UPDATE (6/22 10:30 PM): The Tribune is now reporting that Kelly has been dating Ogren for six months, but she “does not base my relationship” on the sewer.
UPDATE (6/22 7:30 PM): The podcast is back online. Click on the link below to access it.
UPDATE (6/22 12:15 PM): KVEC 92.0, the radio station hosting the Dave Congalton show, has pulled the June 17 podcast, which had Velie discussing the article.
UPDATE (6/21 10:25 AM): The County Administrator will investigate the allegations made by CalCoastNews, and Razor Online will report to you the results when that information is available.
We didn’t vote for Maria Kelly. Paavo Ogren is not on our Christmas card list. CalCoastNews has a solid readership for their”gotcha!” formula. Love ‘em or not, something is wrong with the CalCoast formula, and it’s in danger of turning toxic when they go after the kids.
Former Los Osos Community Services District director Maria Kelly was often the target of scathing criticism — and sometimes rightfully so — when she was on the board. However, after she resigned from the LOCSD last week, Kelly became the subject of a wild “sex scandal” article published by CalCoastNews on June 17. The article — which opined about Kelly’s alleged relationship with County Public Works Director Paavo Ogren — claimed that the affair came to light after a car accident on Tuesday involving Ogren and Kelly’s teenage children. The article is fascinating, but the real scandal is the site that published the article.
“Sex and the Los Osos Sewer,” the article written by CalCoastNews’ Karen Velie, speculated that Ogren and Kelly’s relationship started at least two or three years ago, and recently moved in with Ogren after separating from her ex-husband last year. The details, or lack thereof, were gleefully exuberant and outrageous: creating a caricature of two individuals whose politics is seemingly intertwined with their personal lives. What could be more scandalous, in Los Osos, than a LOCSD director who supported the wastewater project (like most people in town), and is the leading, driving force behind the project?
Readers have called for an investigation of Kelly and the resignation of Ogren.
Both Kelly and Ogren are unceremoniously inscribed in the history of corruption in San Luis Obispo County; their names are uttered alongside South County Sanitation Department’s John Wallace, San Luis Obispo mayor Jan Marx, former Oceano manager Raffaele Montemurro, and others that CalCoastNews have aggressively targeted.
Speculation about the article reached a fever pitch when Kelly responded to the article on Calhoun’s Cannon. Responding to the claim made by Velie that Kelly did not return requests for comment, Kelly wrote, “I was never requested to comment by Velie. No emails; no phone call; nothing.”
Kelly went on to say, “To somehow imply that I have had this incredible amount of power and ability to singlehandedly effect how a board of 5 impacts a sewer project they (LOCSD) have no authority over is pretty impressive! Thanks for the confidence (extreme sarcasm intended). If there was integrity in the request of a story, then someone could have requested a copy of my letter or checked some facts, with me.”
Kelly was elected to the LOCSD by a considerable margin in November 2008, two years after State Senator Sam Blakeslee’s AB2701 legislation — which transferred LO wastewater authority to San Luis Obispo County — was passed.
However, Kelly was a member of the Los Osos Technical Advisory Committee from May 2007 through December 16, 2008. Kelly was part of the TAC’s Environmental sub-committee. According to the TAC’s bylaws, appointments to the board “shall nevertheless be based on an open application process as provided herein, with recommendations developed by the Director of Public Works for the Board of Supervisors [emphasis on bold], and appointment by the Board.” At the time, the Director of Public Works was Noel King, not Ogren.
Being an active member of TAC, Kelly was understandably supportive of the County wastewater project, but she had no overriding authority or power to approve or disapprove recommendations for the project.
Questions of the County’s favoritism toward Kelly were initially raised when residents looked into Kelly’s qualifications for TAC. Mark Hutchinson of Public Works told Los Osos residents in May 2007 that Kelly was qualified for the TAC because she was the “first runner-up as a LOCSD board candidate in 2006,” which normally doesn’t count as experience for a technical advisory committee. Kelly was recommended over nationally recognized experts like John Alexander and Dr. Thomas Ruehr; both men filed applications for TAC. Since the story on Kelly and Ogren broke, the list of TAC applicants — and their applications — were subsequently removed from the County web site.
