John Wallace retires from South County sanitation district

John Wallace
John Wallace jjohnston@thetribunenews.com

John Wallace, the administrator of the South San Luis Obispo County Sanitation District, announced Wednesday night he will retire after 27 years under contract to the agency.

The district board later appointed an interim administrator, retired engineer Paul Karp.

Anticipating his announcement, four former district board members attended the meeting to publicly thank Wallace for his service.

The district board was to meet later Wednesday night in closed session to decide whether to retain Wallace Group for engineering services. That work has been done under separate contract.

Wallace has served as the Oceano facility’s part-time administrator, while his San Luis Obispo-based engineering firm, Wallace Group, provides engineering services.

In 2011, the district board split Wallace’s single contract into two in response to a county civil grand jury report alleging a conflict of interest existed because Wallace served as the treatment plant’s administrator while his firm provided engineering services for the district.

Grand jurors concluded that the board and the district “are exposed to a number of financial, legal and public trust issues” stemming from the relationship between Wallace and his company.

The sanitation district board vehemently disputed that conclusion, stating in a rebuttal that a conflict does not exist and the grand jury’s assertions were largely inaccurate.

Wallace said Wednesday the sewage plant has completed several major projects totaling

$20 million to expand the plant and many smaller projects to improve its efficiency. Additional projects to upgrade part of the treatment plant with backup equipment could cost millions more.

“This has been my favorite client over many years,” Wallace told the board and about two dozen people gathered at the district’s meeting. A few former district board members thanked Wallace for his service.

“I think you’ve done a wonderful job,” said Barbara Mann, a former Oceano Community Services District board member who now chairs the Oceano Advisory Council. “Anything I wanted to know, no matter how silly the question might be, you always treated me with respect and dealt with the public no matter what was being said.”

The sanitation district serves about 38,000 residents in Arroyo Grande, Grover Beach and Oceano.