By KAREN VELIE
Under investigation for sole-sourcing large contracting jobs, conflicts of interest and applying for grants they were not qualified for, San Simeon Community Services District staffers selected Paavo Ogren to respond to the investigator. However, Ogren used to be the investigator’s boss.
In a Sept. 30, 2020 letter to SLO County Counsel Rita Neal, San Simeon resident Henry Krzciuk asked her to investigate the spending of grant money without a public bidding process. A year earlier, the San Simeon CSD had contracted with SLO County to administer and distribute the grant. Neal responded to Krzciuk that she found nothing wrong.
Krzciuk then took his concerns to the state, which ordered the county to investigate.
John Diodati, SLO County’s interim public works director, is heading the investigation.
In years past, Diodati and Ogren worked together on the highly controversial Los Osos wastewater project and the formation of the Paso Robles basin water district.
In December, Diotati sent the San Simeon CSD a six-page demand for information. The response is due Jan. 20.
On Nov. 19, the San Simeon CSD Board of Directors voted to approve a $175 hourly contract for Ogren to spend up to 100 hours assisting San Simeon CSD attorney Jeff Minnery lift a more than 30-year building moratorium because they now have a reverse osmosis facility to ensure a supply of clean water.
However, without board approval management redirected Ogren to help answer Diodati’s information demand.
Attorney Minnery explained they could redirect the money because there was a nexus: one of the grants under investigation had been used to help build the reverse osmosis facility, and he was hired to work with other agencies to lift the moratorium.
“That is the nexus here,” Minnery said. “Ogren was to act as a liaison to maintain communications with other agencies.”