Oceano general manager fired with cause

March 14, 2014
Lonnie Curtis

Lonnie Curtis

By JOSH FRIEDMAN

Editor’s Note: A video of Lonnie Curtis reacting to his termination is at the bottom of this article. Curtis tells CalCoastNews to record his remarks, then says it does not have the authorization to film him.

The Oceano Community Services District Board of Directors fired General Manager Lonnie Curtis Friday, just five months after he took over as head of the agency. Shortly after he was terminated, he flipped off an attendee of the meeting before driving away in his car.

The board voted 5-0 in closed session to fire Curtis with cause. By terminating him with cause, the board avoided dolling out $63,000 in severance pay.

Curtis’s firing marked the third consecutive Oceano general manager tenure to end with a termination. Prior to firing Curtis, the district board fired general managers Raffaele Montemurro and Tom Geaslen, who each overpaid themselves with agency funds.

Curtis faced frequent criticism since taking over as general manager on October 15. The board reviewed his performance three times in a six-week span late last year, then once more Wednesday night prior to firing him Friday.

Over Curtis’s brief tenure, board members had to instruct him to follow the California Ralph M. Brown Act and Public records Act and complained about numerous mistakes on meeting agendas. In recent weeks, the district overcharged development fees to property owners requesting water and sewer service.

“Everything is in a tangle — our minutes, our agenda, our rules and policies and even our goals,” Director Karen White stated Wednesday.

No board member would comment on Curtis’s termination Friday.

Curtis blamed his firing primarily on Los Osos resident and Oceano meeting attendee, Julie Tacker.

“She’s nothing but a hemorrhoid in this agency,” Curtis said. “She needs to go away — go far and go away.”

In addition to speaking at board meetings, Tacker submitted multiple record requests that Curtis ignored or delayed responding to. One record request revealed that Curtis plagiarized much of a PowerPoint presentation he used as a writing a sample when he applied for the general manager position.

Curtis was making $126,000 annually.

Curtis reacting to his termination:

 


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Kevin Rice

Someday… Adam Hill will say, “I’m not a public servant no longer.”


kayaknut

Not soon enough, and some are saying Mr. Gibson will easily win, yikes. Hopefully District 4 will bring in a new person.


wineguyjc

Kayaknut,


Valid point. I wonder if SLOtown will hire him next. He seems to have the right qualities and qualifications for leading SLOtown.


mbactivist1

Actually, I don’t think he ever was one :)


Julie

Thanks to everyone for saying nice things about me, but kudo’s to the Board! While their action and it was somewhat overdue, IMO, they let Mr. Curtis have plenty of rope to hang himself out of the severance…hooray!

Inaction is what cooked his goose. He promised over and over things would be back on the next agenda and either they didn’t come back or he recycled the same material without including the Board’s directed changes. You’ll see in this past Wednesday’s meeting where the attorney has had to step in to do the follow up, these increased bills combined with the overtime run up by staff shows that others were doing Mr. Curtis’s job.


Mr. Curtis was never well suited for this position. There are no second chances for a first impression. His first Board meeting he arrived 7 minutes late, he was changing his shirt in the back of the room before entering the Board room and when he got to the dais he did so without a pen, pencil, piece of paper, or a Board packet; nothing but a cell phone that went off during the meeting. He didn’t have the courtesy to listen to the Strategic Planning presentation given by outgoing IGM Keefe, instead walked around the room, doinking with the cell phone, and then told the Board he would bring that back after the new year, which he never did.


It was all downhill from there. At $500.00 a day, Oceano deserved better. Mr. Curtis can blame me, sure, blame me for holding him accountable. Blame me for holding the Board accountable. But he was the master of his own demise. Out of the office more than in and his only work product was changing letterhead, fonts, and a whole lot of cutting and pasting others work.


Looking forward to a new chapter in Oceano. I have many good ideas I hope they are open to hearing about. There’s not a lot of time, they are running out of money and need to act quickly to stop the bleeding. Starting with NOT hiring a replacement at the price of $126,000 a year.


I invite the public to come back to the meetings, help shape the decisions of the Board. They need to hear from you.


MaryMalone

The fact that Curtis was so inept at preparing and organizing board packets for meetings, and his lack of follow through in correcting his errors and staying on top of dust err icy issues, is shocking.


While it is true that the BOD is responsible for oversight of the GM, they are not supposed to have to hold his every hand every step of the way to ensure the GM does his job.


