There is a recurring theme with SLO County politics: Attack your opponent, and demand civil discourse later. Let’s hope readers see through that.
For nearly a month, a lot of discussion has taken place surrounding District 3 Supervisor Adam Hill’s revelation that he suffers from clinical depression. I touched on the subject a short while ago. Evidently, his critics have weighed in too.
Then I was told San Luis Obispo attorney Stew Jenkins wrote an editorial, calling on Hill to resign.
In his editorial, Jenkins questions whether or not Hill actually has depression. He writes that Hill’s actions can be attributed to deception, not depression.
As an example of deception, Jenkins points to a message Hill left on the voicemail of one of his supporters, impersonating his political opponent and allegedly accusing his supporter of being a “Communist, Socialist or maybe a Marxist.” Here’s what Jenkins didn’t mention to readers: Hill explained he was joking. But for Jenkins, lying by omission is not deceptive.
Jenkins then pointed to another example of deception: an allegation by local businesswoman Julie Tizzano, claiming he threatened to withhold county funding for the Food Bank Coalition of SLO County because she was involved and supported his political opponent. An experienced attorney like Jenkins should know to not publish unverified allegations as a statement of fact.
But Jenkins has done that before.
Last year, Jenkins represented CalCoastNews co-founder Karen Velie in her failed bid to file a restraining order against me. The order was based primarily on the lie that I was recruited by Supervisor Hill to harass and stalk her.
In court, Jenkins falsely claimed he had evidence that I was a “clear and present” danger not only to Velie, but also her relatives. The evidence simply wasn’t there.
At one point, as I testified under oath on the witness stand, Jenkins accused me of discussing about tossing bleach in Velie’s daughter’s eyes. Making the false allegation without evidence was bizarre enough. After informing the court that terrorists in Afghanistan throw bleach in women’s eyes, Jenkins did something no lawyer accusing someone else of misbehaving would do.
He spit in my face.
I believe it was intentional. Perhaps it was a salivary salvo made on behalf of his deceptive client.
Afterwards, the judge asked him to take a step back from the witness stand as he was already too close to me.
During closing arguments, Jenkins argued my opinions had “no legitimate purpose” and that I should be barred from expressing them. This is ironic because he remains chair of the local chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union, an organization that rigorously fights for free speech rights.
Specifically, Jenkins argued my opinions of his client’s mental fitness to run a news site and report accurately was not “legitimate.” Now, Jenkins is delving into a similar discussion about Hill’s mental health.
Does he have a legitimate purpose to express his opinion — as hypocritical and misleading as it may be? Yes.
If leaving a strange voicemail with a supporter merits resignation, should spitting in someone’s face merit disbarment? I believe so.
I’ve seen a number of critics who step up to criticize Hill’s behavior, but none of them are as egregious in their hypocrisy as Stew Jenkins, a man who has no business practicing or interpreting law — a man who should check his own behavior before criticizing someone else’s.
On Friday, The Tribune revealed that District 3 Supervisor Adam Hill was going to temporarily step aside from his duties as supervisor to manage depression. This comes on the heels of a recent controversy involving Hill privately telling one of his constituents to “f— off.”
Depression is no excuse for behaving badly, and Hill acknowledged that point, but it should be discussed openly.
Some of Hill’s detractors have a point that his demeanor gets in the way of focusing on issues that matter, and it’s certainly become a distraction. Before the latest controversy arose, I was working on a column addressing a completely different topic. I’m distracted, but now this distraction has taken a life of its own and become painfully real.
For the past four years, there has been a flurry of negative coverage about Supervisor Hill from the hard right. A lot of unsubstantiated allegations were thrown around about him, many of which were personal and targeted people close to him. In fact, the atmosphere revolving around these allegations got so toxic that it expanded to people who supported Hill personally and politically. As many of my readers know, I’ve been repeatedly attacked based on the demonstrably false notion that I’m somehow part of a vast left-wing conspiracy to harass and “shut down” his critics as a “business associate.”
