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Groveland CSD: Exodus in staff, board

The Groveland Community Services district is reeling from a staff and board exodus, stemming from tensions among board members.

General Manager Gary Mello announced this week his plans to retire at the end of June, and GCSD board Director Joe Riley also submitted a letter of resignation this week.

Both cited problems dealing with the GCSD Board of Directors among their reasons for leaving.

Finance Manager Vicki West also retired last month, and a special meeting agenda for Wednesday included proposals to hire temporary, part-time accounting and finance personnel.

Since last June, when a ballot proposal for a special fire tax failed, director Herman Schaap bailed the board by letting his term expire, and director Roy Conley resigned.

Longtime fire chief Shane Warner resigned in August in the midst of an effort to reorganize his department to cut costs.

Riley said Wednesday that he resigned largely because of Mello’s decision to leave and dysfunction among the board, now composed of Virgil McVicker, Scott Wemmer, John Armstrong and Steve Perreira. 

Perreira and McVicker have been critical of district spending and employee pay. Riley said that since the board changeover this year he has been rendered “just not effective” as a director.

Riley said he’s tried to support Mello in his efforts to create district efficiencies and to negotiate an impending state fine related to 2010 sewage spills at Pine Mountain Lake. He complained his fellow board members don’t support the same efforts. He also said district meetings have become increasingly chaotic, with directors shouting and disrupting business in what he describes as an “untenable” situation.

He noted a county sheriff’s deputy was called out to at least one meeting this year, though no arrests were made.

“Do I need to put up with this crap?” Riley asked. “I did for a long time because I’m in the community and plan to be here a long time.”

Mello also pointed to the board when asked Wednesday why he decided to leave the district. He said most of the current directors didn’t hire him in 2011, and he said he has essentially been cut out of many day-to-day decisions in recent months.

“The general manager is not supposed to be micro-managed, and either is any of the staff,” he said. “I am being micro-managed to death.”

West could not be reached in time for this story, though Mello said he believes the board influenced her decision.

Mello’s departure comes as he negotiates a possible settlement with the state Water Quality Control Board over a pair of sewage spills in 2010 and 2011 and the district’s failure to adequately report them. The district faces a fine for as much as $1 million, though the two parties have been working on a possible settlement.

Mello said he hopes the issue with the water board is resolved by the end of the month.

Both Mello and West’s positions were the subject of a 2012 Tuolumne County Civil Grand Jury report that criticized the district for their salaries. The report criticized Mello’s nearly $220,000 and West’s roughly $130,000  in salaries and benefits as excessive.

A staff response to the report signed by Mello in August objected to the findings and stated that he works as both the district manager and engineer, and also said West’s former position encompasses several responsibilities. A December response to the grand jury report from the district board, signed by Perreira, agreed that salaries should be reduced, though cited contract issues as complicating factors.

Perreira did not return a message Wednesday for comment.

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