Legal counsel battles board
January 19, 2015
BY KAREN VELIE
Amid allegations he had repeatedly failed to follow board direction, the San Luis Obispo County Sanitation District Board will review the performance of district legal counsel Mike Seitz on Jan. 21.
At a Dec. 17 sanitation district meeting, the board unanimously voted to direct staff to seek a mitigated settlement with the state water board and to place a discussion of the settlement on the next agenda. However, staff failed to place the item on the Jan. 7 agenda.
During the first January meeting, sanitation district board Chairman Jim Hill noted Seitz’ failure to expedite a settlement and asked to have a performance review of Seitz contract on the next agenda.
Nevertheless, officials from the state water board said they have not yet been asked to mitigate a settlement. Instead, on Jan. 13, attorneys for the state met with an attorney hired by the sanitation district at the San Luis Obispo County Courthouse for a case management conference as both parties prepare for trial.
Melissa Thorme, the Sacramento based attorney hired by the sanitation district to lodge a lawsuit against the state, said she has not yet been directed to work on a mitigated settlement. Nevertheless, she is slated to meet with the sanitation district board in closed session on Jan. 21.
According to the latest cash disbursement report, the district paid Thorme $8,937 for her legal work in November and Seitz $4,600.
During the past four years, the sanitation district has spent over $1 million in legal fees with the majority spent fighting the water board’s findings of mismanagement.
In 2010, 384,000 gallons of raw sewage flowed in Oceano homes and the ocean. The state later determined the spill was the result of mismanagement and fined the district $1.1 million.
At the suggestion of plant administrator Wallace, the district board then agreed to fund Wallace’s engineering firm and a team of lawyers to battle the fine and allegations of mismanagement.
On Oct. 24 of this year, the state water board rejected the sanitation district’s petition for an appeal of the fine. In turn, the district board voted to file a lawsuit against the state while multiple members of the public requested an investigation into Wallace’s management of the district.
But, following the November election, the makeup of the board changed with Arroyo Grande Mayor Jim Hill and Grover Beach Mayor John Shoals joining Oceano Community Services District President Matt Guerrero. The board then voted in closed session to pursue a settlement of the state fine.
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