For every negative and accusatory article about him, there are people who’ve repeatedly accused him of mental illness. In fact, they’ve laughed at him for what they perceived was mental illness. They ridiculed and shamed him for something that — we now learn — is a lifelong struggle. This online trolling has gone mainstream and become part of an ongoing conversation on the “Dave Congalton Show.” Congalton, who is obsessed with Hill and his foibles, has laughed at Hill for something millions of Americans experience.
Immediately, my critics will read my words and think, “But you’ve accused one of Hill’s most vocal critics of being mentally unstable. Aren’t you part of the problem?” It’s true. I have, and maybe I am part of the problem. This person has authored over a hundred negative articles about Supervisor Hill, at times accusing him of orchestrating shortcomings in her personal life. Never has she once apologized or acknowledged that she might have a problem. As a result of these articles, Hill — and anyone who supported him in spite of those articles — was harassed and threatened repeatedly, sometimes by her. Many of the allegations featured in her articles were unsubstantiated or were demonstrably false. Hill has apologized for behavior that was clearly inexcusable, but Karen Velie still hasn’t apologized for behavior she was successfully sued for and lost. Yet who does she blame for the lawsuit that an unanimous jury found merit for? You guessed it: Adam Hill.
Politicians should have a thick skin. They’re elected officials. They’re supposed to handle criticism, even when it gets personal. But in a county as small as San Luis Obispo County, rumor and innuendo can be incredibly suffocating even for local officials.
People start treating you a little differently, perhaps with some trepidation. It starts with shifty-eyed looks and inconspicuous whispers. Then people start avoiding you. Rejection becomes a big part of life. For a clinically depressed person to feel rejection, it’s horrifying. You can tell a young person getting bullied through high school that it gets better because they have a chance to graduate and effectively distance themselves, but adults living with depression don’t have that option. Politicians and public figures are no exception. But those with depression all feel the same disconcerting feeling: it stays. It lingers and even thrives if left unchecked. Being the target of false accusations can wear anyone down, but those with depression will have a far tougher time coping.
I would know. I’ve suffered from depression, probably for similar reasons. Unlike Hill, it’s not a lifelong condition for me, but it’s certainly been a part of my life. Fortunately, I’ve been able to overcome it enough to talk about it without being ashamed.
People will think Hill’s personal revelation is somehow an excuse or some public relations-savvy pivot, but we can all agree Hill’s candor about the subject is something that a lot of people can relate to. By having that discussion, we can literally save lives and be a part of the solution. But if we lower ourselves to flinging personal insults and innuendo of someone who knows they have a problem and is seeking help, we’re not part of the solution. It’s time we take a course correction, engage in a robust dialogue on depression and encourage others to do the same.
I watched the Jan. 9 SLO County Board of Supervisors meeting. What I saw was one-sided, hyperbolic and capricious partisanship aimed directly at one left-leaning board member.
On the first item of their meeting agenda, the board voted 3-2 to reappoint District 1 Supervisor John Peschong as chair and District 5 Supervisor Debbie Arnold as vice-chair. The vote came after public comment overwhelmingly opposed District 3 Supervisor Adam Hill for incoming chair.
Despite Peschong prefacing public comment by requesting no personal attacks from speakers, his fervent base went the opposite direction — and Peschong let them.
Starting off public comment was Los Osos resident Julie Tacker. She was one of the public commenters who opposed Hill’s chairmanship. After listening to Hill’s remarks, she asked, “Where is his responsibility in all of this?” The same question can be asked of Tacker, who was one of the earliest backers of an anonymous Facebook page called “Fire Adam Hill.” Page administrators bragged about spending thousands on an advertising campaign that accused Hill of paying his supporters and critics, including myself, to “troll” his critics. They plastered the faces of private citizens and critics on flyers and called for their arrest while notifying their employers and associations they belonged to.
Tacker called on the board to investigate Hill’s alleged misuse of county resources to “harass private citizens,” though she had no problem with one of her colleagues using county resources to harass me under the faulty guise that I “trolled” for Hill. No irony lost there.
