Setting the South County sanitation district record straight


At the April 10 Arroyo Grande City Council meeting, former South Luis Obispo County Sanitation District Board member Mary Lucey gave false and incorrect information during public comment. She was speaking to my tenure as Chief Plant Operator and seven months as Interim District Administrator at the Sanitation District.

Putting aside the fact that it is poor practice and unprofessional for a board member to trash an employee with whom she had no say over and never worked with directly, I am very, very proud of the things that were accomplished under my watch. I am writing this editorial to clear up any confusion as to what was accomplished at the district under my leadership.

I began work at the district in 2013 (fiscal year 2013-14) actual spending was reduced by $1.8 million.The proposed budget that year, prepared by consultants Shannon Sweeney and Paul Karp was $6.1 million.

Under my leadership we only spent $2.5 million that year and about $2.5 million per year for the next two fiscal years, at the same time implementing several plant improvement projects.

Every budget that I was involved in planning was balanced with proposed spending not to exceed revenues. During each fiscal year spending was consistent with a balanced budget, resulting in a positive financial position for the district. Every audit was completed in a timely manner.There were no internal investigations of employees. There was no need for a full-time district administrator, as all district business was being completed efficiently.

Mary Lucey

There was just one bookkeeper/secretary necessary, as all financial information was well kept as documented by positive (and timely) audit reports.

Before I was hired, staff included only one operator with a Grade III certification, none with laboratory certification. Staff development became a top priority, soon thereafter four more operators acquired their Grade III certifications. There was an exceptional safety record resulting in a significantly reduced insurance rate.

We reestablished positive and trusting relationships with regulators, such as the Water Board, Air Pollution Control District, and OSHA, regularly communicating with agents from those agencies. We enacted a series of projects that have ultimately improved the quality of water discharged to the ocean, while reducing the cost of operating the district(that is, until recently).

Over the course of my first three years at the district, I, personally, initiated the following projects:

  • Installation of new grit screening equipment
  • Installation of new bar screen
  • Installation of dual gas boiler, energy savings of approximately $20,000 annually
  • Installation of variable frequency drives at headworks, trickling filter, and sludge
  • mixing pump. Approximately 25% savings on electric bill. $2,000 to $3,000 monthly.
  • Replacement of trickling filter pumps. (Previously sized incorrectly)
  • Installation of new headworks pump.
  • Installation of new sludge pumps control system.
  • Installation of new(3rd) trickling filter pump.
  • Installation of new sewer system flow monitoring system
  • Installation of sludge handling pad.
  • Replacement of failed force main pipe at plant.
  • Replacement of old diesel fuel storage tank.
  • Expansion of Certified Environmental lab at plant. Training of lab staff.
  • Replacement of old disinfection system.
  • Re-initiated Redundancy project.
  • Installation of back-up dichlorination system.
  • Phase 2 and phase 3 of SCADA system installation

Clearly, there was no deferral of projects (or maintenance) during my tenure. To the contrary, we aggressively implemented improvements, all the while maintaining balanced spending.

At the same time leading the district as chief plant operator, I accepted the responsibility as interim district administrator for seven months. Over the course of that time we worked as a team to:

  • Complete fiscal year audit.
  • Complete annual report to the Water Board.
  • Complete annual report to APCD
  • Completed rate study for redundancy project.
  • Completed 218 hearing process to fund redundancy project.
  • Initiate environmental review for redundancy project
  • Completed Official Review of past management practices (Knudsen Report).
  • Moved OCSD customers to tax roll.
  • Hired new district counsel.
  • Hired new district administrator.

Throughout my employ, at no time was any employee at the district or the sanitation district itself investigated by any regulatory agency. The Regional Water Quality Control Board did respond to a false allegation made by a former administrator. Their correspondence suggests he was airing personnel matters before their staff and was asked not to contact them directly again. I was never contacted or questioned by the Water Board regarding this false allegation.

I’m proud to have been part of a complete team effort. I greatly appreciate the staff that I had an opportunity to work with.I appreciate the administrators that allowed me the environment to do my job. I appreciate the public who supported our team and the work that we performed. Working at the district was mostly positive experience for me.

Once again, I am very proud of what our team was able to accomplish during my time there.

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2 Comments about “Setting the South County sanitation district record straight”

  1. perk o late says:

    You were an asset to the District. Your knowledge leadership is sorely missed.
    Regarding Lucey, consider the source.

  2. seeker says:

    Hiring John Clemons was the best thing that had happened at the District in over a decade. He became increasingly alarmed at what he was discovering about practices prior to his hiring and reported this to the authorities, including board members. Every individual, public and private, who has had the commitment to follow up on his concerns has been the subject of character assassination and abuse by several current and past board members. Clemons lost his job and was paid off with the proviso of a silence agreement, as with the previous three whistleblowers.

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