Julie

Certainly NOT at $500.00 a day!


Mr. Curtis was short on ideas and implementation. He cut and paste (i.e. plagiarized) from many sources — including a table created by President Guerrero (oops!) who spotted it in last meeting’s discussion about the Will Serve Process. He characterized his use of others work as “not reinventing the wheel.” Maybe not, but if you’re gonna Lift” info from other agencies it’s good to search and replace identifying marks (like phone numbers of the San Diego Water Authority) throughout the document.


It’s also good to give the public the documents they seek, keeping/hiding them just adds to the suspicion that something is terribly wrong. It took two months to get his resume and writing sample, we know now why.


The Board is scheduled to have a workshop on March 22; I have been on Board’s and a Board watcher for the last 2 decades, I can’t wait to share some ideas. I hope the public joins in the discussion.


LameCommenter

Yes, Julie, you have been on boards for years and those of us who suffered from your destruction of the Los Osos wastewater project will always think you’re a quack. Is it truly a fresh success for you that you barraged an overworked and borderline Oceano manager with a flood of public records requests?


You proximately caused one of my Los Osos properties to endure a $24,000 loss. Some of us don’t think you’re Joan of Arc of local district boards, that’s for sure. Perhaps this manager could have done better work, absent your consumption of his time. You were a powerful distraction and adversary for him, just as you plagued Los Osos.


I’m glad you have confidence that you are helpful to the public process. I don’t agree. You were washed out in Los Osos. How about leaving that board down there and Oceano to do their work and hire their next person. Not all gadfly contributions are valuable.


kettle

proximately? Because the housing crisis had nothing to do with Los Osos, right.


Also plenty of players on both sides of the LO Sewer, it’s not all her fault, but you can pretend if that’s what you are into.


LameCommenter

Don’t mean to turn this into challenge Julie Tacker thread, but if she says she has ideas and some people support her after a disastrous vote in Los Osos, the facts bear repeating so we can respect and judge her input based on a track record. I’m certain she’s a personable lady, but…


Voting to shut down year old signed contract vetted, funded, started, survived nine lawsuits, wastewater project, you’re correct kettle, had nothing to do with the housing crisis, it had EVERYTHING to do with the deplorable costly vote to stop that, which Ms. Tacker did vote to destroy. A town-shaking profound world class blunder.


Further, kettle, please don’t try to smear around blame saying there were lots of players on both sides in Los Osos. Only a few directors, Tacker and her regime, voted to plunge the town into tens of thousands of added expense per homeowner. Facts.


Anyone who voted to wreck a townwide project should have her thoughts of public government severely examined. Oceano has enough problems without a passionate but profoundly ill advised citizen mucking things up.


Julie

What I have learned by being involved throughout these last 12 years in Los Osos and 5 years in Oceano is exactly why I want to help Oceano avoid the same mistakes that were made, not just by me, but the many others along the way (remember Tonini? Cost=millions Time= a year). By the way, I would still vote to Move the Sewer.


Oceano residents, and perhaps even its board, do not know how serious their financial problems are.

The Water Fund will be over $1 million in debt with the adoption of the 2014-15 FY budget. This internal debt, without the rate structure to repay it, is what will keep them from getting assistance from low interest loan and grant providers. While Audits are caught up, the track record is damning and it will take a real turnaround in management (not just the person, but the way things are run) to make them eligible for the programs they’re otherwise qualified for.


One idea that works is to have citizen committee’s. Community members sharing their willingness and expertise helps the Board not operate in a vacuum created by a single GM. Citizen involvement is very valuable, bringing new perspective to each discussion, helps analyze the broader impacts of an issue (if I say the word “Jetter” right here Oceanoian’s will know exactly which vacuum I’m talking about).


LC, go ahead and dislike me, but I don’t see you trying to make a difference in either Los Osos or Oceano. You’re only here, tearing down one person who seems to care about the little people and stands up to the establishment. I’m arguing against the status quo and am not hiding behind a lame identity that is not my own. Come out, share your good ideas.


Pelican1

Judge Not Lest Ye Be Judged!


Let HER Who is Without Sin Cast the First Stone


LameCommenter

Ms. Tacker, I do not “dislike” you, this is not a schoolyard, I challenge your often atomically misguided and damaging votes and opinions in the municipal venue of ideas.