One of the public comment speakers was T. Keith Gurnee, former principal of RRM design group, who used the board to appoint a chair out of merit, not habit. But for Gurnee, old habits die hard. Gurnee developed a reputation for penning critical editorials about Hill, at times openly bragging about his obsession with the supervisor and yearning for a confrontation. When that confrontation came and Hill accused him of having a homoerotic obsession, Gurnee wrote several editorials about that particular incident. I found it disingenuous for Gurnee to portray himself as the mild-mannered, garden variety victim of Hill’s behavior, given his own behavior and conflicts of interest. Gurnee’s wave of critical editorials appeared after Hill voted against one of his development projects in South County.
Following Tacker were several citizens who’ve historically issued politically charged public comment against liberals, progressives and their ideals — or what they assume their ideals are. That’s not to say their criticism against Hill’s behavior is unfounded, but the foundation for their dissent is undoubtedly cradled in partisanship. Many of these speakers promote ideologies, opinions and expressions often touted by President Donald Trump. It’s difficult to reconcile their tacit approval for a president who’s erratic behavior has reduced our country’s standing in the world while they express moral indignation over Hill complaining about the “bloviating foolishness” of a conservative political lobbyist.
Some of the commenters are active, vocal members of the North County Tea Party while others support the legislative agenda of Coalition of Labor, Agriculture & Business (COLAB). So it was a curious sight to behold when San Luis Obispo resident and CalCoastNews contributor Dr. C. Hite — a self-proclaimed liberal — juxtaposed Hill’s remarks about COLAB’s lobbyist to Chinese anti-censorship protests. It’s definitely a stretch to compare a county supervisor’s critical remarks about a deeply partisan, public figure to a foreign government’s draconian censorship measures, but it’s certainly theatrical if not misguided.
From there, public comment speakers criticized the supervisor for “negative behavior,” but that criticism appears disingenuous when the same speakers took aim at “smoking wreckage of his personal life” or his mental state. Many of the speakers held the supervisor to a higher standard than they hold for themselves. While public officials should be setting the gold standard for decorum, there’s nothing to stop private citizens from striving to meet that standard.
There were speakers who opposed Hill because of his behavior toward women. This is a talking point commonly seen on CalCoastNews/Cal Coast Times, a website co-founded by Karen Velie, a conspiracy theorist who believes Hill is part of an elaborate effort to shut down her “investigative reporting.” Though she’s routinely failed to disclose that she’s suing Hill over her unsubstantiated conspiracy theory, Velie has alleged that Hill’s conduct is rooted in sexism.
To demonstrate this sexism, Velie pointed to Hill using the word “Svengali” to describe Peschong in a social media post, insinuating Hill used that term specifically in a misogynistic context. Velie apparently lifted that portion of her article and the screenshot of Hill’s post from COLAB’s Weekly Update newsletter, which was uploaded one day before she published her piece. On top of the pseudonymous comments she continues to leave on The Tribune, Velie’s obsessive and psychotic bias is well-known.
People should be free to criticize the conduct of people they elected to serve as their representatives, but that criticism should be a teaching moment for them and their own uncivil shortcomings. Prioritizing politics over personal accountability leads to one inevitable conclusion: our public process is being infected with poisonous, hyperpartisan trolling.
Decades from now, will people actually remember CalCoastNews for their reporting or their legal issues?
Most likely it will be the latter.
Leading up to the Jan. 10 SLO County Board of Supervisors meeting, there was a lot discussion about something that’s not normally contested.
For decades, deciding who becomes chair of BOS was particularly uneventful. The board decides who would be chair and vice-chair. The motion is made, passed and board business proceeded as usual. For the past two years, that decision-making process has turned into a partisan debate — and it’s all centered around one supervisor.
