The Oceano Community Services District’s general manager could face discipline or dismissal at a special board meeting Tuesday.
The board’s call for the meeting didn’t stem from one specific issue, but from ongoing frustration with General Manager Raffaele Montemurro’s management. Recently, board members have been angered by his failure to follow direction to pay a hefty water bill to the county on time and to complete overdue financial audits.
Board members have also complained that timely information isn’t made available to them and the public on financial matters, and have chided Montemurro for not providing regular statements showing the district’s budget with year-to-date updates.
“We opted not to evaluate (Montemurro’s) performance,” board Vice President Matt Guerrero said Thursday. “We opted to just make a decision whether we want to dismiss or discipline or release.”
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Montemurro responded Thursday that the board receives plenty of information, some of which is given to members on Fridays in a “week at a glance” packet.
“These people make me the fall guy for the finances, and it all happened before my time,” he said. “My point is, don’t shoot the messenger. All I’ve done since I’ve been here is to try to move the district forward.”
Board members acknowledged that Montemurro inherited the district’s longtime financial struggles when he was hired in October 2009.
“The budget has been off several years,” board President Lori Angello said Wednesday.
The board’s dissatisfaction in recent weeks has focused on two separate water payments the district makes to the county for state water and Lopez Lake water. Two weeks ago, the board expressed outrage that a $92,000 payment to the county for 303 acre-feet of Lopez Lake water was submitted five months late.
In response to the late payment, the county will bill the district $109 in interest later this year, said Will Clemens, administrator of the county’s Public Works Department. Officials are still drafting a letter to send to Oceano.
“We’re concerned that their rates aren’t sufficient,” Clemens said. “But we can’t verify that until we get audited financial statements, which they haven’t produced in a couple of years.”
The district will owe the county an additional $214,834 on July 1 for Lopez water.
A separate payment must be made July 1 to the county for state water. Board members were upset Wednesday that Montemurro had drafted a letter to county supervisors without their approval asking for a deferral of half its payment.
“This would be a very big help to our cash flow,” Montemurro wrote.
The letter was not sent, and the board has directed him to submit the entire payment of $346,625 on time.
“I think there’s some irony in a water company not able to pay its water bill,” Guerrero said.
When asked whether the district would be able to make those payments and continue to pay its staff in July, Montemurro said it would. He declined, however, to speculate on what would happen later this year, because the board has not yet approved its budget for fiscal year 2011-12.
The current budget proposal includes a $130,000 deficit, he said. It also includes about $350,000 in proposed capital improvements, including a new water main.
The board’s agendas have included a discussion of Montemurro’s evaluation for several months, but it has not taken place. The board decided Wednesday to not conduct a public employee performance evaluation of Montemurro, instead wording the discussion as a “discipline/dismissal/release.”
The board’s attorney, Molly Thurmond, declined to comment Thursday on the potential impact that a performance evaluation could have on the district should Montemurro’s employment be terminated.
“There are too many hypotheticals,” she said.
On Thursday, Montemurro said that if he was fired, “I have no — I repeat, no — intention of suing the district.”
Montemurro earns $87,500 annually for overseeing the CSD, which provides water, sewer, street lighting and fire services to about 7,200 residents.
Montemurro is an at-will employee; his contract also specifies that the district may terminate his agreement with three months written notice or immediately with a severance equal to three months of base salary.
If the board terminated his employment for good cause, a severance would not be required, according to the contract.
The closed-session meeting will start at 6:30 p.m.