Mad River Union
MCKINLEYVILLE – A $16.5 million upgraded wastewater treatment plant, a McKinleyville teen center, acquisition of an 84-acre ranch and long-term financial planning are just some of the accomplishments of Greg Orsini during his tenure as the general manager of the McKinleyville Community Services District.
But those are just some of the big-ticket items. All over McKinleyville – above ground and underground – are pieces of infrastructure, big and small, that Orsini has overseen or literally installed with his own hands during his 30 years with the district.
Orsini is retiring, with his final day on July 17.
It’s been a long journey for Orsini, who started at the lowest possible rung at the government agency in 1990, slowly working his way from utility person 1, step 1, to the district’s general manager.
When he started with the district, Orsini spent his days weed whacking, painting, emptying garbage cans and helping install sewer and water lines.
Among the toughest jobs was moving irrigation pipes that were used to dispose of treated wastewater at what was then known as the Lourenco Ranch, at the corner of School and Fischer roads.
“It’s physically demanding,” Orsini recalled during a recent interview.
The general manager, who is popular and well-liked by his staff, slowly climbed the ladder at the district.
“I went from step, to step to step,” Orsini said. “I did not leap frog any of those steps.”
It wasn’t until the late 1990s, under Manager Bruce Buel, that Orsini obtained a management position as a maintenance supervisor. This allowed him to oversee a crew, but he was still out in the field operating heavy equipment and climbing into trenches.
Later, Orsini was tapped by the MCSD Board of Directors to be the interim manager after Tom Marking left the district in 2007, and then again in 2012 when Marking’s replacement, Norman Shopay, died of a heart attack.
Finally, in early 2013, the board selected Orsini to become the district’s general manager.
Having worked all of those positions at the district, from the bottom to the top, might seem like an advantage for a manager, but Orsini said that’s not necessarily so.
“It’s a benefit and it’s a hindrance, both, because it lends itself to micromanaging if you’re not careful,” Orsini said. “It took me a bit of time to get over that.”
On the flip side, Orsini said he has an appreciation for his employees’ jobs, because he’s done many of them himself.
“I know how bad it sucks to come to [Pierson Park] and empty these garbage cans and find stuff in there that’s not just paper plates and beer cans and stuff like that. I’ve seen it all and had to get it out of there,” Orsini said. “I know how dangerous it is to be in a trench, a 24-inch wide trench, where you’ve got to look straight up to see the sky.”
Orsini said his least favorite job was reading water meters back in the day before meters could be read remotely.
“It was too repetitive for me,” said Orsini, who added that his dyslexia made it challenging to write the numbers down correctly.
For the most part, working for the MCSD has been a rewarding experience.
“The best part of the job is knowing that it’s bigger than what you’ve done today,” Orsini said.
He said there’s a satisfaction in putting a pipe in the ground and knowing that you did the job correctly, and it’s going to be forgotten about for 30, 40 or 50 years and serve its purpose.
“One of the biggest rewards was just the fulfillment I got being able to serve a community that was so appreciative,” he said.
Orsini described the MCSD’s culture as a “rarefied air.”
“Family, team – I think those are both great descriptions for the relationship between the staff and management,” Orsini said.
“You look at what went on in Michigan with the water system and all those things, and knowing that there are people here that care so much that that stuff wouldn’t happen over their dead bodies,” Orsini said.
Asked about the toughest part of his job, Orsini could have mentioned some horrific sewer repair or an exploding water main, but instead he said it was seeing a staff member struggle.
“I’d say that all the terrible, dirty working in shit up to my waste, or being in a trench, or working like a dog, none of that is nearly as bad as having to witness a staff member who is having difficulties and there’s nothing you can do,” Orsini said.
Reflecting on his time as general manager, Orsini said there’s an unusual aspect to the job.
“It’s a rare job to have where you counsel your bosses as much as you take direction from them,” said Orsini, referring to the MCSD Board of Directors.
“You have to really be able to navigate that relationship with people,” he said. “Everybody should have an opportunity to speak their mind. You should accept input from every single person, within reason... no good idea comes from one mind. Without collaboration something is going to be missed.”
Orsini said there are many people who he would like to thank for the experience.
“I would like to thank all the board members, to the original board members all the way to the present board members, for creating a culture to allow me, as a general manager, to do my job. All the managers and staff that came before me made our accomplishments that we’ve had since I’ve been the general manager possible,” Orsini said.
In retirement, Orsini plans to continue being active in the community. He’s a board member with Life Care Humboldt, which hopes to create housing for seniors. He’s said he also plans to travel and see family members.
Orsini has been co-managing the MCSD with his replacement, Patrick Kaspari, since June 1. Orsini said that day by day, Kaspari is taking on more duties.
Kaspari was previously an engineer with GHD and worked with both the MCSD and the Humboldt Bay Municipal Water District.