Oceano dumping television airings of board meetings

May 24, 2014
Matt Guerrero

Matt Guerrero

By JOSH FRIEDMAN

Following the hiring of a $200,000 general manager for its six-employee community services district, the Oceano Community Services District Board has started the process to eliminate television coverage of its bimonthly meetings.

Last week, the Oceano board hired San Luis Obispo County Public Works Director Paavo Ogren as its new general manager at a base salary of $196,000. The district, which is currently running a $170,000 deficit, is now considering canceling its contract with digital production company AGP Video as a cost-cutting measure.

AGP records the district’s bimonthly board meetings and produces videos of them that are broadcast on cable television channel SLO-SPAN multiple times a week. The district board has eliminated AGP video production services from the district’s draft budget for the upcoming fiscal year at a savings of a little more than $13,000, according to the budget.

“The draft budget does not include AGP video services at this time,” Oceano Community Services District Board President Matt Guerrero said in an email to CalCoastNews.

When asked if he supports the plan to eliminate video recordings of board meetings, Guerrrero said that he is not prepared to make a statement.

But, board critic Jeff Edwards said Guerrero advocated for canceling the district contract with AGP during an Oceano finance committee meeting on Monday.

“He said that they know how to audio tape and they can upload audio to their website and they’ll no longer need AGP,” Edwards said.

The district already records audio of finance committee meetings, and CSD bylaws require staff to post the recordings on the district website for at least 30 days.

However, when CalCoastNews requested an audio copy of Monday’s hour and a half meeting, Account Clerk Celia Ruiz said the district stores but does not upload the meeting recordings. Account Clerk Mario De Leon later said the audio is available for pickup by way of a flash drive, but it is too large to upload.

The district is currently in the fourth year of a five-year contract with AGP. Oceano can terminate the contract, though, on just one week’s notice and without incurring any fees.

AGP charges the district a $585 base fee for filming and producing videos of each meetings. Additional charges are incurred for meetings that last longer than three hours and for instances in which the district requests extra electronic equipment.

When the upcoming fiscal year begins in July, the district will begin paying Ogren’s 196,000 salary. Ogren will also be eligible for 2.5 percent raises after each of his first two years on the job.

Three years ago, the district paid its general manager a base salary of $87,500.

District staff drafted the proposed budget prior to the board officially hiring Ogren, but considerable debt still loomed at the time. Last year, the district water fund borrowed $770,000 from the general fund at 3.25 percent interest.

Additionally, a $129,000 loan from the solid waste fund to the water fund is proposed in the draft budget. Board members have already said they plan to raise water rates to offset the rising expenses.

Despite the looming debt, critics say the approximately $13,000 previously budgeted for televising board meetings is money well spent.

“It’s about transparency,” Edwards said. “The people who do pay attention are watching the video tape.”


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Otis

There is an odorous emanation (a political stink) reeking from the OCSD, and the stench is not attributable to the aromatic or administrative malfunctioning of the local SSLOCSD (South SLO County Sanitation District). Each is chaired by Matt Guerrero, who administers the three minute Public Comment rule censoring those outsiders who have legitimate and sincere interests in the fumbling of the OCSD Board. Cancelling the AGP video services appears to be consistent with an attitude to keep the citizens of the area in the dark regarding the obvious incompetence and mismanagement of OCSD affairs.


analyticone

In my previous post I referred to the Wallace regime at the OCSD (that may be yet to come). That was an error. I should have said at the SSLOCSD (South SLO County Sanitation District).


Julie

Wallace Group was the Oceano district engineer for about five years and resigned.

http://calcoastnews.com/2012/10/wallace-group-loses-contract-gains-others/


Wallace, as administrator at the SSLOCSD should have pushed his board to sue the County General Services Dept. for their runoff pouring off the county owned airport and the County Public Works Dept. for failing to open the flapgates causing Meadow Creek to back up into the island neighborhood and sewer plant. Wallace is culpable in that he should have upgraded, waterproofed and relocated the electrical system to avoid the possibility of shorting due to the sewer plant siting in a floodplain.


