Bouquets and Brickbats

Gearhart headed for a deserved stint in prison

letters@thetribunenews.comMay 16, 2014 

Kelly Gearhart

TRIBUNE FILE PHOTO

Former Atascadero real estate developer Kelly Gearhart — who now lives in Ohio — is looking at relocating again, this time to a federal prison.

Sounds like a perfect fit for the former Atascadero Citizen of the Year.

Gearhart, who pleaded guilty to wire fraud and money laundering this week, is due to be sentenced on Dec. 29. Federal prosecutors plan to seek a term of more than 11 years.

Gearhart defrauded victims of as much as $20 million through a real estate scheme — money they’re unlikely to ever see again. While efforts are being made to recoup as much as possible, as a spokesman for the U.S. Attorney’s Office put it, “There is not a bank account with $20 million sitting in it that we will be able to get for the victims.”

What a heartbreaking loss for victims who trusted Gearhart with their life savings. To them, a minimum sentence of 11 years must seem like paltry punishment after all they’ve gone through. It’s little consolation, we know, but we offer Gearhart’s victims our sympathy. For Gearhart himself, we have 20 million brickbats— one for each dollar he cheated from investors.

Withholding final judgment on official

We’re not sure whether to toss the small Oceano Community Services District a bouquet for hiring longtime county public works director Paavo Ogren, 51, away from the county — or a brickbat for paying him $196,000 per year. That’s $70,000 more than it paid its previous general manager. Granted, that general manager lasted only five months before being fired.

Ogren — the CSD’s ninth general manager in seven years — should bring much-needed stability to the district. He’s been with the county for much of his career, including the past seven years as its public works director.

He’s also highly versatile: Ogren was chief financial officer for a couple of engineering firms and will take on some accounting duties at the CSD. That will allow the district to keep a $65,000-per-year accounting position vacant — money it can put toward Ogren’s salary.

We’ll hang on to the district’s bouquet and brickbat until we see how things shake out with the new hire. In the meantime, we’ll toss Ogren a welcoming bouquet of dune grass to mark his move to Oceano.

Cheers for Tour of California

We toss bouquets of bright yellow roses to all the local communities that hosted the 2014 Tour of California, especially to the many volunteers who helped pull it off; the spectators who braved a record-breaking heat wave to cheer on the cyclists; and, of course, the athletes and their support teams.

We also applaud efforts to conserve water in the parched community of Cambria. Tour organizers brought in their own water supply and cut back on water use as much as possible. For example, instead of using barrels of water as ballast for tents, they used sand or cinderblocks.

The cycling event is a great showcase for our county, and while there are some inconveniences — including road closures and parking restrictions — it’s a great way to spread the word about the beauty and variety of the Central Coast and to inspire the next generation of world-class cyclists.

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