District 3 Supervisor Adam Hill was supposed to serve as chair of the board in 2015, but residents filled the chambers to complain about him. Hill, an outspoken supervisor, has come under fire for his unfiltered candor and criticism of political extremism. His frustration is understandable, given he’s been associated with various conspiracy theories — from being involved with the United Nations in a conspiracy to take away personal liberties to somehow orchestrating the DUI arrest of self-styled “reporter” Karen Velie.
Being the outspoken supervisor that he is, Hill mocked the extremism that he faced in a Jan. 2014 New Times editorial. Though he rattled off cartoonish depictions of the opposition, Hill never referred to anyone specifically. As his critics caught wind of the editorial, they appeared before the board to complain about his “abusive behavior,” asserting they were personally targeted in the editorial. Critics felt they were personally attacked, yet in communicating their talking points, they would often speculate about his behavior — whether or not his behavior was exacerbated by alcohol or drugs. At times, they would mention some of the unverified accusations published on CalCoastNews.
When it was time for Hill to become chair in 2015, they were ready to oppose him.
Leading the effort to bypass Hill as chair was the Coalition of Labor, Agriculture & Business (COLAB). COLAB’s Government Affairs Director Mike Brown is one of the leading voices in Hill’s opposition. Brown was once criticized by Hill from the dais for mocking low-income families (he referred to Brown’s comments as “bloviating foolishness”). Brown was referring to an agenda item that proposed sending a letter to the Federal Communication Commission supporting the public benefit of affordable high-speed internet service for low-income households. Hill was also critical of Brown for his ex-parte lobbying of Hill’s conservative colleagues, District 4 Supervisor Lynn Compton and District 5 Supervisor Debbie Arnold.
Brown urged residents to appear before the board to complain about Hill, his New Times editorial, his behavior, and the notion that approving Hill was reinforcing the “good ol’ boys club.” This is the same Mike Brown who was accused by several subordinates — including a number of female employees — of workplace harassment for over two decades. His employer, Santa Barbara County, paid over $1.3 million in settlements from lawsuits filed against him.
Frustrated with the criticism from Hill’s opposition, then-District 1 Supervisor Frank Mecham made a motion to support Arnold as chair and Compton as vice-chair. The media characterized the move as “surprising” at best and petty politics at worst.
On Jan. 10, 2017, history repeated itself. On a 3-2 vote, the board overturned last year’s resolution to make Adam Hill chair. With COLAB’s coaxing, the board appointed newcomer, District 1 Supervisor John Peschong, to the chairman position one week after he was sworn in. Arnold and Compton supported the move.
“I really believe we need a chairperson who’s respectful to all the other board members,” said Arnold.
The decision came after several public comment speakers supported and opposed Hill’s chairmanship. Hill supporters urged the board to continue the rotation as previously approved in a nonpartisan manner. Hill’s opponents — many of whom contested Hill’s potential chairmanship in 2015 — urged the board to abandon tradition and recycled their previous criticisms of Hill.
But something was different.
Arroyo Grande resident Jeannette Watson opposed Hill’s chairmanship, stating in part, “The future of this country needs wise leadership and not someone like Adam Hill who has been in the pockets of developers and is now involved in a lawsuit. Watson concluded, “He is in the minority with current legal problems.”
Lawsuit? Current legal problems? Apparently this was a theme among a Hill’s critics.
In addition to speculating on whether or not Hill has alcohol or drug problems, Templeton resident and frequent Hill critic Bill Pelfrey stated that Hill “fails to show up for depositions and lawsuits.”
Morro Bay resident Sandra Tannler claimed Hill is costing taxpayers with lawsuits.
San Luis Obispo resident Elsa Dawson said that making Hill chair was risky because a lawsuit was in progress.
Turns out, Hill’s opponents meshed two lawsuits together. Hill was subpoened to be deposed in a defamation lawsuit filed against CalCoastNews, which is ongoing. Hill challenged the subpoena, stating that he’s not involved in the case and doesn’t understand why he would be deposed. After all, the article CalCoastNews is being sued over doesn’t mention Hill as a source or a relevant party to allegations they made about Arroyo Grande businessman Charles Tenborg, the lawsuit’s plaintiff.
