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Oceano mess gets messier

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People muttered and grumbled about the board of directors at the Oceano Community Services District. After a few mentions of recall, Board President Barbara Mann curtly fired back, “Don’t bother, I’m quitting.”

That was just one tornado in the all-out financial crap storm that’s enveloped the district’s board of
directors.

The district’s Dec. 9 meeting was already riddled with tension over multiple financial mysteries—uncashed district checks, incongruent check numbers between the bank and the district, and secretive tax penalties, among others—but residents’ vocal frustrations could barely be contained over Mann’s resignation, which came just before she and Director Pamela Dean voted in Director Vern Dahl as the new president.

From the onset of the meeting, Mann indicated she would announce her resignation that night, but in one of her final acts as board president she asked that a decision on whether to approve a forensic audit be moved to before her announcement. The forensic audit decision was originally agendized as one of the last items of the meeting.

“I just see it as a political move, so whatever you want to do,” Director Mary Lucey lamented about the last-minute change. “Let’s just call it what it is.”

Mann said she wanted it on the record that she supported an audit.

In response to years of bad bookkeeping at minimum and theft of public funds at worst, the board was asked whether to conduct a complete audit of its finances for the 2008-09 fiscal year. The directors approved the audit unanimously, but several directors were reluctant to do so.

“When you put your effort into this, that means that other items are going to not get done,” Dean said.

Dahl called the audit, which is typically used to uncover criminal negligence or theft, a “waste of money.”

“I’m going to support it,” he clarified. “Just to get the air cleared.”

At the meeting, Mann said her last day would be Dec. 31. She’s been on the board for roughly 11 years and told New Times she didn’t intend to run for re-election after her term expires in a year. Her first 10 years, she said, went fairly smoothly, but things are “nastier” now.

“I think that by leaving perhaps they will be forced to work together, the four remaining board members,” she said.

Possibly not. Residents are now moving forward with a recall. The biggest question now is how many people may be put on the defensive. If the recall moves forward, however, Mann, Dahl, and Dean could all be embroiled in the impending campaign. Resident Nina Grabiel is at the forefront of the effort.

“It’s just gotten to the point where we have just lost faith,” Grabiel told New Times.

Grabiel also asked for the termination of Administrative Assistant Gina Davis, but as of press time still hadn’t received a response from board members. Davis did not return a request for comment.

Once the forensic auditing process begins, it’s expected to shed light on the wealth of peculiarities in the district’s financial records—if the process ever starts. The district just recently received the draft audit for the 2007-08 fiscal year from the Santa Maria firm Moss, Levy, and Hartzheim, which puts it about a year behind schedule. Once that audit is complete, the forensic audit process will begin.

“How they got behind, I don’t know,” said Oceano CSD General Manager Raffaele F. Montemurro. “I’m doing everything I can to move it along to try to get us caught up.”

The district is also on the hunt for a new insurance provider. Their current provider announced it wouldn’t renew the district’s liability insurance when it expires on Jan. 19. Montemurro said the notice of termination letter cited “a large loss in 2005, which is still open.” He added that he has asked an insurance agent to collect bids for new coverage so the district can switch providers.

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