Waste chief Worrell, targeted in probe, splits IWMA

IWMA Administrator Bill Worrell and legal counsel Ray Biering

San Luis Obispo County waste management agency’s board of directors met Wednesday to discuss manager Bill Worrell’s request for an early retirement, only to learn Worrell is already gone. His sudden departure leaves limited options for recovery of his county-funded retirement benefits.

On Aug. 8, the board voted unanimously to place Worrell on paid administrative leave as he faces criminal investigations into misappropriation of public funds. That particular board action was later rescinded because the action was not on the agenda as required by law. Board members also expressed concerns that they had been provided inaccurate information by its legal counsel, Ray Biering.

During the Aug. 8 closed session meeting, Supervisor Debbie Arnold asked Biering twice if Worrell had retirement benefits paid by the IWMA that could be recovered if he was convicted of a felony, Arnold said. But Biering told the board Worrell had no benefits.

In 2006, the IWMA entered into a contract with Worrell that provided retirement benefits including 19 percent of Worrell’s basic salary that was paid into a retirement program.

Two days after a Cal Coast Times article reporting on the allegations Biering appeared to have misled the board into voting to accept Worrell’s retirement. Worrell submitted a letter of resignation to the IWMA.

Attorney Jefferey Minnery, filling in for Biering, informed the board that Worrell had officially resigned Aug. 23, so that voting against the resignation was moot.

Several board members then asked how they could freeze funds the IWMA had paid into Worrell’s retirement. Minnery recommended against taking any action.

“You do not have the right to claw that back,” Minnery said.

In 2013, the state passed the California Public Employees’ Pension Reform Act, a law that requires public employees who are convicted of a felony to forfeit public retirement benefits.

Minnery explained that the law was new and he recommended that if it is determined Worrell committed felonies in his management of the IWMA, the IWMA board could attempt to get the monies back civilly at that time.

On Wednesday, the board voted 7-4 to appoint Michael Giancola as interim manager, with Supervisor Bruce Gibson, Grover Beach Councilman Jeff Lee, Pismo Beach Councilwoman Sheila Blake, and San Luis Obispo Councilman Aaron Gomez dissenting.

The executive committee had proposed three applicants for manager: former CEO of Orange County Giancola, former Grover Beach city manager Bob Perrault, and SLO County employee Ron Munds.

Several public speakers questioned Munds’ suitability because of his involvement in supporting allegations made by Worrell and former IWMA contractor Charles Tenborg in a lawsuit against CalCoastNews and two reporters.

“The District Attorney’s Office is reviewing the Knudson’s report which includes allegations of perjury and fraud when a group of local government officials testified in support of Tenborg,” Claire Mamakos said. “Two of those men were Bill Worrell and Ron Munds. “

The board asked the applicants six questions each before selecting Giancola as the IWMA’s interim manager. Giancola, who will receive a rate of $152,000 a year, waived his right to retirement or health benefits.