“Frustrating” is definitely the adjective du jour for the Oceano Community Services District, now two months into the tenure of new general manager Lonnie Curtis.
The district, which has employed seven general managers (four hired, three interim) since 2007, suffered its latest bout of drama at its Dec. 11 meeting when the board of directors responded to an alleged Brown Act violation from its Nov. 13 meeting. They also received scathing criticism from OCSD gadfly Julie Tacker and brought to light possible plagiarism by Curtis in his employment application.
“Though we’re still evaluating, it’s really frustrating,” said board president Matt Guerrero. “It’s only been two months, and we’re trying to institute best practices, but we’re still fumbling the ball.”
New Times spoke with three OCSD directors, all of whom expressed some degree of support for Curtis while also unilaterally expressing their frustration with his Brown Act hiccups.
“I don’t know yet whether it’s a blow-up that people have created, or it’s a genuine challenge for us,” said director Karen White. “That said, every time one of these issues comes up—whether it’s genuine or not—it costs us thousands of dollars in attorney’s fees and time lost. It’s money we could buy water pipes with, and we need the pipes.”
On Nov. 13, district staff members originally reported that “planning discussions” about district business had taken place in closed session, which would have been a Brown Act violation. After that message was posted online, the district received a Tacker-fueled cease-and-desist demand from Californians Aware, an open government advocacy group.
On Dec. 11, the district staff responded to that demand by saying the posting was a “clerical error” and no such planning discussion had taken place.
“There was no Brown Act violation,” Curtis told New Times. “It was an error to use the word ‘planning,’ because there was no planning that went on. People are looking for something to be mad about, but it’s a tempest in a teapot.”
Also during the Dec. 11 meeting—which saw four different revised agendas and a last-second special meeting section added to prevent another Brown Act violation by Curtis—Tacker received Curtis’ job application and writing sample after waiting for two months.
Tacker said the application was over-redacted and the writing sample that Curtis included—a PowerPoint presentation titled “The Road Ahead—An Agenda for Sustainability,” was plagiarized.
“The OCSD needed a rock star, and they clearly didn’t get that,” Tacker said. “He’s not familiar with the Brown Act or Public Records Act, he has misrepresented himself, and he’s accomplished nothing in his first two months.”
In response, Curtis admitted that the presentation wasn’t his own, but said he had permission to use it and included the presentation instead of other reports he’s authored because he thought the presentation was more germane to Oceano’s water situation.
“They could have rejected it if they wanted to, but they didn’t,” Curtis said. “I’m not trying to hide or shirk any responsibility; I’m owning up to these things straight away.”
Curtis and OCSD directors said they’re still acclimating, evaluating, and getting used to each other while they work to tighten up any and all issues that have been plaguing the district.
For now, the most heated conflict in Oceano appears to be between Tacker and director Mary Lucey.
Lucey accused Tacker of trying to run the OCSD into the ground with hyperbolic accusations and said Tacker covets the OCSD general manager position.
“She has no limits, and I’m just disgusted by her,” Lucey said. “She’s blatant and desperate about what her goals are, and she’s trying to get Lonnie fired. I used to be excited about serving on the OCSD board, but she just ruins and sucks the life out of the Oceano community.”
Tacker, on the other hand, said that Lucey was highly unprofessional and “unbelievable” in her conduct.
“She is responsible for where the OCSD is right now, and it’s hugely unfortunate for the community,” Tacker said. “I am not trying to do the OCSD G.M.’s job, but if they wanted my help, I’d be happy to consider it.”