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.


When I was an over-reactive teenager and would work myself up into a pity party, my mother would often say “Put your feet together, darlin’, we only have one nail.”

Perhaps Mr. Edwards should remember my mothers’ words the next time Lucey attempts to ‘climb on the cross’ over something that was not intended towards her.


Welcome to the thin skinned states of America. Oh wait is there thin skinned people? Oops don’t want to offend if there might be any out there. Oh can I use the word people or should I just use humans? Or lifeforms? Damn this is all so confusing how not to offend everybody.


I am thinking we should just make that Chewbacca sound from now on.


Next she’ll get an attorney and sue the OCSD. $$$ Ridiculous PC nonsense.


She may have been on a reservation but she should be in a sanitorium.


Bravo and well stated Smiley

the guy paso

Mary Lucey speaks with forked tongue.


And how do 500 of us posters get so geared up over a meeting that was attended by about 6 sleepy locals, huh?


When did everyone become so sensitive? I grew up during the 60s and 70s in a city in the Northeast that was very segregated, and, not racially as much as ethnically. Italians, Polish, Croatians, Hungarians, Irish, all lived in neighborhoods that were comprised mostly of the same national origin. We all experienced ethnic slurs. I wish I had a dime for every time that someone referred to me as a “Greasy Dago” or a “Dub Wop.” There were also the “Dumb Hunkies and Polocks” and the “Drunken Irish Bums. ” If any of us had taken this personally we would have never made it out of elementary school. Many of my lifelong friends have spent the last 50 years as friends with others that hurled these insensitive comments. These are words, nothing more. Many of these friends that I refer to spent their childhoods fighting with the other Ethnic Groups, and I don’t mean online bullying, but fists and feet. Again, we all survived and as we matured and have formed lifelong friendships that exist for many decades and across the country. I don’t like the idea of anyone being bullied, but, learning to deal with hurtful people is part of maturing. The lesson to be learned is that during ones’ life, you will experience many hurtful situations. Overreactions as noted in the story say much more about the lack of self esteem of the person that perceives that they are a target than it does about the choice of words that caused the hurt.


Well said mbbizpro. Well said.

From me to you, a standing O.


What folks missed after Ms Lucey’s little meltdown was when the board went to closed session, Mary walked by Jeff and told him to go make love to himself,(her words were more colorful) and then called him a son of a female dog. How is that for class?

I was offended by her language and think she owes the people in the audience a apology though I doubt one is coming.

Ms. Lucey should not be on a board if she can not hear or take criticism that may be said about staff at meetings. That is part of being a public figure you got to learn to have thick skin.

I hope the league of women voters are called next time Mary needs to sit on the board because Matt Guerrero is not available, maybe they can help with keeping the peace.

Heck let them be there for the next few meetings, because decorum for some of the board is difficult for them to follow. Heck even the public could use a reminder once in a while too.

But this little stunt was ridiculous and uncalled for. Jeff was speaking to Rick Sweet and did not address her in the slightest way when he was speaking during public comment. I have found things Ms. Lucey has said very offensive in her verbal language, body language and her tone. I have watched her try to stop people from their 1st amendment rights of free speech< i could go on and on.

Please check your ego at the door next time you come to a san dist meeting Ms. Lucey, it is not becoming of you.


Julie & Ed, first, take the logs out of your own eyes; then you will see clearly, so that you can remove the splinter from Oceano’s eye.