Bouquets and Brickbats: Sanitation district has mess to clean

Not to raise a stink, but it’s time the South County Sanitation District got its house — or more specifically, its sewer plant — in order. So much has gone awry there over the past several months that we’re not sure where to start.

We’ll begin, though, with the December storms, when a power outage and subsequent equipment failure at the Oceano sewer plant led to a nasty sewage spill. A report from the state Regional Water Quality Control Board says that sewage backed up and flowed out of manholes in the surrounding neighborhood.

“Spilled sewage mixed with storm water flooded several houses in the area and flowed eventually to Arroyo Grande Creek and the ocean,” the report goes on to say.

Yuck. But there’s more

Last month, the state Water Resources Control Board issued a letter recommending disciplinary action against chief plant operator Jeff Appleton for, among other things, using “fraud and deception in the course of employment” and failing “to use care or good judgment.”

This had nothing to do with the December sewage spill, and dates back to earlier issues. Specifically, Appleton was accused of failing to update a maintenance manual; failing to keep raw data collected by plant operators; failing to report disciplinary action to the state; and denying that he had instructed staff members to follow improper procedures when they collected effluent samples.

On top of that action, the district faces a couple of lawsuits filed over workplace issues — including one by a former employee who raises accusations similar to those the state is making.

The sanitation district’s top administrator, John Wallace, would not comment on the lawsuits. But he said Appleton plans to appeal the state disciplinary action, and he told The Tribune that the deficiencies cited by the water board are being addressed.

We’re relieved to hear that corrective action is being taken, but it would have been far better had there been no deficiencies in the first place.

The leaders of the South County Sanitation District should expect a barge of brickbats to float their way — along with a mop and a bucket to clean up any lingering mess.

Gutsy talk on repealing arbitration

It took backbone for three SLO City Council members to agree to discuss the idea of repealing arbitration. For that, we offer the trio — Andrew Carter, Dan Carpenter and Kathy Smith — a public interest bouquet.

It will, of course, ultimately require a vote of the people to eliminate binding arbitration. But voters will never have that opportunity unless someone is willing to risk alienating police and firefighter unions.

A hope for success on water rates

We’ve lost track of the number of times the city of Paso Robles has tried to pass a water rate increase to cover its share of the Nacimiento Water Project. It’s now going through the process again — this time because a judge ruled that the city had not adequately notified ratepayers about why the increase was needed and how it was calculated.

The city of Paso Robles has gone to great lengths to come up with an acceptable rate schedule. It’s never going to please everyone, but we believe the latest rate proposal is both reasonable and fair. We’ll hold on to a fourth — or is it fifth or sixth? — time’s a charm bouquet in the hope that this latest effort is successful.