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Details matter 

Arroyo Grande Mayor Jim Hill is a thoughtful public servant

Not much has changed for the retired Robert C. Cuddy, former reporter for the San Luis Obispo Tribune who wrote the “Leftover shoe goo” commentary in the March 24 issue of New Times. Mr. Cuddy, details matter.

As a watchdog and regular attendee of Oceano Community Services District (OCSD) board meetings since 2009, I am fully qualified to respond to this paragraph in particular:

Cuddy wrote, “Maybe I’m expecting too much of Hill, a shaky choice to fix morale in Arroyo Grande. He only moved here a couple of years ago, and his chief previous governing experience was with the Oceano Community Services District, a notoriously dysfunctional agency until Matt Guerrero joined the board in 2010 and the highly experienced Paavo Ogren later became general manager. They and others are bringing long-missing stability.”

Fact: At a meeting chaired by then-OCSD Board President Jim Hill (the current mayor of Arroyo Grande) on Jan. 12, 2011, attorney Matthew Guerrero was unanimously appointed to fill the seat held by longtime board member Barbara Mann who had resigned months earlier, due to the rancor brought to the board by Mary Lucey.

Jim Hill and then recently elected Carol Henson resigned (March 28, 2011) from the OCSD board when they found themselves on the losing end of a 3-2 board that allowed a general manager to fail to cooperate with repeated unanimous board directions. The OCSD board at the time was in sync—the entire board, expected the general manager to get three years of delinquent audits done.

To Hill’s credit, over the course of his tenure at OCSD, he eliminated health insurance benefits and cell phones for directors that were paid for by ratepayers; eliminated director stipends for committee meetings; got board meetings televised so residents could follow issues; and helped form the Five Cities Fire Authority. Under his leadership, OCSD raised rates sufficiently that would have, if properly managed, been able to continue providing service into the future—while building modest reserves.

Just after Hill and Henson’s replacements—Felma Hurdle and returning board member Rick Searcy—were appointed, CalCoastNews writer Karen Velie reported that OCSD General Manager Rafaele Montemurro, was overpaying himself.

The board, including Guerrero, had missed the over-payments going on right under their noses. The new board unanimously fired Montemurro “without cause,” even though he was stealing, and gave him a $17,000 severance.

That board then hired Supervisor Paul Teixeira’s sidekick, Tom Geaslen. After a year and a half with Guerrero as president and mountains of evidence presented, the board finally fired Geaslen. This time, “for cause,” for—you guessed it (and it was going on under the nose of Guerrero), overpaying himself. Geaslen was required to repay the district $45,000. The district’s legal bills associated with that fiasco were upwards of $30,000.

Then, only a few months later, President Guerrero found himself firing a third general manager, Lonny Curtis, “for cause,” who overcharged Oceano residents for water and sewer hookups.

All these hirings and firings cost the district plenty. Legal counsel bills were double their norm to protect the district from its dysfunctional self. Collateral damage from that time period continues to plague the district. Some examples include: The staff joined a union to protect their jobs; all got raises. As for those reserves Hill’s board had hoped for; they were spent by the Guerrero and Lucey boards.

The Guerrero board spent much of it on legal bills, raises for staff, and the embarrassing year-long sequence of buying a sewer jetter trailer that was too heavy for any truck the district owned to pull safely. They then purchased a used truck that could pull it but couldn’t stop when in motion. So, they then purchased a new truck that could pull and brake under the weight of the jetter trailer’s full load.

But the spending associated with the jetter didn’t end there; they had to send their staff to driving school to get Class A driver’s licenses so they could legally drive the new truck with the jetter trailer. Now that these staffers have higher qualifications, the district had to raise their pay in order to keep them.

Cuddy’s claim that Guerrero brought Paavo Ogren aboard has somehow rescued the district board from their dysfunctional selves is poppycock. As long as Mary Lucey is on the OCSD board, dysfunction will reign supreme.

Ogren is only in Oceano because he’s paid more than $250,000 a year. What’s saved in legal is spent on Ogren. Ogren made it clear from the beginning he was not interested in working for Oceano, overseeing six employees, if it paid less than his position at the county where he presided over 165 employees.

It is painful to watch Guerrero and company approve Ogren’s paychecks in a community where whole families live for a year on what Ogren makes in a month.

Fact: The Hills left Oceano and moved to Arroyo Grande in July 2011. So Cuddy’s characterization of the mayor living in Arroyo Grande a “couple of years” is incorrect.

The fact is that Jim Hill has lived for decades within 10 square miles in the South County. Hill is an intelligent nuclear engineer with a law degree. His tireless work as a board member on the Sanitation District, FCFA, and his comprehensive understanding of the complex water issues has been invaluable in his year as mayor of Arroyo Grande.

Mr. Cuddy, you will not find a more thorough, conscientious, and thoughtful public servant. Arroyo Grande is lucky to have the leadership of Jim Hill as its mayor. 

Julie Tacker lives in Los Osos but likes to keep an eye on the county’s political goings-on. Send her comments through clanham@newtimesslo.com or write your own commentary and send it to letters@newtimesslo.com.

-- Julie Tacker - Los Osos

-- Julie Tacker - Los Osos

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