Oceano general manager under board scrutiny
December 11, 2013
By JOSH FRIEDMAN
The Oceano Community Services District Board of Directors will meet in closed session Wednesday evening to review the performance of recently hired General Manager Lonnie Curtis.
Wednesday’s closed session hearing will mark the second time Curtis’s performance has come under review in his first two months on the job. Government watchdogs have accused Curtis of failing to comply with California’s Ralph M. Brown Act and Public Records Act, and district officials have had to instruct him to do so.
The board hired Curtis in October to replace ex-general manager Tom Geaslen, who left after overpaying himself $45,242 in district funds, according to a district audit.
Curtis told CalCoastNews that Board President Matt Guerrero chose to place the performance review on the agenda. Guerrero did not respond when asked why he called for the evaluation.
Prior to the performance review on November 13, Guerrero said that Curtis was not “under fire” or at risk of termination.
Since then, the district has received a Brown Act violation letter and has narrowly avoided another breach of California’s open meeting law leading up to Wednesday’s meeting.
After the November 13 performance review, district staff reported that during closed session the board discussed planning measures with Curits relating to water, sewer and other district business. A day later, the initial closed session report disappeared from the district website, which has since stated that the board took no reportable action.
On November 15, attorney Terry Francke of Californians Aware sent a letter to Curtis accusing the board of violating the Brown Act by holding a planning discussion in closed session. The board is scheduled to approve a response letter to Francke during open session Wednesday.
On Wednesday evening, the board will hold a special meeting simultaneously with its regular meeting in order to avoid committing a Brown Act violation.
Guerrero called for a special meeting earlier this week after Curtis added a hearing to the regular meeting without placing it on the agenda.
Oceano board bylaws call for yearly elections of a president and vice president, and elections have not yet taken place in 2013.
Wednesday’s meeting is the last scheduled meeting of the year, and board officer elections did not appear on the agenda. Curtis attempted to fix the error by adding the item to the staff report of an already scheduled hearing on board committees, he said.
The Brown Act requires agencies to place notice of all scheduled public hearings on an agenda 72 hours in advance of regular meetings.
Curtis said he placed a copy of the updated agenda on the front door of the district office on Sunday evening. However, the updated agenda contains no changes from the previously posted one. District staff only amended the staff report for the meeting.
Due to the improper noticing, Guerrero called for a special meeting, and staff gave notice of it Tuesday evening.
California law only requires agencies to give 24 hours notice of special meetings.
In addition to allegedly skirting the Brown Act, the district has also avoided complying with public record requests under Curtis’s watch.
Los Osos resident and frequent Oceano meeting attendee, Julie Tacker, submitted a public record request for Curtis’s job application and writing sample on October 11, four days before he took over as general manager. Neither Curtis, nor other district staff has yet provided Tacker the documents.
CalCoastNews requested the job application and writing sample, as well, on November 14 but has not received the documents.
Earlier this month, both Guerrero and district counsel Jeffrey Minnery said in emails to Tacker that they had instructed Curtis to turn over the documents.
“I have sent him specific instructions to handle it,” Guerrero wrote on December 1.
The next day, Minnery said, “This should have been handled.”
Minnery told CalCoastNews Tuesday that the document should be arriving shortly.
“I told Lonnie Curtis to send it to you,” Minnery said.
Curtis said computer failures have prompted the delayed response to the record requests.
“Our computer system here at the district failed,” Curtis said earlier this month. “I had to rebuild files.”
The district computer system had been down for two or three weeks, Curtis said in late November.
“We’re kind of stumbling if you will through some of this, but we’re going to get up and start walking,” he added.
Curtis’s replacement computer, the only district PC with personnel information on it, was not reading software properly and could not redact private information from his job application, he said. Curtis has stated that he has been working on redacting the documents since November.
When asked if he would send his job application and writing sample from his own private computer, Curtis said he would not.
“I do not release information from my own private computer to anyone, period,” Curtis said.
Curtis is Oceano’s third full-time general manager in less than three years. He is making $126,000 annually.