Details emerge on former Oceano CSD manager's firing

jhickey@thetribunenews.comJuly 30, 2013 

Oceano Community Services District manager Tom Geaslen was fired for cause in mid-April and reimbursed the district $36,962 as part of a mysterious settlement that was to remain confidential, officials said at the time.

A recent audit by Caliber Audit & Attest of San Luis Obispo, however, sheds light on the matter.

“During our discussions with management, we were informed a payroll overpayment for one employee occurred on a monthly basis for a small portion of the fiscal year ended June 30, 2012, and for most of the year ended June 30, 2013,” the auditor wrote in an internal control letter dated July 19.

Geaslen was that employee — and paid himself at least $36,000 more than what the CSD board budgeted for his salary while leading the Oceano Community Services District, The Tribune has learned.

But Geaslen told The Tribune on Tuesday that the firing occurred because of a dispute over the compensation terms outlined in his contract.

“There was a dispute. We came to an agreement. I have a gag order in place and am trying to move forward with my life,” Geaslen told The Tribune.

He declined to comment further on exactly how he and the board differed in interpreting the terms of his contract. The Tribune was unable to obtain a copy of the contract.

“We believed that the salary amounts in the contract were always clear, and left no room for any doubt. Characterizing this as a dispute is inaccurate,” district board President Matthew Guerrero told The Tribune.

Guerrero declined to comment further because of the nondisclosure requirement of the settlement agreement.

Geaslen became interim general manager of the district in June 2011, and in March 2012 he was made a permanent employee at a base salary of $126,000 a year.

Because details of individual employees’ pay were not included in monthly board packages during the time of the overpayments, the discrepancy went unnoticed by the board, the audit says.

The audit recommended that such payroll details be included in each board package; those details are now publicly listed as part of the CSD board minutes.

Additionally, the audit identified poor accounting practices under Geaslen’s early leadership — such as not performing regular and timely reconciliation of accounts and ledgers. Such a practice makes it difficult to quickly catch and resolve errors, the audit said.

The district hired an accountant during the second year of Geaslen’s leadership, public records show.

Geaslen had replaced previous general manager Raffaele Montemurro, who was dismissed without cause in May 2011.

The district board has chosen interim manager Gary Keefe and will begin interviewing five finalists for the position in the next few weeks, Guerrero said.

The district provides water, sewer, fire protection and street lighting services to more than 7,200 people in South County.

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