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Santa Barbara Grand Jury Calls For Cuyama Community Services District Changes

A civilian watchdog group is saying the Cuyama Community Services District needs to make a number of changes in the way it does business, including enforcing existing policies, adding new rules regarding nepotism, and adopting rate increases.

The Santa Barbara County Civil Grand Jury on Monday released a report called “Operating Under Difficult Circumstances,” criticizing the district’s board of directors for the way the small agency approximately 50 miles east of Santa Maria has operated.

The panel made 15 findings plus an equal number of recommendations for the special district that provides water and sewer services to fewer than 300 customers, many of whom are low-income households, the panel said. 

The report described a dysfunctional district with turmoil between staff and the board of directors, one of a few in California not compensated for their service.

The grand jury noted the board instructed an employee to enforce the district’s policy to deny water service to delinquent accounts, yet the staff member, who was not identified in the report, refused to follow the direction in 2013 and 2014.

Instead, the employee attempted to address the problem by working out payment plans with the delinquent account holders. 

“The employee in this case did not have the authority to work out individual payment plans with district water customers,” the grand jury said. 

The district averages approximately $11,000 in overdue monthly accounts receivable, the grand jury report said, adding that the board needs to enforce the district personnel policies regarding insubordination.

The grand jury also noted the manager’s son worked as the assistant operator, reporting to his father, although a job description didn’t exist for the position, one of three full-time slots.

The son was hired as an hourly worker but the job was switched to salaried status in 2015, three years after a board member resigned over questions involving proper documentation of time sheets for this position. 

“It is unusual within a government agency to have a relative work for and report directly to another relative,” the panel said. “Despite an employee’s best intentions to serve the community, supervising a relative and the desire to help family members can lead to perceived or actual unethical decisions that may put the agency at financial risk and cause poor employee morale. 

Many of the issues that need to be addressed by the board involve enforcing policies that already exist, the grand jury said.

“These include the enforcement of their policies on discontinuance of service, the personal use of district owned vehicles, and the prohibition of offensive, abusive, or persistent discourteous treatment of the public or fellow employees,” the report says.

The board of directors also re-evaluates the district’s staffing needs and develop a succession plan to replace key employees, the report said, noting that the father recommended his son succeed him as general manager.

“This is not considered a solution because the assistant operator does not have the requisite licenses,” the grand jury sad. “Public employment decisions should be based solely on merit. Qualifications such as education, skills and experience a candidate can bring to the position should be the main criteria for employment.

"The search for the new manager should be all about finding the best qualified individual to serve the CCSD.

The district lacks job descriptions for some positions while others remain obsolete.

“The job description for the manager is 24 years old and does not specify important responsibilities, such as response time for repairs, professional licenses required by the state, ongoing training and/or continuing education requirements,” the report said.

The public needs to be informed of the need for water and wastewater rates increases, the report said, adding that the district needs to raise revenues to remain financially viable.

Lastly, the board needs to follow the Rural Community Assistance Corporation’s October recommendations to raise water and wastewater rates, the report says. 

“To assure the legal and financial viability of the Cuyama Community Services District and its employees, the board of directors must address and correct these and all other deficiencies detailed in this report.”

The Cuyama Community Services District board has 90 days to respond to the report.

Noozhawk North County editor Janene Scully can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

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