The second legal challenge is a lawsuit filed by CalCoastNews’ Karen Velie. With no fanfare, SLO County Counsel Rita Neal revealed on Nov. 8 last year that a claim was filed against Hill by Velie. The announcement was not covered by the local media. For now, court records about the case are sealed.
While we don’t know for sure why Velie filed, we do know that the board’s conservative members have close ties to the website.
When he was chair of the San Luis Obispo County Republican Party, John Peschong authorized ads that ran on CalCoastNews, urging readers to join. After he announced his candidacy for District 1 Supervisor, Peschong’s campaign paid the website $500 for advertising. District 5 Supervisor Debbie Arnold also contributed to the website during her campaign, having chipped in $2,000 toward advertising. If you think they were playing politics by stonewalling Hill at the Jan. 10 meeting, what makes you think Peschong and Arnold would be remain impartial when the item is discussed during closed session?
On Jan. 11, Velie wrote about the meeting but didn’t mention her lawsuit or the deposition subpoena. Transparency, am I right?
Regardless of what anyone thinks of Adam Hill and his politics, this is unusual. It’s unusual because it’s an obsession that leads nowhere and bears no consequence. He’s not chair and clearly he won’t be chair — despite District 3 voters soundly rejecting the false, unproven accusations as well as tactics used against him at the meeting — but he’s still on the board. He still has one vote. He won’t be able to facilitate the conversation on the board, but everything remains the same. Should partisanship continue to rear its ugly head, it will be a 3-2 vote on important resolutions for the foreseeable future. Even if he was chair, that wouldn’t change either.
In SLO County politics, there is a flawed notion that disagreement is a personal attack, and that disagreement somehow disqualifies leaders to lead — as if criticism poses an existential threat to the people being criticized. The notion wouldn’t be a problem if it didn’t influence public policy. The notion wouldn’t be a problem if Mike Brown, a lobbyist, didn’t curate it for personal and political gain.
At least we got to see Brown getting thrown out of the meeting. See? Democracy still works.
Civility is an important trait for political candidates to have, but no one is perfect.
In SLO County, those preaching civility aren’t exactly civil — and they should come to terms with that. If they can’t, what’s the point in raising civility as an issue?
I listened to Arroyo Grande mayoral candidate Richard Waller being interviewed on the “Dave Congalton Show.” Waller talked about civility and how running meetings as mayor is similar to maintaining order in the classroom as a teacher. There’s nothing controversial about Waller’s remarks. Then self-proclaimed “government watchdog” Julie Tacker called into the show to express concern that Waller was dog-whistling censorship of free speech, and insisted that Waller follow the open meetings law (Brown Act).
Tacker, who is a Hill surrogate, has a complicated relationship with civility. I can attest to that.
Tacker’s odd talking point made its way into a recent editorial written by Arroyo Grande mayor Jim Hill on CalCoastNews.
“Waller claims to champion ‘civility,’ but in looking closer he is really advocating censorship and forcibly restricting the right of residents who disagree with him to free speech,” wrote Hill, who also has his share of civility issues.
According to Tacker, there is discussion at the South San Luis Obispo County Sanitation District about a potential defamation lawsuit filed against Oceano CSD board president Mary Lucey. Lucey and Hill serve on the SSLOCSD board. In a now-deleted Facebook post, Lucey criticized Hill for his leadership. In comments made on The Tribune’s website, Tacker claimed the potential litigation was mentioned several times in the SSLOCSD closed session meeting agenda. However, there is no specific mention of that litigation — only that there’s “significant exposure” to unspecified litigation.
So how civil is it for Tacker, who is not a SSLOCSD board member, to reveal classified information out of closed session? How civil is it for Hill to share confidential records with a resident who doesn’t live in South County?
