Oceano services district set to hire Paavo Ogren as general manager

The San Luis Obispo County public works director could take over troubled agency

clambert@thetribunenews.comMay 9, 2014 

A sign welcomes drivers to Oceano.

DAVID MIDDLECAMP — dmiddlecamp@thetribunenews.com

In what could be seen as a coup for a troubled agency, the Oceano Community Services District board is poised to hire a new general manager on Wednesday — Paavo Ogren, the current public works director for San Luis Obispo County.

If his hiring goes forward, Ogren would leave his job overseeing 180 employees and eight divisions to head up the Oceano district, a small services agency with six employees, a tight budget and frequent turnover in its general manager spot.

He would become the ninth person in that position in seven years, with the last two managers fired for cause.

Ogren, who has spent much of his career with the county including the past seven years as public works director, would bring substantial experience to the district.

“There’s not any reason why I’m seeking to leave the county,” Ogren, 51, said Friday afternoon. “It’s a lot of good reasons to go work for Oceano.”

Board members interviewed Ogren in closed session in April. On Wednesday, they will consider a four-year contract with an annual salary of $196,000 a year — about 2.5 percent more than Ogren currently earns with the county — not including benefits, according to a staff report for Wednesday’s meeting.

That salary would likely make Ogren the top paid general manager of a community services district in the county.

The proposed salary is about $70,000 more than the district offered former manager Lonnie Curtis (who only worked about five months for the district), and more than $100,000 higher than it paid former general manager Raffaele Montemurro in 2010.

To pay for Ogren’s salary, Oceano district officials don’t plan to fill a vacant accounting job, saving about $65,000 plus benefits. Ogren doesn’t plan to take a car allowance, saving $3,600 a year.

And district officials expect that Ogren will be able to complete some tasks often assigned to outside consultants, saving the agency further expenses, a staff report said.

Ogren said he would need to give 30 days’ notice to the county before leaving.

In his role with the county, Ogren has overseen a number of water resource projects, including the Nacimiento Water Project, a 45-mile pipeline that carries millions of gallons from the lake to residents and businesses within San Luis Obispo County.

He also has been directly responsible for the massive Los Osos sewer project, taking criticism from its opponents.

Ogren’s past experience includes four years as chief financial officer for two local engineering firms. Ogren said he plans to re-activate his certified public accounting license, which is currently inactive.

In a statement of interest submitted to the district, Ogren wrote that his interest in becoming Oceano’s general manager “is the same as in January 1988 when I started my first management position in government — simply stated, to serve the public good.”

“Working at that community level is something I value a lot,” Ogren added Friday. “I don’t have any concerns about some of the challenges that they’ve had. There’s a lot of stuff that needs to be worked on.”

Over the years, district officials have struggled to complete normal district business, like annual audits, in a timely manner.

Complicating their efforts has been frequent turnover in the general manager position. Since 2007, eight people, including a few interim managers, have led the small agency.

But after Curtis left, board member Matthew Guerrero said that numerous officials from agencies around the county reached out to provide advice and support. The district later posted a request for résumés on its website.

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

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