By KAREN VELIE
A black South San Luis Obispo County Sanitation District plant operator won a $150,000 settlement after complaining that district officials were discriminating and retaliating against him. The district announced Friday that it had reached a settlement agreement with plant superintendent John Clemons.
Clemons resigned from the district effective Oct 13 after more than four years as chief plant operator. Clemons was hired in the spring of 2013, when the district was facing more than $1 million in fines foe environmental violations and allegations of conflicts on interest.
Under the allegations of conflicts of interest and mismanagement, former plant administrator John Wallace resigned in 2013. Before Wallace stepped down, the district regularly spent more than $4 million a year.
On May 1, 2013, Clemons became the chief plant operator. Less than a year later, the plant was operating cleaner at less than 50 percent the cost, according to financial reports obtained from the district.
In April 2016, the district board hired Gerhardt Hubner to be the agency’s full-time administrator.
Under Hubner’s leadership, the cost of running the district skyrocketed from approximately $625,000 a quarter to $1.3 million a quarter. District expenditures exceeded district revenues by $300,000 during Hubner’s first full quarter.
Also in 2016, two employees filed grievances against the district and Clemons made a verbal complaint of discrimination.
In Aug. 2016, board President John Shoals and attorney Gilbert Trujillo, the district’s legal counsel, unilaterally agreed to hire the law firm of Liebert, Cassidy and Whitmore to investigate the allegations of discrimination.
In early February, Clemons filed a grievance against Hubner alleging the administrator’s behavior violated the sanitation district’s code of conduct rules.
On March 2, Superintendent Clemons reported Hubner for possible violations of the districts bylaws, purchasing policy and personnel policy. Specifically, Clemons questioned the $40,000 expense for an investigation into discrimination that was not brought before the board or included in the budget.
Four days later, on March 6, Hubner placed Clemons on paid administrative leave for reasons he did not disclose to the public or to Clemons. Since then, the district has paid Clemons approximately $8,500 a month to remain on leave.
With an increase in operation costs and multiple allegations of racism and code of conduct violations levied against him, the district announced in July that Hubner would resign from the district effective Aug. 3.
For more than five years, the sanitation district board has been bitterly divided between those who wanted former administrator John Wallace investigated and those who supported his administration. After a 10 month investigation, the SLO County District Attorney’s office filed criminal conflict of interest charges against Wallace, who allegedly funneled money from the sanitation district to his private engineering company.
The district currently is operating with an interim administrator and an interim superintendent.