I tried to save Los Osos and gave testimony before you. I enjoy my anonymity, and I was unable to dissuade you from your wrecking of a vetted funded going project. Half the planet counseled your board not to do so.


Finally, would you agree, there is a role for me in reminding persons who choose to discuss such municipal issues, in this venue of ideas, and elsewhere, of the incredibly passionate and incredibly wrong and damaging past actions of big players like yourself?


Somebody needs to point out, particularly for those who are new to the municipal discussions, that for dedicated people like yourself, your passion sometimes BLINDS you to common sense regarding COSTLY municipal finance, planning and engineering issues.


That’s all I can do, Ms. Tacker, and that is why I speak out, because I am electorally ineffective. I tried desperately to dissuade you and your board and voters from the Los Osos mistake. I brought years of elected and appointed board experience, never tooted my horn about a particular WWTP bronze plaque with my name on it, just offered my best thought and reasoning and I was not persuasive. So my renters and I pay for your mistake in Los Osos, and I just offer my little bits here, and there, from an old coot’s guilded rocking chair. I became tired of giving testimony with my years of experience to Junior boards who desperately lack balancedvision and maturity in many of their deliberations. Reasoning behind the scenes with individual officials seems equally ineffective. “One can lead a horse to water,” and so forth…


Try not to lead Oceano too far astray please.


Respond back once if you like, however the moderator probably wants me to shut up. With good cause.


Julie

LameCommenter,

Just what do you know of my requests for information in Oceano? I believe I asked for half a dozen documents in the five months Mr. Curtis was there. I received four items.

“Barraged?” You be the judge, I don’t think so.

His resume and writing sample and form 700 and the form 700 of the new legal counsel…2 months after the request I received them.

Cell phone records and calendar; denied.

Langstaff expenses not covered by insurance; 2+ months (revealed the district paid over $17K to defend itself against the Langstaff wrongful termination lawsuit without being reimbursed by insurance…Geaslen Collateral Damage).

McCall staff report (that should have been available at the meeting it was discussed); took two weeks.

I’m still waiting for a letter sent the Oceano Elks Lodge and the legal expenses incurred for the McCall appeal.

Not a lot to ask for and not too hard to find.


As for Los Osos, I’m still at their meetings and participating their too. Yes, the County’s lien is all the PZ properties for $24,912. That’s what the assessment vote was about, you probably voted for it. I didn’t.


Lynette_Tornatzky

Maybe you still don’t “get” Julie that with the old project, we had no liens on our properties. Thanks to you and your board, we now have $24,912 liens on our properties. Thank goodness enough people were wise to your wrong decisions on money matters. We overwhelmingly voted YES to have to liens put on our properties, because at that point it was the best we could do.


Thanks LameCommenter for telling the story of abject arrogance and ineptitude by one who still petulantly votes “no” as if it mattered one iota.


MaryMalone

If you use someone else’s work, you put it in quotes and give credit for it in the document. Otherwise, it is plagiarism. Period.


Pelican1

If this “new chapter” includes your “many ideas”, they are destined to fail. Have you already forgotten the mess you helped create in Los Osos?


MaryMalone

Adhering to the Brown Act is a bad thing? A board taking appropriate steps to ensure proper vetting of potential candidates for GM IS a bad thing? Advocating for the GM and board to treat members of the public fairly and appropriately is a bad thing?


I believe Curtis would have remained GM for OCSD much longer if Tacker had not done the research and persisted in notifying the board about the problems with Curtis’s performance as OCSD’s GM.


shelworth

It’s hard to imagine someone who makes $126,000 per year using the phrase “I am not a public servant no longer”.


mbactivist1

Well, at least we now understand at least one reason why he felt it necessary to plagiarize material for his job application. He doesn’t appear to have been an English major :)


kayaknut

Given the number of people who are in the $100,000 pension club in San Luis County, and the number grows every year it’s not that hard.,


wineguyjc

It seems that the Board continues to scrape GM’s out of the same barrel from the bottom over and over again. The learning curve is slow in Oceano, however, to give them credit this nightmare was ended rather quickly. However, a thought to the Board – the GM can only do this kind of damage when you have inept staff – you need to clean house top to bottom. Maybe the next GM will fire the other problems and bring in qualified people to help run the District.


kayaknut

At what point do you start looking at the board as the biggest problem?? and not the barrel they are using.


hijinks

Qualified — like John Wallace?


MaryMalone

QUOTING WINEGUYJC: “However, a thought to the Board – the GM can only do this kind of damage when you have inept staff…”


——–


WRONG.