Although she was recommended to the board by King, there was no indication at that time that the two were having a relationship. Rumors of a relationship only surfaced after she was elected to the LOCSD board. Residents often credit her experience on TAC for having a successful LOCSD campaign in 2008.
In her article, Velie offered only two noted sources to verify the relationship between Kelly and Ogren, other than their children were involved in a car accident, and that somehow parlayed into, as she sells it, “a sex scandal.”
Velie spoke to Los Osos developer Jeff Edwards, who was a candidate in the 2006 LOCSD election and ran against Kelly. Edwards allegedly has had a long-standing feud with Kelly over several personal and political issues. To be fair, it is also common knowledge that Edwards is also in a relationship with former LOCSD director Julie Tacker, who has been a vocal critic of Kelly and was once accused of being in conflict of interest with Edwards while she was on the board, but that disclaimer is not included.
Velie spoke to a parent of a teenager involved in the car accident, and claimed that Ogren’s residence was considered a “party house” where teenagers drank and smoke. There were no additional sources to verify this information. It was implied in the article that Ogren, knowingly or unknowingly, furnished alcohol, tobacco and/or marijuana to minors, which is a criminal offense. Velie also stated that Ogren’s teenage son, who was allegedly the driver involved in the accent, was facing a felony drunk driving charge. Neither of these allegations of criminal wrongdoing could be independently verified.
Tough questions have been raised and comments made on CalCoastNews’ blog under the article. Bloggers skeptical of the tantalizing but overtly ambiguous details found their comments suspiciously removed on the day the article was published. By June 18, more questions by readers emerged after the moderator and Velie cleared dissenting opinion to firmly reinforce the article’s narrative. Personal attacks on Kelly and Ogren remained while questions regarding the article’s integrity were promptly removed and replaced with a comment by Velie, which promoted her appearance on the Dave Congalton radio show to discuss the article.
Some have speculated the story was published merely as a means of cross-promoting the site and the radio show. Congalton is also a Contributing Editor of CalCoastNews, and has allowed Velie exclusive access to promote her articles on his show with no counterpoint or acknowledgment of additional news sources, such as appears on Ron Crawford’s Sewerwatch.
Last October, Congalton criticized Razor Online for publishing the addresses and phone numbers of County officials and wrote an inaccurate article about the ordeal (read our response here). He wrote in an e-mail to Razor Online, “It is unethical as far as I’m concerned for ‘journalists’ to publish the home addresses of elected public officials and urge people to confront them (and their families).” In light of the article — which also questioned Kelly’s whereabouts — Congalton embraced the speculation, writing, “You can assert all you want that Maria Kelley [sic] is a full-time resident of Los Osos, but that is simply not the case. And I would be glad to broadcast from her Los Osos house — she’s obviously not using it! I might as well.“ Congalton’s hypocrisy is laughable: don’t urge people to confront public officials at their homes, but broadcasting from their homes is “obviously” the exception.
There is corruption in San Luis Obispo County, and it is now widely documented. CalCoastNews has put a spotlight on that corruption, but in doing so they’ve presented stories with such hyperventilated ferocity that most of their articles appear to be manufactured controversy.
However, CalCoastNews has maintained solid readership because of their “gotcha!” formula — and that formula has earned them lots of donations and devotees — but, viewed objectively, after scratching the surface, one discovers that many of their volatile stories are deprived of usable and verifiable information, including the story about Kelly and Ogren. The subject matter found in their articles are surely plausible, but factual? One can only speculate, and that’s the reader’s right — but speculation, suspicion, rumors and hearsay are not news. And never be news. It’s irresponsible to call it that, and it’s irresponsible to laugh at defamation suits when that irresponsibility is called into question.
The article exploits a horrendous car crash and the teenagers involved as a means of implicating two known “movers and shakers” in a sex scandal. Maria Kelly and Paavo Ogren should always be held accountable for the words and actions that have divided Los Osos, but it is beneath ourselves — as human beings — to condone an article that holds two teenagers hostage for the political sins, transgressions and shortcomings of their parents.
Perhaps Maria Kelly is dating Paavo, and perhaps Paavo helped Maria get to where she is today, but since when is “reality journalism” real journalism?
CORRECTION: Former Public Works Director Noel King and John Waddell appointed Kelly to TAC, not Ogren.
CORRECTION: Jeff Edwards and Julie Tacker are in a relationship, not married as originally worded.
— Aaron Ochs