Opinion Columns & Blogs

He said, she said, who said, what?

“What we’ve got here is ... failure to communicate.” — spoken by The Captain, Strother Martin, in the movie “Cool Hand Luke.”

Tammy Rudock, Cambria’s Community Services District general manager, might do well to ponder that sentiment in the wake of her firing the community’s fire chief, Mark Miller. It was the latest in a string of controversial moves by someone who’s courted acrimony in the coastal community of some 6,000-plus residents.

Last month, for instance, she decided that the services of Denis DeClercq and Dexter Upton — a pair of volunteers who counted some 70 years of combined Cambria fire service — should be let go on a premise dealing with an arcane reading of CalPERS retirement benefits. Apparently the two men — who are institutions in the community — are collecting state pensions that could be jeopardized if the district paid workman’s comp for them.

Oh.

If that’s true, shouldn’t that be an issue between DeClercq, Upton and CalPERS? Knowing these two guys, I’m pretty sure they’d forego district workman’s comp for the sheer sense of dedication they bring to the community. Yet, because their terminations — as well as Miller’s — remain shrouded because they’re personnel-related issues, the residents of Cambria are once again left in the dark as to Rudock’s motives and rationale.

Having a history with the community, I can tell you firsthand that the makeup of Cambria is, well, complex. And much of that complexity stems from a town that’s been built within one of only four natural Monterey pine forests in the world. When you take that into consideration and couple it with a town that has chronic water-shortage problems, a well-run fire department can be the margin between a safe and snug existence and disaster.

By all accounts, Miller, DeClercq and Upton did everything within their skills and abilities to err on the side of safe and snug. Pitchforks and torches are being held in abeyance for the moment, but there’s serious grumbling within the pines about Rudock’s consistent sense of high-handedness ... and failure to communicate.

There was a measure of largess by a previous CCSD board in hiring Rudock as the highest-paid community services district general manager in the county (Oceano, $87,500; Los Osos, $90,000; San Miguel, $91,150; Templeton, $115,000; and Nipomo, $126,082). For the fiscal year 2009-10, Rudock’s earnings were $166,538 and change.

Her total compensation — which includes a housing and car allowance — was $231,376 last year. Almost a quarter-million dollars to oversee services for a town a whisker over 6,000 in population. Really, was there no one else who wouldn’t take the job for half that amount? Someone who wouldn’t cherish living in one of the finest, most beautiful communities on Earth?

Sure, the old saw that “we have to pay to attract the finest” can and is trotted out to justify almost every municipal management vacancy in America. But consider Rudock’s must-have credentials: airport services manager and assistant director for water and sewer in Shreveport, La., and public works director for Coalinga. I know if I were a Cambria taxpayer who was on the hook for paying an almost quarter-million dollar annual salary to someone who is rude to the public she serves, I’d sleep better knowing that she has airport management experience in her résumé.

One last note: It waxes ironic that Rudock was hired by a firefighter, Vern Hamilton, then-general manager of the CCSD, who later was the consultant who helped the district in its search for a fire marshal who would ultimately train to replace former Fire Chief Bob Putney. That candidate was ... Mark Miller. Bill Morem can be reached at bmorem@thetribunenews.com orat 781-7852.

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