Oceano general manager resigned, he should not get severance

January 10, 2024

Julie Tacker


At the raucous Oct. 25, Oceano Community Services District board meeting, then General Manager Will Clemens gave a well-rehearsed performance that included announcing his “early retirement” after 24-years in public service.

He blamed the new board majority for his departure, and was quoted in a local news outlet saying, “I would definitely stay longer if certain board members weren’t here, but as long as the current board is as it is, I think basically the end of the year is about as long as I’ll be here.”

Clemens, now 56, had positioned himself well for his final year in Oceano vice by getting a “favorable performance review” from the “old board” (the board that was in office before the Nov. 8, 2022, election changed its majority). On Nov. 9, 2022, he was given a $25,000 annual increase to his (already high) $170,000 annual salary.

This kind of financial bump, at the end of one’s public service career, will play out well for Clemens in the long-term, as his PERS retirement income will reflect the increase for the rest of his life.

First question, how could he get a favorable performance review? At the same meeting he was asking for a $25,000 raise, he admitted to the board that a clerical staff person had embezzled, and it had been occurring for a period and an unknown amount of district funds had been absconded with. With the news that funds were missing, how could they know they could afford to dole out an additional $25,000 per year?

During this time, the district continued to struggle to remain in the Five Cities Fire Authority and were going to voters for a second time for a fire tax.

Clemens had convinced the board he had been saving the district money by doing work other general managers might have hired consultants for and that he had “lined up millions of dollars in grants.” Didn’t the board remember that’s why they hired Clemens in the first place? Ostensibly, because he was experienced and capable in those areas.

The reward for his work was the steady paycheck and fringe benefits he agreed to upon his hire just 3 years earlier.

On Clemens’ last day, Dec. 29, he delivered a letter to the board characterizing the actions on Oct.25 as a “constructive termination of this agreement without cause” and demanding that “a lump sum cash payment (severance pay) equal to twelve months base salary is now due.”  Clemens wants $195,000 and all accrued leave balances, totaling $206,700.

The board is scheduled to discuss Clemens’s letter as a threat of litigation in closed session at next Wednesday’s board meeting.

Clemens was never terminated. Clemens’ retirement was on his own accord, it’s well documented by the press release he issued the night of Oct. 25, the archived video production and the coverage by multiple press outlets and the standing-room-only crowd who witnessed it.

Clemens is now among those in the long line of Oceano CSD staff who have taken advantage of this disadvantaged community.

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I attended Wednesdays meeting, stayed until the bitter end (long after filming stopped, so you won’t hear the outcome until the next board meeting). So here goes, the Board members in attendance (Austin and Gibson were absent) unanimously rejected Clemens’ claim.

Clemens contract was poorly written by then District Counsel Minnery. However, no reasonable person (meaning a Judge or competent attorney) is going to interpret it the way Clemens is.

When I saw the agenda, it was hard to believe that they are trying to hold on to Minnery after all this and more. Why do they need a second attorney and one that did not work out? Ooh, now the new district counsel can review the work of Minnery for obvious reasons given the sloppy Clemens contract. That will make everything ok.

Unfortunately, the billing meters will be running for both. What happens when a new lawsuit arises related to Minnery’s new work. Oceano will need to have the new District Counsel involved in this along with Minnery – double billing agaiin. Having this arrangement does not make common or business sense.

The special arrangement and contract for Minnery’s services smells.

Wasn’t it Julie who strenuously advocated against the tax measure? Congratulations, the measure failed and the Oceano Fires Station is permanently shuttered. And now you want to shift the blame to the General Manager? Nice try Julie.

State law now precludes pension spiking so the General Manager won’t be getting a $25,000 per year pension increase as you intimate.

The GM’s contract is the controlling document. If it directs the severance as described above, then pay the man. It’s a little late to complain now.

My twelve pack of white socks certain outlast many government staff leaders while people certainly expect more. If more people were involved in local government we would have better service as well as accountability, at least less assumed accountability, “the breading ground for hecklers”. Maybe Will might have a run for a leadership role in SLO County? I know him to be ethical and of a good family.

Seems to me that hi character people don’t backtrack over quitting to initiate a shake down.