Money down the drain at the South County sewer plant

November 23, 2016
Julie Tacker

Julie Tacker

OPINION by JULIE TACKER

While expenses at the South San Luis Obispo County Sanitation District continue to climb under a new administrator, the public is seeing little or no benefit and a decrease in transparency.

The district currently pays its new Administrator Gerhardt Hubner a $12,500 salary, a $350 car allowance and a nice retirement and benefit plans that equate to over $16,000 a month. He was hired to work full time; in anticipation of some large projects the district is undertaking — which differs from all previous administrators. Yet, in my estimation, based on telephoning the plant, asking neighbors and friends, Hubner is at the sewer plant less than 20 hours per month.

In comparison, the last district administrator, Rick Sweet, was hired to work 10 hours a week and was paid $4,000 per month. Before Sweet, Paul Karp was hired to work six hours a week for $4,000 a month. Neither received a car allowance or benefits. Both of them spent more time at the plant than they were paid for.

The district’s interim administrator, Plant Superintendent, John Clemons, held the ship steady for eight months for just $800 over his monthly salary.

Prior to Hubner’s employ in April, the district was operating smoothly. Most of its troublesome issues of the John Wallace years had been settled or nearly resolved.

Under Hubner, recent board packets lack substance or have had contracts to outsource work; work that one would expect him, as a full time administrator, to do; including tasks as mundane as writing a newsletter.

Keep in mind, the sanitation district has a single purpose, to treat wastewater to its highest quality at the lowest price to its ratepayers. Current staff which includes a bookkeeper, superintendent, lab tech, operators and engineering consultants perform most of the district’s administrative work.

When the district advertised for Hubner’s position, it wanted someone who had, “Techniques for providing a high level of customer service to the public, elected/appointed officials, and District staff, in person, electronically, and over the telephone.” He was supposed to have skills in “personnel and employer-employee relations and principles of supervision, training and management.”

Hubner has snubbed the public records act; he denied access to his resume for over four months, triggering legal bills that cited irrelevant case law. He finally presented the resume, made a big production of it as if he was doing the public a favor. His abrasive personality has triggered two employee grievances and a number of complaints filed.

There is a full blown investigation being done by an outside legal counsel, and I am aware some of the staff has joined a union. All this in just six months on the job, leads one to believe that Hubner has very poor leadership skills. Including his handling of the board members, instead of bringing the board together he seems to have exacerbated their differences.

Hubner has complained about his working conditions in spite the fact that his job description states, “Works in the administrative office of a wastewater treatment facility, which may require working in or near collection system environments; some exposure to water, chemicals, fumes, airborne particles, hazardous materials, and noise…”

To avoid these working conditions, Hubner leased a 60 foot long, temporary construction trailer. The trailer arrived in August, to date, it remains unoccupied, but for the $5,000 worth of new furniture – and the raccoons living underneath it.

In terms of projects, the district is working on all the same projects it was when Hubner was hired. Updates to the personnel policy, which were well underway, seem to have stalled. Concerns over other post-employment benefits (OPEB), the benefits received by an employee when he or she begins retirement, including health care and life insurance premiums, and deferred compensation also seems to have fallen off the table. Staff had been working on OPEB for a year; there’s been no mention of it since Hubner began work.  Perhaps that’s Hubner’s plan, to change nothing.

If nothing changes and Hubner’s three year contract runs its course, he will walk away with 100 percent paid medical for himself and his family for the remainder of their lives. This equates to at least $24,000 annually for the rest of his life.

Administrative costs have increased significantly since Hubner arrived; worst of all are its skyrocketing legal bills associated with unhappy employees. Additionally, Hubner has hired numerous consultants (including a public information officer to write a newsletter that highlights Hubner).

The Board of Directors should revisit the fiduciary wisdom of having a full time administrator; clearly define what an administrator is expected to do for this district and set parameters for Hubner with measurable expectations.

It seems as though the District is losing its way, it’s beginning to look a lot like the last few years of John Wallace’s term as administrator, excess spending, increased legal bills, and unhappy employees. These ratepayers have seen a lot of money run through this district over the years, it began to steady itself over the last three to four years, but that footing is lost with Hubner at the helm. Can the board make a bad fit better?







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13 Comments

  1. lowen says:

    Gerhardt Hubner was one of RWQCB Roger Briggs underlings, as useful as a dirty towel during that era. Who hired him for the Sanitation District and why such an increase in salary cost. No doubt Paavo Ogren referred him.

