South County sanitation district needs new leadership

April 6, 2018

Ron Arnoldsen


South San Luis Obispo County Sanitation District has new leadership, but continues to spiral out of control. Oceano Community Services District Vice President Linda Austin has just one year under her belt as an elected official and has no background in the public sector, nor does she have any training or education in an industrial plant atmosphere.

Austin has demonstrated that she has very little understanding of the district finances or how the sanitation plant functions. She never questions the district’s finances and has no problem authorizing expenses as if money were no object. Or could it be she just doesn’t care?

Austin may be a good person, she has done many wonderful things for Oceano, but she has no insight (or perhaps understanding) of what it takes to operate a sanitation district efficiently. In fact, during Austin’s entire tenure on the board (since Jan. 2017), the district has been in crisis mode.

It seems that Austin is taking advice from Oceano’s previous representative to the sanitation district board (Mary Lucey), so the pandemonium goes on.

Austin has never offered any solutions to cure the district crisis, except perhaps when she offered up her “BFF” and employee from her real estate company to fill in when the district’s administrative secretary/bookkeeper was put on paid administrative leave without explanation.

The sanitation district, like all government entities, is an equal opportunity employer and must recruit for employees in a fair and open manner. It appears Austin’s friend and employee was hired on the recommendation of Austin and no other individuals were allowed the opportunity to apply for the position.

To add to this, a new position was added (office manager) to the district without the sanitation board’s approval or knowledge. This new position should have been brought to the sanitation board for consideration and approval.

Upon board approval, the position should have posted, advertised and offered to people outside of the district as well as interested people in the district. This allows the district to obtain the most qualified person for the job.

I am not sure some of the board members are smart enough to realize that appointing friends to such positions without advertising the position is nepotism.

The administrative assistant/bookkeeper has now returned to her position and the BFF is gone, and still the district remains in crisis mode. Technical consultant Paul Karp admitted, after six months back at work, she has not been given her full duties. Why return someone to their position and not let them do their job? To add insult to injury, the administrative assistant/bookkeeper is supervised by a plant operator (office manager) who has no background as an administrative assistant or bookkeeping. Kind of like a nurse supervising a doctor.

Karp, one of two technical consultants (Rick Sweet being the other) average $25,000 per month to serve as interim administrators.

By comparison, a little over two years ago, the district paid then superintendent John Clemons just $800 per month above his salary to serve as interim administrator. Things went well for the district during that time. Cash and monthly financial reports delivered on time and one could track the district’s financial health with ease.

Today, neither report is available on a consistent basis. Time for the administrative assistant/bookkeeper to have her duties back and put the plant operator (office manager) back in the field?

The lack of financial reporting coupled with the fact that the district has failed to file its last two annual audits (FY 2015-16 and FY 2016-2017) and has had employment disputes and an untold amount of investigations into staff members and the $50,000 spent on a meaningless investigation (witch hunt) meant to damage Mayor Jim Hill’s standing on the district board.

The district’s number one priority is supposed to be its important and long-overdue redundancy project. With a rate increase implemented in 2016 to pay for it, permitted in 2017 and scheduled to complete construction in 2018, it has come to a crawl. Meanwhile the district discharges less than ideal quality water into the ocean off Oceano.

The district has been without a permanent administrator since August, the permanent and highly qualified plant superintendent (Clemons) was put on leave in March of 2017 and separated from the district in September and most recently the district’s award winning operator/lab technician resigned.

The district is operating without a qualified lab technician. I am reminded of the old adage, of a “ship without a rudder.” This district is a ship run aground.

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Thank you, Ron, for making this public. Ratepayers – are you willing to see your District bankrupted for the 3rd time by inept (at best) and criminal (by conviction) elected “representatives” with vested interests?