Hill’s “civil” comments on CalCoastNews echoed complaints from supporters that claimed Waller blocked them from expressing their views on his Facebook page. However, prior to them getting blocked, some of Hill’s supporters personally and repeatedly disparaged him. In fact, Hill’s supporters have waded into his family’s affairs and personally attacked one of Waller’s supporters for endorsing him in The Tribune. One of the people attacking Hill’s supporter is Arroyo Grande city councilman Tim Brown, who personally attacked his colleague Kristen Barneich and council candidate Caren Ray. Though he’s apologized for his previous comments, Brown can’t help himself.
This is not the first, second or third time Brown has attacked female leaders. Like Hill, Brown personally and publicly criticized former Arroyo Grande city manager Dianne Thompson at council meetings and on the “Dave Congalton Show.” Amid allegations of creating a hostile work environment, Brown and Hill joined the rest of the council and terminated Thompson’s contract.
We’ve seen “civility” mentioned in other heated political races like the District 3 race where District 3 Supervisor Adam Hill has gone head-to-head against opponent Dan Carpenter.
Shortly after I wrote about the hysteria surrounding that race, District 3 voters received a robocall from Grover Beach City Council candidate Debbie Peterson, who recently claimed that Supervisor Hill locked her behind several sets of doors in his office on a holiday and claimed he had a permit to carry a concealed gun. However, in the robocall, Peterson offered a slight variation to her story, claiming Hill locked her in “county hall.” The robocall left out specifics about the meeting, including when the meeting took place and why she was reportedly brought in. Peterson claimed that “many others had similar experiences” with Hill, but didn’t offer any specific examples.
Peterson marketed herself as the “civil” alternative to Hill when she ran against him in this year’s primary.
Civility does matter, but in SLO County, many who preach don’t practice. That’s fine, but there are certain people who should be more honest with themselves and the public about their “civil” shortcomings. When it’s easy to point out that the “civil” aren’t exactly civil, the value of “civility” is diminished — and it feels disingenuous to include such a novel concept in a political campaign. No one involved in these political campaigns can truly claim ownership of civility.
Civility drenched in irony is not civility. If anything, it’s become a political prop devoid of value.
The hate brigade seems to publicize a new “scandal” with District 3 Supervisor Adam Hill every day, but it amounts to nothing but warped perceptions.
CalCoastNews, a local website that is leading the charges against Hill, is awaiting their defamation trial. Though he was never mentioned in the article that they’re being sued for, Hill is blamed by the website for supporting the lawsuit. While they’re seeking donations to cover their legal expenses, CalCoastNews has published a myriad of editorials and accusations about the supervisor — all of which benefits Hill’s opponent and CalCoastNews advertiser Dan Carpenter during his political campaign.
On Oct. 23, former District 3 supervisor candidate Debbie Peterson published an editorial on CalCoastNews, claiming that Hill locked her behind several sets of doors at his office, claimed he had a concealed carry weapon and showed her stacks of paperwork about a “political opponent,” who was later acknowledged as Kevin P. Rice. The incident happened three years ago, but Peterson did not make her story public until recently.
Last week, The Tribune cast doubt on Peterson’s allegations, stating she never filed any sort of complaint about the alleged incident; that she was silent for three years because she didn’t want to “electioneer,” yet decided to tell her story because she didn’t want Hill re-elected.
Peterson’s story had a faint aura of believability, given Kevin Rice’s well-documented obsession with Hill.
Earlier this year, Peterson claimed the PG&E desalination pipeline project was an “election scam” concocted by PG&E and Hill to lure voters into voting for him for the primary. She claimed that Hill knew the project would “never happen,” and that he and PG&E “conned their community out of nearly $1.5 million,” except only $75,000 of that was spent and the county was later reimbursed.
On Oct. 25, CalCoastNews reminded their readers that they were set to battle a “pernicious lawsuit” against them in November. The website mentioned that Hill — who they previously said was involved in the lawsuit — and “several online commenters” have “repeatedly harassed and threatened CalCoastNews’ advertisers, which has impacted the news site’s ability to fight the lawsuit in what appears to be an undisguised effort to destroy the eight-year-old online news agency.” However, the website has not provided any evidence to substantiate their oft-repeated claim.
