By KAREN VELIE
The head of San Luis Obispo County’s regional waste agency quit suddenly on Wednesday, just hours before a board meeting where the members squabbled over the future of the controversial agency.
At the beginning of the Aug. 11 SLO County Integrated Waste Management Authority (IWMA) meeting, Linda Somers Smith, an attorney with the firm of Adamski Moroski Madden Cumberland & Green, informed the board that Executive Director Paavo Ogren had quit prior to the meeting. Ogren, the IWMA’s fourth executive director in three years, lasted less than a month.
Somers Smith then announced that IWMA legal Council Jeff Minnery had recently taken an extended leave of absence.
As a result of the absences, board members agreed to have several emergency discussions: who to have lead the agency in the interim, and what to do about the county’s plan to exit the agency. Without staff reports or direction, the meeting was chaotic.
On July 14, the board approved Orgen’s hire as proposed by the executive committee. In the past, the full board was provided several options inline with the agency’s hiring guidelines. However, at the July meeting the board’s only option was Ogren with a salary of $186,120 a year, even though the position has a cap of $150,000 a year.
On Aug. 3, prosecutors charged a former IWMA board secretary with 10 felonies — nine for embezzlement of IWMA funds and one for destruction of public records, providing fuel to members already considering leaving the IWMA.
During an Aug. 10 SLO County Board of Supervisors meeting, members of the public accused Supervisor Bruce Gibson of having a conflict of interest in the hiring of Ogren, his friend. After discussing the criminal charges and allegations of mismanagement, the supervisors voted 3-2 to exit the IWMA and to have county staff comply with state waste mandates.
At the Aug. 11 IWMA board meeting, SLO Councilwoman Jan Marx supported an adversarial relationship between the cities and the county. Marx argued the county had no right to the IWMA’s assets, which include millions in a bank account that was funded by ratepayers in both the county and the cities.
“The proverbial line in the sand has been drawn by the majority of the board of supervisors,” Marx said. “The withdrawing members do not have any right to the assets.”
After initially wanting to give the IWMA a chance to negotiate, Paso Robles Councilman John Hamon said his city might also withdraw from the IWMA.
“I will never forget the way we got to this point, but we are where we are,” Hamon said. “Paso Robles is going to consider leaving at this point in time.”
The board then discussed ordering the county to leave the IWMA at a date agreed on by its remaining members, while other members argued the IWMA board did not have that right.
“We need to give the board of supervisors a deadline,” Marx said. “Put the responsibility where it belongs, the people who made this really very bad decision.”
With a focus on money, Cayucos Community Services District Board Member Robert Enns asked if the IWMA could continue to collect monies from county ratepayers after they leave the IWMA, which attorney Somer Smith said was unlikely.
SLO County Supervisor Bruce Gibson, who along with Supervisor Dawn Ortiz-Legg wanted to remain in the IWMA, questioned the right of supervisors Debbie Arnold, Lynn Compton and John Peschong to participate in discussions.
“Given the discussion and unanswered question about our board majority’s decision yesterday, I am not sure anyone has standing to comment within this forum,” Gibson said. “The board majority trashed the reputation of this organization and by extension other directors of this board.”
The IWMA board then agreed to direct legal counsel to discuss an exit strategy with SLO County Counsel, and to have IWMA employee Patti Toews serve as acting executive director.
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