Ogren is famous for hiring consultants, he is NOT going to do all the Board expects of him all by himself. The ob description he’s contractually entered into doesn’t require him to. He’s been an administrator for far too long, he’s had many minions under him doing the day to day tasks that he’s now expected to do. He will get bored quickly, there’s no notoriety in running a system/office of this size. Six employees where he had 180, sixteen miles of pipe, 2,300 water meters, one sewage lift station. The hardest part of the job will be to find the money in the budget to pay his own salary.


Any rate increase will need to cover the $1M+ internal loans. (An idea of what it takes to raise $1M can be compared to the recent FCFA failed assessment. 15,000 properties were going to pay $5.50 per month for one year. Oceano CSD has only 2,300 connections, you can see raising anywhere near a million is going to come as quite a shock).


analyticone

Julie, John Wallace was not the SSLOCSD engineer for 5 years. He started as the South San Luis Obispo County Sanitation District engineer, according to his contract, on March 19, 1986 and resigned spring 2013. That’s nearer 27 years.


Julie

Wallace Group was the OCSD District Engineer for those 5 years AND the SSLOCSD District Engineer AND John Wallace himself was SSLOCSD Administrator for 27 years; we’re both right.


doggin

Julie, I could have been misinformed about this however Wallace played a huge part in the drainage path/system of the area in question. Flood control was Wallace’s specialty in Los Angeles where he came from. With regard to the OCSD eliminating their media coverage they seem to be following the San Dist. I see they have settled the Carter/Wallace lawsuit and yet nothing more than a bill to the San Dist For it as well as another lawsuit recently settle between Wallace and ?? that the Tax payers payed for via the San Dist. According to board packs all that remains is the years old failure of the Bio gas Cogen unit that was Wallace’s pride and joy to the environment. Sustainable energy or sustainable income.


Julie

doggin,

I am unfamiliar with Wallace’s prior life. We have watched closely as he never recommended pointing the flood finger at whose water it was that lead to the flooding of his neglected equipment.


The San Dist started putting audio up on their website for a time, but has stopped. Perhaps that is where Matt got the idea?


Josh Friedman’s story mentions it but only cursory, the OCSD doesn’t have the capability/ability to upload their audio even though their bylaws (adopted in Aug. 2012) say they will. To my knowledge, they’ve only audio taped a handful of committee meetings to date. Much of what they’ve done, Special Meetings held without AGP have gone on with no audio record.


The law only provides for written minutes. These minutes are sporadic in information, sometimes saying a lot, often times saying too little. I noticed that there are no minutes to review this coming Wednesday from the last meeting.


Settlements at the San Dist need to be explained. Guerrero is the Chair there too, I expect we’ll hear him talk about it during the OCSD Director’s Reports.


Bluebird

Does anyone know why the waste water fund borrowed $770,00 from the general fund

last year and why waste water needs to borrow $129,00 from solid waste fund this year?


Julie

Bluebird,

I do know why the water fund (not wastewater) is borrowing from other funds. It is already in debt to garbage by $62K (a loan taken last year), this $129K (a figure that didn’t anticipate Ogren’s salary) in next years budget is to help it operate. Guerrero suggested the district was out of it’s “tailspin” and “running in the black”, borrowing between funds suggests no such thing. This borrowing must stop for the district to show to grant providers that they are solvent. No grant provider is going to through a life raft to a sinking ship that takes the grant with it. Grant funds come from all of us taxpayers and the grant providers are very particular as to where those funds go and they meet the needs requested.


For the three years OCSD went without audits (now ($150K later) are all caught up) there was management that simply was looking at the districts balance sheet and saw that all funds are kept together, not understanding that funds enterprise funds and are earmarked for the fund in which fees are collected. Seeing over a million in the bank, spending took place focused on polishing the water department, making it a “model utility”, a lot of hats, shirts, paint and some metal buildings set over wells (before actually maintaining the wells).


Unbudgeted expenses also hit the district hard. The increased salary of the GM, new positions added, including the accountant, a job that Geaslen (a self proclaimed expert in finance) was to have been able to do himself. He/with no questions from the Board, hired expensive accounting consultants to close books and painstakingly do what hadn’t been done in years. Other unbudgeted expenses went to legal costs due to inexperience, lawyers having to undoing things Geaslen had done.


