South County billing dispute erupts with allegation of racism

July 17, 2015


Amid a discussion on a multi-month billing dispute that is pitting South County cities Arroyo Grande and Grover Beach against the Oceano Community Services District, an elected official stormed out of a board meeting, alleging she was the target of a racial slur.

In June, the Oceano CSD, led by General Manager Paavo Ogren, demanded the South San Luis Obispo County Sanitation district sign a contract pertaining to billing services. The OCSD has since threatened to stop acting as a bill collector for the sanitation district if the South County agency does not agree to pay approximately $22,000 a year to Oceano.

The cities of Arroyo Grande and Grover Beach also provide billing services for the sanitation district. Both cities bill many more sewage customers than Oceano, yet they charge less in totality than what the OCSD is demanding.

The sanitation district board, which is comprised of a representative each from Arroyo Grande, Grover Beach and Oceano, twice rejected the contract Ogren proposed. Yet, sanitation District Manager Rick Sweet placed Ogren’s proposal back on the agenda for Wednesday’s board meeting.

At the meeting, Jeff Edwards, a frequent critic of the OCSD, spoke during public comment and criticized Sweet for siding with Oceano in the billing dispute.

“This is another example of your general manager going off the reservation,” Edwards said at the beginning of his public comment.

OCSD board member Mary Lucey, who was serving on the sanitation board Wednesday, then cut off Edwards. Lucey left the dais saying Edwards had made a racial, slanderous remark towards her even though the comment was clearly directed towards Sweet.

Grover Beach Mayor John Shoals, who was chairing the meeting, then called for a five minute break. When the board reconvened, Shoals let Lucey speak.

Mary Lucey

Mary Lucey

“Racism comes in many, many different ways, and I’m Blackfoot Indian, and I was born in Montana, and I was born on a reservation, and my grandmother was raised in an orphanage. So when someone says to me you’ve wandered off the reservation, it is the most bigoted comment you can make to a Native American, and it’s insulting, and what’s really insulting is when you do it in front of a room full of adults, and they allow that type of bigotry to continue. So, Mr. Ewards, you’re a bigot,” Lucey said.

When Lucey finished her remarks, Shoals said he was surprised by her comments. He also said the sanitation board might need to call in the League of Women to help with civil discourse.

Shoals then allowed Edwards to continue his public comment.

Edwards did not respond to Lucey’s remarks. He said Sweet was acting against the will of the board by continuing to push for the agreement with Oceano.

“Who is Mr. Sweet working for,?” Edwards said. “Is he working for this district. Or is he working for Paavo Ogren at the OCSD?”

Edwards also alleged that Oceano’s representatives on the sanitation district board have been pushing for the billing agreement because the OCSD is strapped for cash.

“Oceano needs the money. That’s why they keep begging for it. They have to pay Paavo,” Edwards said.

Oceano pays Ogren a base salary of approximately $200,000.

Lucey later responded by saying Oceano is not begging the sanitation district for anything. Lucey said the sanitation district stands to lose $84,000, the revenue from a two-month billing cycle, by not signing the agreement with the OCSD.

On Wednesday, Lucey filled in for Oceano’s representative on the sanitation board, Matt Guerrero. Both Guerrero and Lucey have argued for the contract with the OCSD, while representatives of Arroyo Grande and Grover Beach have opposed it.

Arroyo Grande Mayor Jim Hill was also absent from Wednesday’s sanitation board meeting. Hill has criticized Ogren’s payment demands, calling them outrageous.

Hill’s absence could have swayed the vote Wednesday. But, Arroyo Grande Councilman Tim Brown, who filled in for Hill, would not support the agreement with Oceano, either.

“I don’t believe it’s correct to basically be told by one jurisdiction it’s our way or the highway,” Brown said.

Brown called for the sanitation district to hold off signing an agreement for one month. Shoals agreed, saying Ogren should reconsider his demands.

The board voted 2-1 against signing the contract. The board directed sanitation district staff to attempt to construct a deal on billing rates with all three of its member agencies.