Earlier this month, CalCoastNews revealed that they subpoenaed Hill to be deposed for their trial as part of discovery. According to the website, Hill’s counsel told their attorneys that he had no personal knowledge of the lawsuit and should not have to testify. This led to the New Times’ Shredder stating that the website was trying to depose all of its enemies.
On Oct. 28, CalCoastNews alleged that Hill “barred access and threatened financial harm to members of the Home Builders Association of the Central Coast if they do not support his campaign.” The article, which contained no quotes from the association, cited unnamed sources who “feared retaliation.” The article did cite a letter from the association that endorsed Carpenter. Contribution records show that Carpenter received $5,000 from the association.
Throughout October, CalCoastNews contributor and Carpenter donor T. Keith Gurnee has penned several editorials about Hill, which have been published on their website, The Tribune and New Times. Gurnee, who previously served as principal for architectural firm RRM Design Group until he retired in 2013, began criticizing Hill more frequently after the supervisor voted down the proposed housing development at the Laetitia Vineyard and Winery in rural Arroyo Grande: a project he served as a consultant for. RRM Design has overseen the project since 2004. In his editorials, Gurnee reiterated CalCoastNews’ allegations and urged readers to vote for Carpenter without disclosing his financial interests.
920 KVEC radio show host Dave Congalton hosted several segments that discussed Hill and he proudly reiterated the allegations made against him. Congalton brought on Hill’s adversaries to discuss the allegations, including Carpenter, Peterson and Karen Velie. At one point, Congalton and Velie insisted the obsessive barrage of anti-Hill articles wasn’t personal, yet Velie speculated on his personal life minutes later. Velie was banned by the station’s previous management for lying about active law enforcement investigations. One of the investigations she lied about was her drunk driving arrest, which her website claimed was orchestrated by Hill and his wife.
In all of these scenarios, not a scintilla of evidence was provided to verify these allegations and yet some readers believe all of it without question.
The hate toward Hill is unprecedented. Whether you support or oppose Hill, there’s no denying the extensive coverage on him, which has thoroughly eclipsed every other district race in SLO County. When The Tribune endorsed Hill and investigated Peterson’s claims about them, CalCoastNews and Carpenter supporters flew into a blind rage, eviscerating the newspaper for the endorsement and threatening to cancel their subscriptions. Why? Because The Tribune dared to base their conclusions on fact, not bile.
CalCoastNews, who leads the charge against Hill, has rigorously fought his 2016 re-election since he was re-elected in 2012. It’s been four years worth of vicious attacks against him, his wife, his supporters and anyone who expresses the slightest skepticism over the opposition’s veracity.
While these attacks are troubling and should be condemned by both sides of the District 3 race, they underscore the following point: An attack on Adam Hill is, quite literally, an attack on anyone who believes in democracy.
It’s true. The California Fair Political Practices Commission is investigating the anonymous “Fire Adam Hill” organization.
When I spoke to the Enforcement Division of the FPPC four months ago, they were shocked at how easy it was to create an anonymous account on Facebook, create a page that opposes a political candidate during an election and advertise their posts. But if “Fire Adam Hill” can do it, so can anyone.
“Fire Adam Hill” (also known as “No Adam Hill for SLO”) is a website and Facebook page that heavily criticizes the incumbent District 3 Supervisor. Since January, the anonymous organization has shared articles and videos that are critical of the supervisor. They’ve “sponsored” their posts to increase exposure of their message throughout SLO County.
Here is one example:
The organization has not provided a shred of evidence to back their most salacious claims, but lying in political advertising is completely legal. What isn’t legal is the fact that they’ve spent thousands of dollars promoting their message without forming a political committee. Don’t believe me? Here is what the organizers wrote to Supervisor Hill on March 9:
Once political advertising — that supports or opposes a candidate — reaches the $1,000 threshold, the advertiser must file as an independent expenditure committee with the FPPC. Since launching in January, “Fire Adam Hill” has not filed anything. Why?