The $770,000 was what was revealed had been borrowed over those 3 years. The accountant came up with the formula in which to pay the Admin. Fund back. The board adopted the terms of the loan, but it doesn’t appear the water fund has the means to pay (some $3,700 a month).


The draft budget is not online for the public, even Ogren, to view. I had to attend the Monday Finance Committee to get a copy.


Ogren doesn’t go to work until mid-July, the catch up will be big, having had no accountant since March. He will also have to learn the software and attend the numerous meetings expected of him.


MaryMalone

QUOTING JULIE: “He [Ogren] will also have to learn the software and attend the numerous meetings expected of him….”


Or not. He can do pretty much what he wants and, as we have learned from past experience, the OCSD board of directors will do absolutely nothing in the way of oversight.


AND they have allowed Ogren to create a system of governing that makes fraud and embezzlement accomplished by the snap of a finger.


It is almost like the OCSD BOD is setting themselves up for kickbacks from the fraud…


Perspicacious

These outlandish salaries for csd directors. city managers, and the biggest waste all, Larry Allen’s at the APCD, are infuriating. The excuse given is that the salaries need to be high to be able to attract qualified personnel. I call B.S.! You could pay me half their salary and I could do a better job. With all these high salaries, why are these csd’s, cities, etc., always screwed up? At the very least I could screw it up for less cost! Seriously, do we really need to pay some schmuck more than 200k a year to tell us it will be dusty when the winds pick up?


These kinds of things are eventually going to make us average citizens revolt. It is so out of hand the level of frustration is at a boiling point.


fishing village

This is not a good idea as people want to know what is happening at meetings. AGP does a good job and the meetings are available on CD. It is a good service.


SuperDave

And the cover-up begins-


Julie

The irony of ironies is that OCSD Board President, Matt Guerrero, was recently featured in a KSBY aired television commercial endorsing District 4 Supervisor candidate, Caren Ray (one can only assume he knows how effective television is). That appearance in the Ray commercial has caused some serious blow-back; see this weeks agenda packet and accompanying letters from community members.


Whether or not AGP is at Oceano meetings, we will continue to participate (Jeff and I have been to more meetings throughout the county and the state without cameras that meetings with). Maybe others will join us, without cameras and Ogren in Oceano, the public needs to watch OCSD more closely than ever as he raises rates to cover his lucrative contract.

Now is not the time to go underground.


Another irony; in Guerrero’s appearance in the Ray commercial he states Ray will “bring jobs to and make streets safer in Oceano.” So far, all I’ve seen is the consolidation of the GM and accountant position at the OCSD, letting AGP (a reputable small business employer out of Morro Bay) go and the idea to add a Sheriff Deputy to patrol Oceano (Ray doesn’t have the flexibility to add Sheriff’s staff to Oceano’s substation, that will take the whole board of supervisors, all of whom would like additional officers in their district’s).


MaryMalone

The more we see of Ogren’s “vision” for the OCSD, the more it looks like his GM position is being tailor-made for fraud.


analyticone

I was alarmed at the salary paid to Ogren, and that he will take it, with benefits close to $50-$100,000 over that of sister cities’ city managers, many of whom oversee much larger populations, at least 50 employees, and multiple departments. The Oceano District is fundamentally a utilities district, with 6 employees.


Ogren’s acceptance of this excessive pay package screams self-indulgence and a lack of empathy with the community he is hired to serve. He learned the Wallace model well.


Closing down public oversight by refusing to video is the worst decision the district could make. A district track record of poor decision-making and poor performance followed by hiring a chief executive at a disproportionately high salary and a subsequent decision to reduce public access is exactly the practice followed by the Oceano Community Services District under the Wallace regime.


Here’s how it’s done; overcharge, underperform, control all communication leaving the organization. Do it with such manipulative charm that the board thinks you are doing them a favor (like saving them money on video fees). Meanwhile, manipulate staff with the threat of loss of employment. Then sit back and watch the reserves of the district flow straight to your bank account and out of public reach forever.


Mr. Ogren, if you are other than a Wallace protégé, prove it by reducing your salary by $13,000 to keep the videoing in place.


Ben Daho

Seriously?