Sanitation staff fails to follow board direction

February 18, 2015
Julie Tacker

Julie Tacker

OPINION By JULIE TACKER

Tonight the South San Luis Obispo County Sanitation District (SSLOCSD) will be considering the audit that has been asked for repeatedly since December, when Arroyo Grande Mayor Jim Hill suggested that it be agendized. Once agendized, fellow board members, Grover Beach Mayor John Shoals and Oceano CSD Director Matt Guerrero, agreed in the spirit of transparency, to move ahead with preparation of a Request for Proposal (RFP) for an “operational audit.”

This item was expected to be on the board’s last agenda – Feb. 4. When asked why it wasn’t, staff suggested they needed more time and more public input on the scope of work for an RFP to be circulated among auditing firms.
The direction to prepare an RFP for the board’s review was clear weeks earlier, so this excuse that staff needed more time and more public input was curious. As much as we, the public, would like to think staff works for the people of the district, they don’t, they work for the board.

The board gave direction and the resulting staff report before the board tonight is disappointing. Staff presents four possible options; all of which are designed to delay or dissuade the board from proceeding with an audit. Staff’s options range from forming a public committee to assist in developing the RFP (taking weeks to prepare) to ceasing work altogether.

In 2012, the district was under fire from the state water board for the raw sewage spill of Dec. 19, 2010. At that time, the state performed an audit of sorts as they poured over the district’s budgets, annual financial audits and files. They found evidence of “negligence” and handed down a $1.1 million fine. The district has spent nearly that amount fighting the fine and at one point challenged the state, asking the court to compel communications be turned over. The State refused.

“Records are part of an investigatory file compiled by Respondents/Defendants for law enforcement purposes, with a concrete and definite prospect of criminal enforcement,” the state’s response said.

The term “forensic audit” has been bandied about, but because of its negative legal connotation has been frowned upon as if it was a fishing expedition for legal wrongdoing. OCSD Board President Mary Lucey spoke at a recent SSLOCSD meeting wherein she suggested an audit is going back to “regurgitate and beat people down” and didn’t “see the point.” She also said, “I get very nervous when I hear ‘forensic audit’.”

Fellow OCSD board member and SSLOCSD representative, Guerrero has said repeatedly he would personally take any criminal evidence to the district attorney if presented to him. Evidence has been presented, former Grover Beach Mayor, and former SSLOCSD Board member Debbie Peterson presented the board 10 years’ worth of spreadsheets of expenditures that detail what the district’s annual financial auditors identified as “material weaknesses” and “significant deficiencies that merit attention by those charged with governance.”

Additionally, an audit of managerial practices has also been considered, but it too has been characterized as “unnecessary” since the positive turnaround in practices since former administrator John Wallace’s resignation. With knowledgeable staff, mostly new, plant operations have improved dramatically over the past two years with reductions in operating expenses.

The options presented by staff are all nonstarters; the board has the ability and authority to define a scope of work for the RFP and should direct staff to circulate it immediately. The intent of an audit is to review actions of the past management; if the apparent missteps can’t be recognized and identified they could happen again. Boards come and go, staff comes and goes; an auditor may be able to bridge the informational gaps and make recommendations as to what to watch for in the future and prevent the district’s costly history from being repeated.

The public is invited to participate at the meeting in the Arroyo Grande City Council Chambers at 6 p.m. on Wednesday.


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14 Comments

  1. justbeware says:

    It appears as though the demand for an audit, and transparency is making Mr Geurrero a bit uncomfortable.

    Last night Mary Lucey, not only attended the meeting but sat on the board.

    Could it be this wanna-be judges doesn’t want to be anywhere near the San Dist when the sh*t hits the fan?

    (8) 22 Total Votes - 15 up - 7 down
    • kayaknut says:

      Had to love Ms. Lucey’s attire at the meeting, looked like she just woke up, and maybe she did because she didn’t know Oceano doesn’t pay 1/3 the cost of the plant, they pay exactly what they use since money comes from the ratepayers and Oceano actually pays less because they have fewer residents.

      Please study a bit more Ms. Lucey if you are going to sit on the board.

      (6) 20 Total Votes - 13 up - 7 down
      • agag1 says:

        I was glad to hear she is in favor of the audit, even referring to it as an investigation.
        Let’s hope it’s nothing like the Hookstra investigation the city of AG wasted 26k on.

