When Mike Finnigan told his boss by email April 21 that he intended to resign “as utilities manager or wastewater systems supervisor or senior wastewater operator” of the Cambria Community Services District, he wrote that “recent events have motivated me to reexamine my reasons for working here” and “these events have added undue stress. I’m no longer able to continue down this path.”
He indicated, however, that he’d stay beyond the required two weeks’ advance notice. Which he did.
That email was one of several documents The Cambrian received in response to a request for records available to the public.
The district has experienced a sharp loss in institutional knowledge in the past year or so, with resignations of former District Clerk Kathy Choate, Water Department Supervisor Jim Adams, Finance Officer Alleyne LaBossiere, Finance Clerk Kathy Frye and others. Several employees have taken medical leaves to deal with stress.
While Finnigan’s first email to General Manager Jerry Gruber and Administrative Services Officer Monique Madrid didn’t elaborate further about events triggering the utilities manager’s departure, a subsequent email sent June 18 appeared to do so.
It outlined apparent differences in priorities for the two men.
Gruber’s new chain-of-command chart — mentioned in his May 22 report to his board, and released officially as part of the budget review process in June — eliminated the utilities manager position, establishing the top utility jobs as supervisor of each department, reporting to District Engineer Bob Gresens and through him to Gresens.
In other words, Finnigan could stay as wastewater department supervisor, but he’d still have all the responsibilities of the chief plant operator.
Gruber has said he cannot comment on Finnigan’s departure because it is a personnel matter. However, in recent Board of Directors meetings, he also said the district’s 2014-2015 budget was very lean, due to a drop in water/wastewater sales triggered by the drought and surcharges being imposed for customers who use more than their allocations for each two-month billing period.
The $7.3 million budget, including the organizational chart, was approved 4-0 at the board’s June 26 meeting. That’s down $1.1 million compared to the last fiscal year. The expected $1.9 million in expenditures for the wastewater fund were down $413,298 from the 2013-2014 fiscal year.
That day, board members also established supervisors’ positions for the water and wastewater departments. The reshuffling produced a savings of about $118,000 per year, according to Gruber’s math.
Gruber did ask Finnigan what he’d need from the district in order to stay, although it’s not known which post he’d offered his employee.
The list Finnigan sent in the June email to Gruber seemed to illuminate an ongoing clash between the two men, especially with regard to staffing, state requirements and possible impacts to Finnigan’s license.
Finnigan’s must-have list included:
• Hiring one more operator each for the water and wastewater departments, which he said July 1 are dangerously understaffed.
• Having the district stop transferring funds generated from the two “enterprise” departments of water and wastewater to support other departments, such as the resources department. Finnigan said that practice is illegal.
• Establishing chief plant operator (CPO) salaries at the water and wastewater facilities that are equal to or more than that for the facility resources supervisor, which, according to Finnigan, requires “no cert/license and its responsibilities do not compare to CPO position/responsibilities.”
He also said in the email “we need engineering help!!!”
Finnigan noted in his June message to Gruber that since he submitted his resignation in April, “nothing has transpired. Recently, I was told by (consulting firm) CDM Smith they recommended to you we need at least two additional water operators for the desal unit, and you said NO??? With an already overworked crew, I can’t imagine this.”
Finnigan apparently had told Gruber earlier that “no place is 100 percent perfect, but we at least need to cover the basics. We owe that not only to the public but to our people as well. As a result, I can no longer continue to work for the CCSD.”
The utilities manager then resigned effective June 18, noting that he was no longer the legally responsible official or CPO for the wastewater department.
Finnigan said he’ll miss Cambria and loved it here. But he has accepted a job north of Sacramento, closer to family members.
Follow Kathe Tanner on Twitter at @CambriaReporter.