Public Works Director Paavo Ogren has been all but cleared of having an improper relationship with contractors slated to build a new sewer in Los Osos.
County Counsel Warren Jensen issued a preliminary response on Aug. 18 to complaints from former Los Osos Community Services District President Lisa Schicker. According to Jensen, Schicker didn’t provide enough evidence in more than 1,300 pages of complaints to prove Ogren had a conflict of interest or had acted improperly.
The sheer number of complaints Schicker sent to the county is almost overwhelming. At the core, Schicker alleged Ogren gave special preference in the contract bidding process to Montgomery Watson Harza to build a new Los Osos sewer. The contractor was placed at the top of the county’s list of contractors to build the $165 million project. According to Schicker, Ogren and MWH had a relationship dating back to Ogren’s time as Los Osos CSD general manager and bids for the contract were rigged to allow MWH a top slot. Furthermore the contractor is in the middle of active lawsuits with the district (both as defendant and plaintiff).
But Jensen found all the complaints to be baseless. He said none of the information Schicker provided could prove Ogren had an actual conflict of interest by Ogren. Additionally, Jensen said, there was no evidence to support Schicker’s “hearsay” and “lay opinions without foundation.”
Ogren couldn’t be reached for comment before press time.
Schicker sent her complaints in April. Jensen said the response was delayed due to staffing constraints and other county business. Although he found no wrongdoing, Jensen said the response was preliminary and he still had to review the remaining complaints before issuing a final report.
Jensen’s response prompted a flurry of e-mails between Los Osos residents and county officials. Residents argued the county’s response was incomplete. Jensen defended his findings again, reaffirming that he believed the complaints were “erroneous” and would not be admissible in court.
“To have a legally cognizable conflict of interest, Mr. Ogren would have to have (1) a financial interest in MWH, or (2) a common law conflict of interest,” Jensen responded in an e-mail to Los Osos blogger Ron Crawford.
Schicker said Jensen’s findings were incomplete, too.
“It is clear that neither Jensen nor his staff have undertaken any investigation of their own,” she wrote in a mass e-mail to the county and local media. “This is far from a complete report.”