Supervisors Vote to Rejoin Garbage Agency

Written by Neil Farrell

Neil has been a journalist covering the Estero Bay Area for over 27 years. He’s won numerous journalism awards in several different categories over his career.

November 17, 2023

The County will rejoin a regional agency that deals with garbage and recycling, a couple of years after Supervisors voted to exit the agency amidst corruption and embezzlement allegations.

A split Board of Supervisors voted to reverse a previous decision to exit from the Integrated Waste Management Authority, a countywide agency consisting of every incorporated city in SLO County, plus the Board of Supervisors, representing the five districts and the unincorporated towns within each.  

County Supervisors had voted (again split 3-2) in 2021 to leave IWMA and take over administering the garbage and recycling contracts for the county towns (except where a Community Services District handles these duties, as in Los Osos). 

The October 2021 vote came as the IWMA was embroiled in an embezzlement scandal involving the former director and board secretary, who were charged by the District Attorney in August of that year.

As the County realized the expense of quitting the IWMA, including needed staffing, the board majority flipped after the 2022 elections and a new majority sought to rejoin the agency. Last January, the board instructed staff to study what rate hikes would be needed to complete the withdrawal, and then in March they voted to rejoin IWMA.

The switch back comes when IWMA has changed some of its procedures and checks and balances to prevent a repeat of the shoddy accounting that led to the embezzlement case.

But re-joining the IWMA, which was formed under a memorandum of understanding or MOU, wasn’t easy and required changes to be made.

In essence the old IWMA’s MOU had to be rewritten and all the participating agencies had to approve it. According to a report, there have been changes to IWMA rules of governance, including:

• IWMA’s authority is expressly limited to State-mandated legislation and regulations for solid waste, recycling, organic waste, and waste diversion; 

• The minimum noticing time for withdrawing from the IWMA and terminating participation in the 2022 JPA is increased to one year; and,

• The number of representatives for the County on the IWMA Board of Directors is reduced from five members to one member and one alternate member.

That final provision, which had been a sticking point for the remaining IWMA board when the County sought to return, cuts the Supervisors’ power considerably as what used to be a 13-member board is cut down to nine.

IWMA Board pointed to the fact that the County only represents 18% of the garbage customers under IWMA and yet had five of 13 seats.

(Note: Morro Bay’s representative on IWMA is Councilwoman Laurel Barton with Cyndee Edwards the alternate, and the current representative of CSDs countywide is Robert Enns of the Cayucos Sanitary District.)

When it left IWMA, the County hired staff to meet its new duties and switching back affects those folks. The “Solid Waste Division” of Public Works hired a Division Manager, a Program manager I/II — Franchise Administrator; and a Program Manager I/II — Solid Waste Compliance officer. 

That last position, which the County had yet to fill, will now be dropped and the other two will continue on. The Division Manager’s job will change.

“The Solid Waste Division Manager duties will expand to support the department’s organizational need for right-sizing the Utilities Division,” reads the report, “which performs the operations for multiple retail and wholesale water systems and wastewater systems throughout the County. Under the revised department organizational structure, the Utilities Division would be split and focus on water system operations, and the Solid Waste Division would incorporate wastewater operations.”

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