Oceano board making changes

Oceano Community Services District board members moved swiftly Wednesday to alleviate concerns in response to allegations that they had broken California’s open-meeting law.

Oceano board chairman Matthew Guerrero announced that public comment would now take place after staff reports are given, allowing the public to hear a report or presentation before speaking.

At its next meeting, the board will also consider voiding a vote made in closed session on Feb. 8 to increase Interim General Manager Tom Geaslen’s pay, and will add a review of his position to the agenda.

“We’re trying to do the right thing in the right way for the right reason,” Guerrero said.

Emotions ran high at Wednesday’s meeting, as numerous residents expressed their support for Oceano officials and criticized two people who alleged the board violated the Ralph M. Brown Act during the Feb. 8 meeting.

San Luis Obispo resident Kevin P. Rice alleged the board did so when it voted in closed session to increase Geaslen’s compensation to $10,000 a month from $7,750. The board also made the increase retroactive to Jan. 1.

The Brown Act stipulates that final action on compensation for employees, including independent contractors, must be taken in open session.

Geaslen works on a set monthly fee as a consultant and does not take medical or retirement benefits.

Also, concerns raised by Los Osos resident Julie Tacker about the board’s handling of public comments prompted Terry Francke, general counsel of open government advocacy group Californians Aware, to warn the board that it should revise its meeting structure.

Several Oceano residents commended Geaslen on Wednesday for the work he’s done since he was appointed in June.

“The progress and the way the board is moving forward is a blessing to us in Oceano,” Linda Austin said.

Geaslen also defended his work and said he remains committed to keeping the district solvent and restoring the public’s trust in it. When he took over, the district was a “three-ring circus,” he said, “and it appears the circus has come back to town.”

“If you want to take the shots, take the shots,” he said. “I’m a big boy. Bring it on.”

Other speakers lashed out at Tacker and Los Osos resident Jeff Edwards, who frequently attends local meetings. Neither own property in Oceano, though Edwards remains interested in exploring commercial or residential development possibilities at the Oceano County Airport, an idea county officials have not supported.

“Julie, you and Jeff claim to be advocates of the people of Oceano. Why do you keep at it?” resident William Smith said. “Why don’t you just stay away, period.”

Rice, meanwhile, also does not own property in Oceano, but has long been a supporter of off-road riding in the Oceano Dunes. He did not attend Wednesday’s meeting, and added later that the timing of his and Tacker’s complaints was coincidental.