The sanitation district is also considering asking the county to serve as its bill collector.


I can see where Lucey might find the idiom offensive.


My guess is Mary Lucey is offended by anything she doesn’t agree with.


I had reservations about commenting on this piece, but…what the hell, it’s important to note that Jeff wasn’t talking about Mary Lucey. His comment was directed at the performance of the District Administrator, Rick Sweet.

I, Julie Tacker (Jeff Edwards is my life partner) am of Sioux decent. I am not offended by the use of the idiom and interpret Jeff’s reference to Administrator Sweet’s, going “off the reservation” and agendizing the Oceano billing agreement for a third time in as many meetings as going rogue and question his loyalty.

Edwards was not suggesting Lucey was “off the reservation” but, when one serves on the San Dist they are to be representing the San Dist; not their home agency. Decisions need to made with the mindset, “What’s best for the ratepayers of the San Dist?” Where does Lucey’s loyalty lie, apparently not with the district she was serving at this meeting. She doesn’t care for Jeff, she calls for decorum, yet rolls her eyes at speakers as they speak and yelled at Jeff from the OCSD dais just one week earlier because he mentioned the scheduled raise for Ogren.

Shoals, Hill and Brown have all been true to the San Dist, advocating not to subsidize Oceano ratepayers (who pay Paavo’s salary) by continuing to pay an inequitable charge for billing the San Dist sewer charge on a piece of paper, in an envelope, with a stamp. that’s going out anyway in the form of a water bill. Each has vowed to seek an equitable formula that all three member agencies can agree to or turn all billing over to the county tax roll. What has been asked for since May is the analysis of billing options for the board to consider…Sweet was given one more month to do so.

I question Sweet’s loyalty to the San District, too. Sweet continues to pursue a contract for Oceano CSD. OCSD needs the money; don’t be fooled by it’s recently adopted “balanced” preliminary budget. That district over a million in debt to itself and Ogren begins receiving his $5,000 annual increase beginning this month; bringing his annual salary to $201,000 plus benefits.

This is not the first time Mary calls citizen participants “racist.”

Is this all you’ve got Mary? It’s getting old.


I was going to call and make a reservation but maybe I will rethink that. I know…I will call and reserve a table. Give me a break. It will not be long before anyone making an allegation of racism will be met with laughter. Racism once meant something but lately it’s being overused. Stop the racial whining for Gods sake.


“off the reservation” three definitions for the expression:

1. (literally) To leave a reservation to which one was restricted.

2. (US, politics) To break with one’s party or group, usually temporarily.

3. (by extension) To engage in disruptive activity outside normal bounds.


If there was an award for the most idiotic political stunt of the week then clearly Mary Lucey would be his weeks winner.

To attribute this comment to a racist attack is ridiculous.

If Mary Lucey is indeed of native american heritage she does her culture great disservice.

I have seen her behavior and decision making in the past and find her to be a payaso.


TR- I believe the correct term would be “payasa.” N’est-ce pas?


I am so sick and tired of all this politically correct bullshit. This lady obvious had some personal issues, she obviously knows Adam Hill and Bruce Gibson because she was like a copycat of their rude, crude, mean spirited demeanor. These person should not be sitting on boards, committees, etc. as they made rules and changes in people life and think people do not have a right to be upset and speak their objections. Lucey, get the hell out of the kitchen if you can’t take the heat. People are stressed and displeased with government, which people like you have created. It goes with the job!


Her biggest issue with being on the SanDistrict board is that she is not very bright and has a very short attention span.


a 215 medical card will cause a short attention span, mostly when the meds need to be taken often during the entire day


Claims of racism. The refuge of the weak minded.

Those who have actually experienced racism should be the ones offended by all of the ridiculous claims of racism that occur today.

Rich in MB

Yes the line does have some racial slur history to it…but was it said that way, no I doubt it.

Apologize and move on…or send them to a tax payer Charm School for a week in Hawaii so they can learn what phrases are ok to say and which ones offend.

Next issue…


“Well, I shall restate my position without reservation!”

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