The future of Cambria Community Services District General Manager Jerry Gruber could be on the agenda at a special meeting of the Board of Directors on Thursday.
Board President Amanda Rice told The Cambrian that the “discipline/release/dismissal” of a CSD employee would be discussed in closed session. Official notice and the meeting’s agenda, to be held at 10:30 a.m. at the Veterans Memorial Building, 1000 Main St., was posted on the district’s website Wednesday.
Gruber is the only district employee the board directly oversees. He has previously indicated that he’d like to retire by age 60.
He’ll turn 60 in May.
At mid-day Tuesday, there has been no response to requests for confirmation or comment from Gruber or district counsel. Directors Jim Bahringer and Harry Farmer declined to comment. Farmer said, it was “a bit premature to comment on the subject” of Thursday’s meeting.
Conclusions about Gruber’s performance evaluation were due in June. But district counsel has not announced any votes taken or actions ordered on that topic, which would be required by state law.
No action was taken at the board’s most recent try to complete the review in a closed-session meeting Aug. 23. Instead, the special meeting was scheduled.
As is the norm for such confidential meetings, members of the public can comment before the board sequesters behind closed doors. Attendees who wait or come back at the end of the closed session can hear a report of actions taken by the board, if any.
CCSD provides water and sewage-treatment service and administers the Cambria Fire Department, the Veterans Memorial Building and hundreds of acres of open-space and park lands.
If Gruber chose to leave the district voluntarily, he’d get a state retirement from the California Public Employees’ Retirement System, based on the number of years he’s served on the job.
However, if he were to be dismissed without cause, he could choose to continue to receive his usual pay while managing the district during a nine-month severance period called for in his contract. In lieu of that, he could opt to receive severance payment equal to nine month’s salary, which likely would total more than $125,000.
Gruber joined the district as utilities manager in November 2010, for an annual salary of $113,900 plus benefits.
When the district fired General Manager Tammy Rudock in April 2011, Gruber took over on an interim basis and then was confirmed permanently in June for an annual salary of $150,000.
In early 2016, when Gruber’s annual salary was reported as being $160,808, the GM submitted a tentative six-year contract proposal to the board. That proposal included some retroactive wage increases and a salary that rose by 5 percent each succeeding year, reaching $221,984 plus benefits by July 2020.
The proposal drew substantial outcry from the public and some board members, and President Gail Robinette pulled the proposal before the board could vote on it.
Soon thereafter, Gruber submitted another proposed contract that included a 6 percent pay increase, raising his annual wage to $170,456.48. With benefit increases, the increased annual fiscal impact to the district was $11,230 per year.
The board approved the new contract, which was to remain “in effect for an indefinite term,” according to the agreement.
Several directors and community members have openly criticized Gruber’s performance and clashed with him at meetings.
Among the issues:
His failure to ensure that required state water reports were filed on time, resulting in $53,000 in fines (a reduction of the original higher amount);
how the Sustainable Water Facility project permitting and construction was handled and financed;
errors in a recent rate-increase notice, requiring it to be rewritten and resent;
frequent absences from the office;
delays in crucial infrastructure repairs and replacements, such as to the district’s water-supply well near Leffingwell High School;
delays in addressing important issues, such as the district’s official declaration of drought;
and his leadership, communication and management styles — Gruber was chided in a letter from the state Regional Water Quality Control Board for a contentious interaction with a ratepayer at a board meeting. The state agency required him to apologize to her in public.
In his years at CCSD, Gruber has had a number of successes, despite having worked with divergent opinions from his board members.
Rice said Tuesday, Aug. 28, that he had “definitely been instrumental in making sure we’re all aware of the needs of our infrastructure. The Fiscalini Water Tank project was a big one, and it was a success for sure.”
She also cited Gruber’s leadership in getting the dog park moved from its temporary site, launching work on the East Ranch community park and the fact that he’s so supportive of staff getting higher levels of training and certification.
But what many consider Gruber’s greatest achievement at CCSD was his work toward the complex task of securing a secondary water source for the often water-short community.
During the drought through 2016, Gruber warned the board that the community could run out of water, and redirected existing plans at the time into the more than $10 million Sustainable Water Facility (SWF) that was built on an emergency basis, but which still needs a permanent permit to operate.
The SWF draws, treats and releases back into the groundwater a blend of saltwater, fresh water and treated wastewater.
However, the plant’s original evaporation-pond system for disposing of brine — the salty liquid left over from the desalting and other processes — didn’t work correctly and has been discontinued. The SWF isn’t operating.
The current plan for operation during declared water shortage, or after the plant is fully permitted, would be to haul brine to a facility in South County.