By KAREN VELIE
The general manager of a water company in Avila Beach stepped down after it was discovered he was secretly married to an employee. Rick Koon, who also is a company board member, voted on raises for his wife. He also assigned her, as an employee, to count ballots in his re-election to a seat on the water company’s board.
Koon was employed as general manager for 17 years by the San Miguelito Mutual Water Company while also sitting on the board. As general manager, he directly supervised the company’s handful of employees including the employee who would become his wife.
In 2016, the water company’s former accounting and administrative manager complained of a hostile work environment, partially based on flirtatious behavior between Koon and Michelle Edson, another employee. In 2016, Koon fired the administrative manager, and then promoted Edson to the position more than doubling her pay, according to a board member.
In Aug. 2018, Koon divorced his wife. Four months later, he married Edson, according to county records. Even so, Koon continued to supervise his wife’s work, and, as a board member, he voted on her raises.
As the administrative manager, Michelle Edson, as she continued to be known in the water company, determined who was eligible to vote for members of the water company board. She then counted the ballots that would determine whether her husband would remain on the board. Koon won the election, retaining his seat on the board, according to board members.
About two years ago, concerned with rumors that Koon and Edson were romantically involved, Board Member Martin Suits asked attorney Tim Carmel, the water district’s legal counsel, to look into his concerns. However, Carmel failed to report his findings to Suits, he said.
Carmel has not returned requests for comment.
“Tim Carmel said he would take care of it,” Suits said. “He is a horrible attorney, and I have had a lot of experience with attorneys.”
Suits was a judge for 35 years — a superior court judge who served on the Juridical Council’s executive committee.
Earlier this year, activist Julie Tacker discover the marriage and informed Suits, who then condemned Koon’s wife’s participation in his election.
“The deception, she should not have touched those ballots,” Suits said. “Such a flagrant violation of ethics. It is plain old corruption.”
Multiple water district shareholders have voiced outrage over Koon and Edson’s marriage and expressed concerns about his management of the district.
On April 18, shareholders Larry Bittner and Bob Pusanik emailed Marvin St Pierre, the water company board president. They raised concerns regarding conflicts of interest and Koon’s financial dealings.
“The actions and possible omissions of Mr. and Mrs. Koon defy any ethical standard and are a violation of the company “Conflicts of Interest Policy,” the email says. “Based upon the foregoing, Mr. Koon’s election to the board may have been corrupted by his wife’s participation in the election and should be referred to the San Luis Obispo County District Attorney and the California Department of Corporations for investigation.”
On April 29, Koon resigned as general manager, but has retained his seat on the board.
Shareholders also expressed concern that Koon was not eligible to be a board member under the company’s bylaws, which require board members to own property or serve as an officer in corporations that own property in the area served by the water company. Koon noted he is the assistant secretary to the Avila Land Investment LLC. However, while he has been a water company board member for more than 20 years, he has only been a secretary of the LLC for a year.
Koon has not responded to requests for comment.
At last week’s annual shareholder meeting, the board voted to hire Brad Hageman as its interim general manager.
For the past eight years, the Cayucos Sanitary District has also employed Koon as its general manager.