Paavo Ogren hired as manager of Oceano Community Services District

A sign welcomes drivers to Oceano.
A sign welcomes drivers to Oceano. dmiddlecamp@thetribunenews.com

Leaders of the Oceano Community Services District have hired their new general manager away from San Luis Obispo County.

The district board voted 4-1 Wednesday to approve a four-year contract with Paavo Ogren, who has led the county’s public works department for seven years.

Board members have high expectations for Ogren, who will take the helm in Oceano sometime in July, after he signs the contract and gives the county a 30-day notice. Ogren said he expects to sign the contract next week.

He will receive $196,000 plus benefits, making him the highest paid general manager of a community services district in the county.

“In my opinion this is something that’s necessary for the district,” board member Matthew Guerrero said Friday. “It’s an investment in the community because of the unique skill set, knowledge, connections, and relevant experience and expertise that Paavo brings.”

Board member Jennifer Blackburn, who cast the dissented vote, complimented Ogren’s skills and qualifications during Wednesday’s meeting but said she wanted to continue negotiating and expressed concern with the severance portion of the contract.

The contract stipulates that the district would pay Ogren a lump sum cash payment equal to 12 months base salary if the board fired him without cause within his first three years there.

“I think that the severance package is more than we can afford,” Blackburn said. She said she didn’t believe the district board would face that situation, “but we have to protect ourselves.”

About a dozen people spoke during public comment, with some voicing opposition because of the high salary offered. Others said they supported the move, citing some of the needs of the district.

Ogren said Friday that he put together a plan for his first 90 days in Oceano, which includes meeting with staff to discuss issues, board members to establish policy priorities, and other agencies “to understand their perspective of Oceano.”

When asked about the needs, Guerrero said an imminent priority is to address the significant amount of infrastructure, including water and sewer lines, and an emergency generator, that needs to be replaced or upgraded.

Ogren, 51, has spent much of his career with the county and has overseen a number of water resource projects, including the massive Los Osos sewer project and the Nacimiento Water Project. The latter project is a 45-mile pipeline that carries millions of gallons from the lake to residents and businesses within San Luis Obispo County.

Ogren’s past experience includes four years as chief financial officer for two local engineering firms.

To pay his salary, Oceano district officials don’t plan to fill a vacant accounting job, saving about $65,000 plus benefits. Ogren doesn’t plan to take a car allowance, saving $3,600 a year.

District officials also expect that Ogren will be able to complete some tasks often assigned to outside consultants, saving the agency further expenses.