The longtime manager of the San Luis Obispo County Integrated Waste Management Authority was placed on leave Wednesday as the agency launches an internal investigation into allegations that he fraudulently misused public funds.
The IWMA Board of Directors unanimously voted to immediately place manager Bill Worrell on administrative leave effective until his scheduled retirement on Sept. 11 and to hire an outside investigator to conduct a forensic audit, IWMA Counsel Ray Biering announced at the end of a closed-session meeting.
The agency was formed in 1994 to implement regional waste programs under a joint powers agreement among the county, the seven cities, and the community service districts.
The board’s actions come two weeks after District Attorney Dan Dow confirmed that his Public Integrity Unit is looking into possible malfeasance and fraud at the agency in an investigation spurred by a report by private investigator Carl Knudsen.
In his report, Knudsen said an IWMA credit card issued to Worrell appeared to have been used for thousands of dollars of personal expenses and that contractors received lucrative contracts from the agency without going through a competitive bidding process, among other things.
He also said that many of the financial documents he requested through the California Public Records Act were not provided, and he urged the District Attorney’s Office to investigate further.
Several people, including public officials, who spoke during a public comment period urged the board on Wednesday to direct staff to turn over documents, place Worrell on leave and support the district attorney’s investigation.
Wayne Hall, a former county staffer who helped form the current IWMA, was critical of IWMA financial records and said annual audits have been superficial at best. He congratulated the board’s actions on Wednesday.
Knudsen’s investigation was performed on behalf of a citizens group with ties to Cal Coast News, a website that lost a $1.1 million libel verdict in March 2017 for an article it published that alleged a cushy relationship between Worrell and former contractor Charles Tenborg resulted in several crimes.
A supporter of Cal Coast News, Templeton resident Claire Mamakos, said the public “can no longer tolerate the IWMA administrator’s blatant disregard for the law and the public he is supposed to serve,” and that a group of citizens banded together to hire Knudson “to document some of the IWMA corruption.”
She said that one month into Knudson’s investigation, Tenborg offered to settle with Cal Coast News if they agreed to stop writing about his business and to stop the investigation of the IWMA.
Tenborg, who was also at the meeting, said he felt compelled to attend, “because these “so-called concerned citizens are part of an ongoing malicious intent to defame IWMA and myself.” He didn’t comment on the alleged settlement offer and did not return requests for comment.
Instead, he described Worrell as highly ethical person with integrity and lauded his accomplishments with the IWMA, saying that because of Worrell’s efforts, county residents enjoy free recycling programs, curbside oil recycling, school education recycling programs and other services. He told board members to “consider the source” of the allegations, calling Cal Coast News reporters biased.
Karen Velie, co-founder of Cal Coast News, told The Tribune Wednesday that one of her attorneys, Jim Duenow, received an emailed offer from an attorney for Tenborg stating that if Cal Coast News stopped writing about Tenborg, Worrell, and the IWMA, that Tenborg would forfeit “the entire judgment” of $1.1 million awarded in the libel trial.
Velie said she could not provide the communication as it was “between law firms,” but that she personally saw the email. When reached late Wednesday, Duenow said he wasn’t immediately able to locate the email but said he would search for it.
Knudsen has not responded to several requests for comment.