This is how things work in a CSD:


The GM is in charge of administration of the office staff.


The Board gives directions to the GM regarding what policies, projects, or actions they want to occur.


The GM then gives it his best shot, and prepares a staff ntoe for submission to the board at a future Board meeting. Sometimes the GM actually has specialist office staff members prepare the staff notes. If the staff member prepares a staff note, usually their name is on the staff note (not the GM’s name). However, it is the GM’s job to review the staff note prepared by office staff, instruct for edits, etc., before the final staff note is presented to the BOD.


In other words, no matter who writes what, the GM is 100% responsible for everything that is presented to the Board of Directors. It is the GM’s job to instruct office staff to, where appropriate, on how the staff note is prepared and what stance they are to present to the Board.


Once the policy staff note has been approved by the Board, the Board will direct the GM how to implement it (i.e., prepare a resolution for Board signature, etc.).


In most cases, individual staff members do NOT interact directly with the Board, unless the Board and GM allow it. There are regulations which require that non-GM staff members do not speak to more than one person on the Board. In my experience, speaking at all to the Board outside of Board or Committee meetings is verboten.


wineguyjc

MaryMalone,


I will ponder by your response that when Hitler gives a directive, whether valid, legal and or morally inept you would follow that direction. Lets get real, the OCSD has had the same issue over and over and over again. No matter how many times they change – fire – let go the GM, the same issues exist. Eliminate all the extraneous variables (i.e. numerous GM’s) the main constant is staff. We have had some change in the BOD – very little, thus the problem also lays with the staff


falconbh

Certainly a new opportunity to move forward in improving the budget process, future infrastructure projects, water conservation efforts and rebuilding trust within the community.


We are all looking forward to a comprehesive plan that will improve the district and allow our elected board to take on their traditional roles as policy makers, and working with a general manager or consultant who understands the district and has the vision to help improve the board, the district, changing community, and most of all our outstanding field staff that has done outstanding work , under difficult conditions.


The district has a lot of positive things to build a new future; location, weather, land, water, with new homes and small business growth taking place. Plus a county revitalization plan that can help build a stronger core community downtown district is in place.


I actually believe we are just a short distance from a past built on uncertainty and a future built with prosperity and positive growth.


We all just need to work together and develop a new community based improvement plan.


MaryMalone

About Curtis calling Racket a “hemorrhoid”…


Pretty sad when Curtis admits he was so easily outsmarted by a “hemorrhoid.”


OnTheOtherHand

Is Racket a second on-line handle for Julie Tacker? I thought it was Ms. Tacker to whom he was referring with that comment.


MaryMalone

My kindle substituted “racket” for “Tacker.”


My apologies for not proofing before sending.


racket

I irritate a lot of assholes, but Julie Tacker I ain’t.


MaryMalone

Once again, OCSD owes thanks to Julie Tacker for her tireless public activist work which has saved OCSD so much money and damage by Curtis had his outrageous plagiarism and lack of knowledge as general manager continued any longer than it did.


Pelican1

CSD’s simply don’t work.


Kevin Rice

More agencies need to have a hemorrhoid. Congratulations to Julie and Oceano.


grc

how inept is the board to have hired this sideshow Bob in the first place….hello….who are these morons?!?…your elected representatives…that’s who….


mbactivist1

I think you make a good point, grc. The quotes and stories of his behavior show what an idiot this guy is, but when you hear him talk, the point is made even more strongly.


I just hope he doesn’t sue and get away with it. So often, people fired with cause sue and actually win, even though they have done things that are provably dishonest.


Juries are strange sometimes, and a good lawyer can actually get them to sympathize with the guilty party. On the other hand, this guy is so loaded with “charm” that it might be difficult for him to get much sympathy.


mbactivist1

I just did a little quick research, and there is a book called “getting fired” that says employers lose over 70% of wrongful termination cases, and that one reason is that juries tend to sympathize with the fired person – largely because pretty much everybody has been treated badly by an employer at one time or another.


Maybe this explains some of the really strange, seemingly un-winnable suits that get filed. Here’s a wild one. In late 2012, the captain of the cruise ship that ran aground off Italy, filed a wrongful termination suit against his employer, even though the accident killed 32 people, and even though he abandoned ship rather than staying to help after the accident. I don’t know if he won or lost, but regardless, defending against the suit is an expense for his former employer.