        (3) 13 Total Votes - 8 up - 5 down
        • marcusaurelius says:

          If they hire the right forensic accounting firm, they will find what is out there. There is legal liability there the CPA firm will not want to mess around with.

          (5) 11 Total Votes - 8 up - 3 down
    • falconbh says:

      Mary Lucey- Oceano, Have to give you credit for having the courage to vote in favor of the audit-investigation.
      Still believe we need to reduce some costs , look at all viable revenue options,merger to share costs, privatization, cal fire and balance the budget in the O.C.S.D.
      I thought the last white paper on finances was both limited in scope and focused on just one option.
      Not sure the board or the ratepayers were adequately served by this document.
      Like to see some of best and brightest from Cal Poly University and business come together to bring new creative options for the board to consider in the future.

      (-6) 12 Total Votes - 3 up - 9 down
  2. OnTheOtherHand says:

    I think Julie read a lot into the Board agenda that wasn’t really there. I read it as a preliminary proposal by Sweet which was exactly what he was supposed to provide. The “options” are merely that — options — in case the Board didn’t like the general tone of the proposal.

    Please take into account in your criticisms of the DM that his contract is based upon an estimated 10 hours/wk of work and this proposal alone probably exceeded that — and he has a lot of other information he needs to provide the Board on other topics to say nothing of his primary job of overseeing plant operations. I can understand that he doesn’t particularly like spending money he could use for operations on an audit (although I think he is wrong there) but he has been doing a damn good job overall and it shows in the district’s reports both operational and financial.

    If he is continually abused for not doing a PERFECT job on limited hours (and at bargain rates, incidentally), he could well decide that the hassles aren’t worth his time and quit. If you think you can find someone who will do better work for the same (or even slightly higher) pay, bring forth your candidate. Otherwise, save your criticisms for substantial topics.

    (1) 29 Total Votes - 15 up - 14 down
    • Julie says:

      Hey there OTOH, the staff report was exactly what I portrayed in the OpEd. The GM’s tone clearly changed when faced with public comment and comments by Mayor Shoals *and perhaps having read this OpEd).

      (-11) 25 Total Votes - 7 up - 18 down
  3. Ben Daho says:

    It’s all smoke and mirrors. Not like a Hollywood swingers party with Pot and Coke, but slight of hand. Misdirection. Then something vanished right before our eyes. Oh, the good old days when the headache after the party only
    Added a day… This keystone cop meets Benny Hill skit has went on long enough.

    (6) 16 Total Votes - 11 up - 5 down
  4. falconbh says:

    Very clearly the staff and directors do not want the audit, or investigation. Playing the delay game, paint those who write or speak as a few who want to cause problems.What are they trying to hide from the citizens.
    Why are they all working together so hard to stop the investigation. It is time to represent the ratepayers and support the democratic process. What do you fear ?

    (7) 25 Total Votes - 16 up - 9 down
  5. agag1 says:

    It’s a stall, stall, stall game at the sanitation district.

    Sweet and Seitz are the quarterbacks.

    Shoals and Guerrero are the coaches.

    The game goes on, and on, and on…

    (17) 37 Total Votes - 27 up - 10 down
  6. 2cents says:

    By saying the :staff works for the Board, not the District”, I don’t know if Julie is misinformed or noting that the Board is breaking the law. Per the California Government Code, it is illegal for Board members to give direction to staff other than the General Manager.

    (-8) 24 Total Votes - 8 up - 16 down
    • Julie says:

      The GM is the “staff” I refer to.

      (7) 39 Total Votes - 23 up - 16 down
    • Julie says:

      BTW, this is what my Opinion Piece says exactly, “As much as we, the public, would like to think staff works for the people of the district, they don’t, they work for the board.”

      (4) 38 Total Votes - 21 up - 17 down
      • falconbh says:

        To be perfectly honest when you look at the sanitation District and small Oceano District it is hard to find very many of the directors or managers who place the needs of the ratepayers first !
        For Lucey,Guerrero, Shoals, Seitz,Wallace,Ogren,Sweet,etc.it is about the power,the control , the ego. In the end they will fail because of their lack of ethical leadership.

        (5) 25 Total Votes - 15 up - 10 down

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