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Board members clash at South County Sanitation District meeting 

Animosity between South SLO County Sanitation District board members Jim Hill and Mary Lucey boiled over at a recent public meeting, when the two attempted to formally censure one another over online comments.

But despite a meeting full of acrimony and accusations, neither got what they asked for.

Both Hill, the current mayor of Arroyo Grande, and Lucey, a member of the Oceano Community Services District board of directors, used their power as sanitation district board members to agendize attempts censure each other at the three-member board’s Sept. 21 meeting. During the meeting, each accused the other of disseminating inaccurate information via postings on websites or social media.

Hill called for the censure based on a Facebook comment written by Lucey, which was critical of both Hill and the sanitation district’s operations and management. In the post, Lucey claimed that the district’s sewer plant was “being held hostage” and Hill and individuals politically aligned with him were “running the plant into the ground” causing the plant to pump out millions of gallons of dirty water and polluting the ocean “beyond repair.”

“AG Mayor [Hill] has created so much chaos at the sewer plant,” Lucey wrote. “It is polarized and continues to spend millions on a poorly maintained plant.”

The comment was left on the Facebook page of Richard Waller, who is running against Hill for mayor of Arroyo Grande in the 2016 election.

At the meeting, Hill said Lucey’s claims were false, and asked that the board vote to “repudiate” her online comment.

“I’m disturbed that [Lucey] takes issue with the staff in apparently false claims,” he said. “I’m frankly quite tired of it.”

In response, Lucey took aim at Hill for including factually inaccurate information in an online opinion piece criticizing Oceano CSD General Manager Paavo Ogren over customer bill charges to the sanitation district and for calling Ogren’s demands “outrageous” and “unjustifiable.”

Lucey claimed that much of Hill’s allegations against Ogren were false, and that such accusations could hurt ratepayers.

“I hold Mr. Hill to the same standards he holds me to,” she said.

Hill’s motion to censure died when the board’s third member, Grover Beach Mayor John Shoals, declined to second it. Lucey dropped her attempt to censure Hill shortly thereafter. Shoals gave both members a chance to table their censure attempts at the beginning of the meeting, but both declined.

“I’m stuck in the middle very often, but my job isn’t to side with one over the other,” Shoals, who is currently running for re-election, told New Times. “We all have to do what we can to work together in a cooperative manner. It does no good for them to attack each other while we are trying to deal with real problems here.”

At the meeting, Shoals asked the sanitation district staff to look into the claims made about district’s operations in both online posts and to look into developing policies and procedures for censuring board members, which, according to the sanitation district’s legal counsel, are not included in the organization’s bylaws. 

Hill’s clash with Lucey comes as he is running for re-election to his mayoral seat in Arroyo Grande. Waller, his opponent, has made the issue of civility a large part of his platform and has criticized Hill for recent dust-ups with city staff and some members of the Arroyo Grande City Council. Hill disputes the characterization.

“I’m very proud of my reputation of civility and respect,” Hill told New Times.

Lucey’s term on the Oceano CSD expires this year. She has not filed to run for re-election.

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