OPINION by JULIE TACKER
At the recent City of Arroyo Grande candidate’s forum, mayoral candidate Caren Ray said she believes Mayor Jim Hill is “no longer effective” at the South San Luis Obispo County Sanitation District.
Having attended sanitation district board meetings for nearly 10 years, I can say without hesitation, no one in the entire south county is more knowledgeable about the sanitation district. No one has been more effective on that board than Jim Hill.
As the Oceano representative to the district board, Hill called for bifurcating the twenty-year old Wallace contracts for engineering service and administration in 2010.
When Hill became Arroyo Grande’s write-in mayor in 2014, it was his leadership that halted the over $1 million litigation the former mayor Tony Ferrara board levied against the State Water Board. Hill spearheaded the effort to investigate former Administrator John Wallace, resulting in charges brought by the SLO County District Attorney.
Wallace pleaded no contest to two misdemeanors and restitution was paid to both the sanitation district and the Avila Community Services District.
In a 2011 SLO County Grand jury report Wallace was found to have conflicts, yet Wallace took his show on the road, appearing before each of the member agencies in an attempt to convince each board and council member that because the sanitation district board members approved contracts with his engineering firm in an open public meeting, the conflict was, in essence, waived.
In response to the Grand Jury’s investigation and report then Councilwoman Ray said, “If we we’re to accept the Grand Jury report, which I do not do, the recommendations are telling us to go back and do what has already been put in process.”
Ray marginalized the jurors by saying, “The Grand Jury report was written colloquially, with unprofessional finger pointing.”
Hill continues to be effective in spite of his detractors; he has supported very important projects at the sanitation district including redundancy, rehabilitating a digester, the bar screen and grit removal systems. These are the stepping stones to the recycled water resource everyone in the south county wants.
By recycling the districts wastewater, the sanitation plant can reduce its discharge to the ocean. Hill has also supported the financial partnership with Pismo Beach on the Central Coast Blue project Environmental Impact Report.
Hill has followed the district’s finances like no other board member, finding errors and calling for answers. He has spent an inordinate amount of time painstakingly editing the Personnel Policies and Procedures Manual, finding errors in fact and in law.
Hill’s detractors are Ray’s supporters. Former and current sanitation district chairpersons, John Shoals (Grover Beach) and Linda Austin (Oceano) and current Vice-Chair Barbara Nichols, all have conflicts of interests. Both Shoals and Austin are currently under separate investigations by the Fair Political Practices Commission. Vice Chair Barbara Nichols is the wife of former district chairman Bill Nichols, the same Bill Nichols who voted to approve Wallace Group contracts and signed the sanitation districts response to the Grand Jury in 2011; that basically told them to ‘go fly a kite’.
Currently, the district appears to be contemplating civil action against Wallace. Nichols is conveniently positioned to protect her husband from the potential fallout from any potential lawsuit. She should not only recuse herself, but she should be replaced as the Grover Beach representative on the sanitation district board.
It is important to note that Caren Ray was endorsed by John Wallace in her 2014 race for Supervisor.
Ray should get her facts straight before she challenges Mayor Hill on his sanitation district record and who at the sanitation district is “effective” and who is not.