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Los Osos looks to new leadership 

A probable new community services district general manager faces big tasks

With looming sewer system issues, millions of dollars in fines, and a bankruptcy problem hanging over Los Osos, who would want the job of trying to turn things around for the unincorporated township?

Steve Wieneke does.

Though it's not official, it's likely that the Los Osos Community Services District will hire Wieneke as its general manager at a June 7 board meeting. And if his contract is approved, he'll start work the following day.

Wieneke is confident he can help heal the bayside community's financial and political wounds. He brings with him an impressive resume with a healthy combination of technical credentials and work experience: He earned a bachelor's degree in environmental health technology from Missouri Southern State University in 1976 and received his master's degree in civil and environmental engineering three years later at Utah State University. He graduated from the operator training program at the Water and Wastewater Technical School and is currently a certified water distribution manager 4.

Upon graduation, Wieneke worked his way up the engineering world's ladder. He held a variety of engineering positions that focused on "troubleshooting" and eventually landed high-level management positions with the industry's biggest firms in General Motors and URS.

Most recently, Wieneke worked as a general manager for the Firgrove Water District in Puyallup, Wash.

His past colleagues spoke very highly of him as if he were the Phil Jackson of professional engineering team development. And Wieneke plans on providing the town of Los Osos with some much needed organization and guidance.

"Problems are meant to be solved, and that's what I do," Wieneke said. "I'm willing to take on the challenges, and I've got a good history."

One of the major challenges the seaside community must confront is the building of a wastewater treatment center. Though the CSD has lost control of construction to the county, the 14,000 residents could be subject to expensive monthly sewer bills once it's complete, and its site is still to be determined.

Wieneke would also have to deal with the district's recent filing for bankruptcy, which kicked in last summer in an attempt to help relieve more than $40 million in claims, fines, and debts issued from contractors and state and regional water boards because of septic tank discharge issues and failure to meet deadlines on sewer progress.

But of all these problems, interim general manager Annajane Hugh believes Wieneke's toughest task is more personal.

"I think, in this town, the biggest challenge he will face is working with the community and hearing what's important to them," Hugh said. "I hope he's able to help bring the community together and be their local voice."

According to Hugh, the locals are voicing the desire for their own political system.

"What I heard from this community is they want local government. And if you want local government, you have to pay," Hugh said.

And, Hugh said, the price the district is willing to pay Wieneke is $90,000 a year.

"I hope the new general manager will help the community see the value of their local government," Hugh said.

Hugh, a certified public accountant, has worked for the district as an accounting and software consultant since May 2004, but took over as interim general manager in November 2006 when then-interim general manager Dan Bleskey's career with the district was "put on the back burner," according to district director Julie Tacker.

"I felt [Bleskey] had served his purpose and we needed someone with strengths that were not his," Tacker said. "We pushed forward Annajane in the fall because her strengths were finance, and it was very apparent we needed to get our books in order and pull ourselves out of a financial crisis."

A recall election in September 2005 put in place a new majority on the CSD board.

"I believe the reason that we recalled [the board members] was they didn't stop to check the pulse of the community," Tacker said.

Aside from matters relating to the town's contentious sewer system, Wieneke would handle water, drainage, parks, recreation, street lighting, and fire, emergency, and rescue response issues.

"[Wieneke] said specifically he enjoys a challenge," said Hugh, who plans to return to the consultant position with the district once a new general manager comes on board. "This is a job that provides that."

Hugh is expected to work with the new general manager for a transition period until he can, as Tacker puts it, "upright the ship and take the helm."

"It's going to be difficult and the job is challenging but it's time for a breath of fresh air," Tacker said. "There's a lot that comes with this job, and I hope he's up for it."

If Wieneke is hired, it will be as an "at will" employee, allowing him or the district to terminate the contract at any time. The term of the agreement would run from June 8, 2007, through June 30, 2009.

Staff Writer Kai Beech can be reached at kbeech@newtimesslo.com.

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