As a relatively new public interest advocacy organization, the Coalition of Labor Agriculture and Business of San Luis Obispo County (COLAB SLO) appreciates New Times’ interest in our purpose and concerns. There have been two anonymous Shredder opinion pieces in the last few months related to COLAB activities and a news article, “How Now Brown COLAB” (June 2), by Colin Rigley. These articles have focused on the obsessive efforts by Supervisor Adam Hill to insinuate secretive and/or sinister motives to COLAB. Obviously Hill is angered by COLAB’s county boardroom appearances. He is angered by our weekly updates, monthly newsletters, action alerts, and the Andy Caldwell Radio Show on KUHL AM 1440 from 3 to 5 PM Monday through Friday.
Essentially Hill—and, as noted below, Supervisor Bruce Gibson—are angered by criticism from the public (not just COLAB) and seek to control it through personal attacks on their critics. For example, several months ago Hill interrogated me about my salary and Andy Caldwell’s salary. I explained that both COLAB of San Luis Obispo County and COLAB of Santa Barbara County are private voluntary civic organizations that do not receive public funding and declined to provide the information. He replied he would get it from the IRS 990 Form, which lists information about key employees of not-for-profit organizations. He also asked me about my pension. The not-so-subtle implication was that personal information could be used to denigrate critics.
Such tactics were publicly confirmed during the special board meeting on the annual budget held on Monday, June 13. The nonprofit Community Health Clinic Organization (CHC), which runs clinics in several county locations, had aggressively organized its clients to ask the Board of Supervisors for a larger budget. During a testy exchange between Supervisor Gibson and CHC’s chief executive officer, Gibson displayed his anger and asserted that Chief Executive Officer Ronald Castle was overpaid, revealed his salary, and demanded in public that he take a pay cut. Gibson said that he had obtained the compensation information from the IRS Form 990.
Similarly and even more outrageous is the recent and widely reported deliberate, reckless, false, and malicious attack by Hill on Andy Caldwell, COLAB of Santa Barbara County, COLAB of San Luis Obispo County, Sen. Sam Blakeslee, and nationally recognized comedian/presidential impersonator Steve Bridges. This is a nasty pattern at the San Luis Obispo County Board of Supervisors and is designed to chill public comment. Instead of discussing or debating the merits of such issues as smart growth, pensions, declining services, jobs, and economic opportunity, the board personally attacks its critics to deflect consideration of the real issues.
The California Open Meeting Law requires such public bodies as boards of supervisors to listen to people who criticize their policies: “When a member of the public testifies before a legislative body, the body may not prohibit the individual from criticizing the policies, procedures, programs, or services of the agency or the acts or omissions of the legislative body.” However, in San Luis Obispo County, some people who criticize the board of supervisors have their personal finances publicized and are publicly attacked by sitting elected supervisors whose attention should be focused on the real issues. Is it any wonder that some COLAB private citizen members, not to mention other private citizens, are reticent to expose themselves, their families, and their employees to such a vicious abuse of power by elected officials?
Are public tax dollars being used to pay county staff members to research federal tax records to fuel such attacks? Are county tax-funded computers and communications facilities being used to conduct the research?
Will the board members who are not involved have the courage to repudiate and censor their colleagues, or will they, by their silence, tacitly endorse these disgraceful stains on the reputation of San Luis Obispo County? Will citizens speak out, or are they too afraid of being publicly abused and embarrassed? Are citizens who may have regulatory matters pending before the county now or in the future too afraid of retaliation to speak out?
The Grand Jury should swear the board members, county staffers, and citizen witnesses as part of an investigation into these illegal practices designed to suppress dissent. The district attorney should investigate and prosecute any violations.
In the future, the public will remember Hill’s and Gibson’s disgraceful tactics of character assassination and intimidation.
Michael Brown is a spokesman for COLAB. Send comments via the opinion editor at firstname.lastname@example.org.