn’t as smart and they’re more like the wheelers, the state of Washington actually does provide a lot of water to this state.”
She must have missed the high school geography class that taught us all that California’s state water comes from Mono Lake, the Delta and the Colorado River. After I picked my jaw up off the floor, I knew for a fact she was the core of the district’s problems.
When elected, the OCSD books were already a mess, audits out of date, and deficit spending was taking place, burning through the district’s reserves. Nine months into her term, Lucey was instrumental in hiring former General Manager Rafaele Montemurro and keeping him on when concerned directors Hill and Henson were ready to cut him loose. Montemurro, a man with no experience running a government entity, was successful at raising water and sewer rates as an alternative to controversial onetime water sales to Pismo Beach. But, ultimately he was fired without cause after giving himself an unauthorized raise. Montemurro walked away with two months’ severance or $12,408.
Lucey was also instrumental in shepherding in Tom Geaslen, another man with no experience in the public sector, then sidekick to Supervisor Paul Teixeira. Lucey allowed Geaslen into the district offices on weekends prior to his hire — giving him a leg up on other candidates. Under her watchful eye, Geaslen was able to convince the board that money was no problem. After finagling a fat salary of $126,000 annually and “overpaying” himself, Geaslen was fired and forced to return $45,242 ($8,000 more than was reported in the press) under the noses of his board.
Geaslen’s collateral damage continues to mount, including carrying over the salary; significantly higher than districts similar in size. Legal bills continue as the district defends Geaslen’s actions in wrongfully terminating a long time employee, and surprise invoices continue to pop up for goods and services purchased without the board’s consent.
The district is hiring another new general manager, and Lucey is the chair of the district’s personnel committee. At its most recent meeting she spoke about the district’s “at will” policy, saying, “If you can’t cut the mustard, a demotion will not get you more mustard,” implying government employees do not deserve employment protection. No one could muster the energy to correct her; the sound of eyes rolling kept me from wasting my time.
Oceano ratepayers incur the costs for Lucey’s missteps, paying wages over repairing leaky pipes. The OCSD water fund is in serious debt. Costs to recover from Lucey’s meddling will be compounded by the rash of rate increases coming from Five Cities Fire Authority (fire tax), South County Sanitary District (trash rate increase) and South San Luis Obispo County Sanitation District (sewer rate increase) to cover the costs of mismanagement.
Two seats on the OCSD board come up for election in November of 2014. It’s time for committed Oceano citizens to step up or back a challenger that will counter balance the insanity and keep Lucey in check. Replace her as the community liaison on important committees and represent the ratepayers in getting the most for their money.