Describing themselves as “longtime residents and business people in San Luis Obispo County who have grown tired of the antics of this embarrassing, self-serving politician,” the organization wrote on their website, “If Adam Hill could identify the backers of this site he would attempt to destroy them. And he will try, most likely using tax funds or money from his campaign coffers. He will enlist the help of his cabal of powerful and unscrupulous friends possessing deep pockets and little in the way of conscience.”
But according to The Tribune, the organizer revealed that he/she is one person: a “private citizen.”
The Tribune quoted the “private citizen” as saying, “I am only sharing news articles on Facebook, not making independent expenditures on a candidate or ballot measure,” except that’s not true.
In addition to sharing news articles on their Facebook page, “Fire Adam Hill” has advertised flyers that promoted their own allegations. They’ve even advertised a handful of professionally produced anti-Hill video like this one:
And this one:
In the latter video, “Fire Adam Hill” states their videos are paid for by “concerned residents of San Luis Obispo County.” In the sponsored ad that I provided, it says the ad was paid for by “worried residents of SLO.”
Part of their deceptive campaign is their often-repeated claim that more than one person is involved. By claiming that several people are involved in the production of their paid propaganda, “Fire Adam Hill” is artificially adding weight to their unsubstantiated claims.
If it’s true that one private citizen is involved in “Fire Adam Hill,” that’s still a legal issue. Private citizens aren’t exempt from following the law, including law that’s enforced by the FPPC.
For nine months straight, “Fire Adam Hill” has produced and advertised their propaganda throughout Facebook, potentially influencing thousands of residents within District 3 to vote against Hill. Additionally, the page has attacked several people who they’ve identified as “trolls” that support or are allegedly paid by Hill, including myself.
But their depravity only gets worse from here.
Marilyn Rossa is a Cuesta College professor who supports Supervisor Hill and occasionally comments about the District 3 race on Facebook. Because she expressed her constitutionally protected opinion, “Fire Adam Hill” produced flyers featuring her face, calling her a “Team Adam Hill troll” that should be reported to the police. The organization has notified several departments at Cuesta College about their allegation and have routinely mocked her work performance.
Local cartoonist Russell Hodin’s artwork was used in “Fire Adam Hill” sponsored posts without his permission. The artwork was presented to look like Hodin was coordinating with the page and agreed with their positions. Russell repeatedly urged the page to remove his artwork, but they refused. Instead, they retaliated by producing flyers featuring him. Like Rossa, Hodin was referred as a “Team Adam Hill” troll who should be reported to the police. Facebook ultimately removed the sponsored posts featuring his art.
San Luis Obispo city councilman and Hill’s District 3 opponent Dan Carpenter follows the organization closely. Carpenter was one of the first “likes” the Facebook page received when they launched in January. While a “like” isn’t necessarily a blanket endorsement of all the content posted on a Facebook page, it shows that Carpenter is very much aware of what’s posted. To date, Carpenter has not repudiated the actions of the anonymous organization, which endorsed his candidacy. In fact, according to several Facebook users, when they’ve referred to the organization on his campaign page, Carpenter blocked them.
“Fire Adam Hill” heavily shares articles from CalCoastNews, a website that published over a hundred negative articles about Hill. “Fire Adam Hill” has long echoed accusations personally made by CalCoastNews co-founder Karen Velie — the most popular accusation being that I’m paid by the supervisor to criticize his opponents. “Fire Adam Hill” also floated a conspiracy theory from CalCoastNews that Hill was responsible for “kidnapping” Velie’s grandchildren. Velie’s unsubstantiated accusation was the focal point of my deposition last month. The organization has also claimed that Hill is involved in a “malicious” libel suit against CalCoastNews, which was reportedly filed to “shut down” an “accredited news agency.” I revealed earlier this month that Velie has blogged anonymously to promote her allegations.
We need to know who they are, how much money they’ve spent and who’s lining their pockets.
It’s time for “Fire Adam Hill” to be held accountable.