    He needs to go. Big mistake to let the Sanitation District get bloated. Instead keep good staff and watchdogs. Hubner’s health plan alone, after just 3 years of rotten management, is reason to cut that bad umbilical.

    Thanks Julie for your investigation and article.

    (8) 14 Total Votes - 11 up - 3 down
  2. SLOBodan says:

    The main responsibility lies in the THREE board of directors. It was they who approved this overpaid arrangement, and only they can make the change to a more realistic level.

    Did Mr. Hubner have a 3 or 6 month evaluation? It’s obviously too late to “take away” from his outrageous package and salary, so maybe he is not a good fit for the job and needs to be replaced?

    (24) 34 Total Votes - 29 up - 5 down
  3. mullyman says:

    Another unbelieable city/government overpaid story.Who is hiring these people without a resume and how did they even know if he is qualified as obviously he’s not. You say you paid the people before him $4000 a month for 10 hrs a week .$100 a hr. and you feel you were getting a deal? At $4000 they were overpaid also. Get grip, maybe the people who hire these clowns need to be let go because they don’t seem to be doing their job either. I wonder how much they make. Get rid of this guy now.

    (11) 19 Total Votes - 15 up - 4 down
  4. laftch says:

    When are the, “oh” never mind.

    (8) 10 Total Votes - 9 up - 1 down
  5. CentralcoastRN says:

    This is why rates went up, to pay for bull crap like this. Why do they need a full time administrator, two part time guys, a public information officer, and a plant superintendent? They have regular employees who run the facility, so what do these other guys do, beside suck tax dollars? Who needs a car allowance and their own personal trailer with new furniture? That’s like diva behavior. Where did he think he was going to work? ITS A WASTEWATER TREATMENT FACILITY.

    Man, sign ME up for this job!! How hard can it freaking be??? I am used to stinky smells. I am used to working in loud, annoying conditions. $16k a month for 3 years and then I get a 24k pension for life?????

    I really want to know. What can residents do at this point to help understand and make transparent all that is going on?

    (28) 40 Total Votes - 34 up - 6 down
    • RonHolt says:

      While I think Julie Tacker is on to some things here, this has little (not nothing) to do with the rate increases at SSLOCSD. Most of the rate increases are due to long overdue plant upgrades that are vital for continued operation. The issues she has brought up are not insignificant but they are small compared to the costs of the upgrades.

      A big part of the costs of such upgrades could have been covered had the plant been operated efficiently and economically during the last 10 years of the Wallace Group administration. We are now paying (and will continue to pay for several years) the costs of that fiasco — and the poor Board oversight that made it possible.

      (15) 27 Total Votes - 21 up - 6 down
      • Julie says:

        I agree with you Ron, increases were inevitable. But this waste on a full time administrator (the wrong one for the district) could go towards those improvements you suggest.

        (5) 29 Total Votes - 17 up - 12 down
        • CentralcoastRN says:

          I agree with both of you.

          I am thinking of the demographic of the “average” south county resident. Many are middle class and retired people living on fixed incomes or incomes that haven’t really risen with the cost of inflation. Their tax dollars were mismanaged, leading to missing money and repairs that didn’t happen. So they couldn’t afford to fix things for years, and yet there is money for pensions, six figure salaries, car allowances.

          (7) 15 Total Votes - 11 up - 4 down
  6. Jorge Estrada says:

    My hope is that the Trump trickle down recognizes the waste of local monies as poor credibility when applying for federal money. This should also adversely affect the State’s access to Federal monies when harboring derelict local fiduciary practices. Pragmatism works!

    (10) 26 Total Votes - 18 up - 8 down
  7. Pelican1 says:

    This is a clear case of the pot calling the kettle black.

    (15) 41 Total Votes - 28 up - 13 down
    • Julie says:

      Pelican1,
      Please explain your comment.
      I have never had a government job. I don’t have a cushy pension or full medical coverage. I will be lucky to receive Social Security when I’m eligible.
      What makes me the pot calling the kettle black?

      (5) 41 Total Votes - 23 up - 18 down
      • laftch says:

        I would also like to hear that explanation.

        (0) 12 Total Votes - 6 up - 6 down
        • Pete says:

          Yes Pelican, me too. I’d like to hear what you mean.
          Seems to me Julie has been a muckraker for years, a hero in my eyes. Only a fool, crook or ignorant person would lump her in with the people who’s illicit actions she exposes.

          (-2) 10 Total Votes - 4 up - 6 down

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