OPINION by JULIE TACKER
The South San Luis Obispo County Sanitation District has finally parted ways with their new administrator. In just over a year Gerhardt Hubner has turned what was a district emerging from a heavy cloud of litigation to Hubner himself becoming a litigious liability.
For the last three closed session meetings; the districts agenda stated “significant exposure to litigation,” Hubner was noticeably absent from those closed door meetings and because he did not participate gave board watchers a good sense as to just who was threatening litigation.
At the end of the day, a press release announcing Hubner’s separation clarified only one thing. Hubner will walk away with three-months’ severance pay, or $37,500, when ‘termination for cause’ would have relieved the district of any obligation to send him packing with a golden parachute.
What the separation agreement does not do is calculate the incalculable. The collateral damage done by Hubner’s incompetence, arrogance and spite will reverberate into the future, translating into thousands, if not hundreds of thousands of dollars of clean up for the district.
In the district press release announcing the separation Hubner touts his “accomplishments;” first being the settlement of the $1.1 million fine associated with the 2010 sewage spill. Hubner doesn’t mention that the water board recently wrote a letter chastising him for deceiving them and for a lack of transparency with regard to spending money from the fine on a project that was well underway. These funds were not intended to go to “enhanced compliance actions which have already been scheduled to be complete or already initiated.”
Another accomplishment Hubner takes credit for is the districts $127,500 participation in the City of Pismo Beach’s Regional Groundwater Sustainability Project environmental impact report; it’s just like Hubner to forget whose money that is. The tri-communities that encompass the district have long been on record for years as wanting a regional recycled water project.
Lastly, he credits himself for the unanimous approval from the California Coastal Commission for the $21.2 million redundancy project.
With the cost of the redundancy project ballooning while not near being funded, he got a permit for a project that can’t be built – for several years. In fact, funding agencies are requiring the district to redo studies that are out of date and/or do studies that were not required until recently.
These processes take time and more money. Each delay the project faces, in turn, drives up its cost. Which will then beg the question, whether or not, the redundancy project is worth moving forward with.
What Hubner doesn’t own up to is the mayhem his 15-month stint as administrator has caused:
The majority of staff has joined a union, two key staff members were put on paid administrative last March (to date some $65,000 in combined salaries and benefits getting no work product for the district), internal investigations — too many to count, charges of racism, hostile work environment, harassment, Brown Act violations, Public Records Act violations, accounting anomalies, Grand Jury complaints, land use code violations, erased audio tapes of the Wallace Years and administrative projects left unfinished. Hubner promised a new Personnel Policy Manual, Records Management, Strategic Plan, the 2015-16 financial audit (necessary to get any funding) and removal of the long-long office trailer he had moved onto the site without permits – all are languishing.
Hubner’s tenure went on far too long; blindly supported by Grover Beach Mayor John Shoals and a quartet of directors from Oceano, Matt Guerrero, Mary Lucey, Karen White and Linda Austin each of them discounting what the public has said all along.
Austin even went so far as to suggest the district needed to protect Hubner from public criticism.
The district will survive, but just like the “Wallace years,” the “Hubner Year” will go down as unnecessarily costly on the backs of the ratepayers.