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I'm very conflicted 

I hope you all survived Labor Day. I didn’t. I’m dead right now.

Or were we celebrating Memorial Day? I always get the two days confused. Does this one mean I can’t wear white anymore? If not, it’s going to seriously curb my ghost wardrobe options.

Or maybe I’m still alive, in which case it doesn’t really matter, because most of my white shirts are all stainy. Don’t get on my case just yet, though. Some of my stained shirts are borderline miraculous. I’ve got one that I could swear is the Virgin Mary. It’s going on eBay. And there’s that other tattered Hanes in my underwear drawer that has a dead-on mustard smear of Elvis Presley. Hail to the King baby. He lives on in Grey Poupon.

Sorry for all the rambling, but I’ve been a bit out of commission for the last few days. You caught me—it’s been a few months of staggering zombie-ism and my editors have been banging on my wall each time I pass out on the keyboard.

Zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz. WHAM!

Whoa! I’m up! I’m up! Stop yelling at me. I’ve got a column to write!

This week, I’m trying to figure out what’s up with John Wallace.

In addition to being president and founder of The Wallace Group, a civil engineering outfit, Wallace is district administrator of the South San Luis Obispo County Sanitation District. I understand that contracting happens for services and such, but I don’t really understand the details of how the relationship works between the administrator as an individual and the company that individual owns and that bills the district for services. People have tried to explain it to me, but maybe I’m just thick. And I’m not alone in my thickness.

This guy hit my radar because a few reporters accidentally wandered into a recent district board meeting. At that meeting, I’m told Wallace recommended the district axe its in-house lab tech and go to outside consultants, a move that would save about $75,000 per year. Then there’s the fact that $75,000 in savings is about equal to one month of billings from The Wallace Group.

Actually, one month sometimes costs more than $75,000.

I recently managed to get my hands on what looks like a district invoice. Based on what I saw, which looks legit to my jaundiced eyes, The Wallace Group billed the district $79,267.26 in July. One of our reporters asked Wallace to verify it, and he said the amount wasn’t out of the question.

Despite the contracting scenario, I’ve heard others question about whether Wallace’s position represents a conflict of interest.

Let me grab a dictionary and look this one up. Actually, I don’t have to. I’ll just flip to a story in this week’s paper about Montgomery Watson Harza snagging the contract for the Morro Bay/Cayucos sewer project. This little ditty comes from Dylan Wade, the ex-MWH bumpkin who now works for Morro Bay and was on the committee that awarded MWH the contract. But he really didn’t have a conflict—or, to use his words: “Conflict of interest is based on financial interest, and I don’t have one.”

Damn, he’s got me there. It’s a technicality, sure, but a super-technical one that I can’t un-technical-ize. But Wade said a conflict of interest is only a conflict if there’s a financial interest, didn’t he?

To get back to The Wallace Group, I’m pretty sure $79,267.26 is comprised principally of finances.

But, again, there’s a whole contracting scenario that theoretically makes this legit, even if murmurings I hear from others in the biz indicate it’s not a commonplace arrangement.

The Wallace Group’s website explains how Wallace has been a district engineer for unincorporated areas in the county, has been a director of public works for several local cities, and how his group now manages a bunch of community services districts along the Central Coast.

Wallace recently sent out a district press release to local media, which may have been the first press release the virtually anonymous district ever sent. Then he personally e-mailed a few reporters just to check in.

Most recently, the district was forwarding telephone press inquiries to The Wallace Group, which funnel to Wallace himself.

This may be how the world is supposed to work, but grumblings about the district indicate that even if it is, it’s not all sunshine and roses. Complaints about South San Luis Obispo Sewer Plant rates were even circulating on craigslist recently.

I’m trying to digest all this, but it just won’t go down. Instead, it’s sitting like a bran muffin in my stomach and weighing down on my small intestine.

I may need to induce vomiting. Unless I was right and I am dead after all. Just don’t let them dress me in white for the wake.


If you’re suffering from confliction, contact the Shredder at

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