Every registered voter in this county was likely deluged with mailers from District Attorney Dan Dow’s campaign. Instead of the usual mailers which highlight differences between the candidates, Dow is fixated on his opponent Judge Mike Cummins legally changing his first name to “Judge” last June — as if to deceive voters into thinking he’s still a judge. Dow is presenting a conspiracy that Cummins legally changed his name to deceive voters for his DA campaign. Ironically for the DA, there is no evidence backing his oft-refuted claim.
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.
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.
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.
Several local residents and outside agitators descended on a South SLO County Sanitation District meeting to support Arroyo Grande’s beleaguered mayor, Jim Hill, condemn everyone who doesn’t support him, and personally attack the law firm investigating him. Oh, the hypocrisy is stunning!
For a while, Los Osos resident and self-styled “government watchdog” Julie Tacker has been an enigma. By day, Tacker appears to be a concerned, local activist who wants local government to be more transparent — and has consumed a lot of taxpayer resources in doing so. By night, Tacker is Administrative Assistant for J.H. Edwards Co., a company operated by her professional and personal partner Jeff Edwards. In many cases, Tacker has sent public record requests using Edwards’ email address.
For nearly a decade, Tacker has advocated for Edwards, despite being repeatedly accused of conflict of interest in doing so — and voters took notice. Last year, Tacker unsuccessfully ran to reclaim her seat on the Los Osos Community Services District. Tacker’s unceremonious defeat at the polls did not stop her from continuing her “activist” pursuits.
It’s business as usual, or so we’re led to believe.
The man on the left is Dr. Frederick Novy, a retired dermatologist from Morro Bay. Novy is a respected medical professional in SLO County, having been in practice for over 35 years. Cuesta College has an award named after him, the “Frederick G. Novy Award,” which is given to the college’s most promising history scholars.
On Jan. 24, Novy sued Julie Tacker and Jeff Edwards (click link to read the complaint) for breach of contract, deceit and intentional fraud, promissory fraud, concealment fraud, constructive fraud and elderly abuse.
According to his complaint, Novy entered into an agreement with Tacker and Edwards to purchase a building septic credit for $153,000. The septic credit is necessary to build a new house with water connections or to add a new bathroom to an existing house. The agreement was made in July 2014. Evidence provided by Novy shows the written agreement was drafted by Tacker and Edwards. Tacker and Edwards reportedly informed him that they were in possession of a building septic credit, and that it could be transferred to him. Novy required a credit as part of development for his Los Osos property.
Per the agreement, Novy made a series of check and cash payments to Tacker and Edwards. After giving Tacker and Edwards approximately $70,350 of the $153,000 the parties originally agreed upon, Novy learned that Tacker and Edwards did not have a building septic credit in their possession. At some point, Novy demanded that Tacker and Edwards refund his money, but they refused. Hence, the lawsuit.
This is the second lawsuit filed against Edwards within a span of a year, and there is reason to believe the first lawsuit is related.
In May 2015, Edwards allegedly requested Novy issue a $50,000 check payable to a company called the Los Osos Investment Group, LLC, which he did. The check was later returned to Novy un-cashed.
The Los Osos Investment Group is a company based out of Fresno and managed by Scott Black, a licensed broker. Black and his company are plaintiffs in a lawsuit against Edwards, which was filed earlier last year.
In their Feb. 2016 lawsuit (click link to read the lawsuit), the LOIG alleged that in July 2013, Edwards approached the company and introduced himself as a real estate broker and developer. The LOIG purchased property on Pine St. in Los Osos, which contained multiple dilapidated structures that were uninhabited. The Central Coast Regional Water Board stated the property had 10 sewer equivalencies with one per single-family home. Edwards reportedly claimed that he could acquire five more sewer equivalencies so the company could build 15 single-family resident homes in total.
The LOIG entered into an agreement with Edwards with the following terms. Edwards would represent LOIG as its agent to purchase the property and get paid a 3% commission. If Edwards was unable to obtain one additional water/sewer credit, he would buy it from the LOIG for $50,000; if Edwards obtained two or more additional water/sewer credits, he would obtain one of them for free. The company gave Edwards $10,000 as an “advance fee” that Edwards requested.
Remember the $50,000 check that Edwards asked Novy to give to LOIG? Here’s the twist.
There is no mention anywhere in LOIG’s lawsuit documents that Novy was involved in the agreement between them and Edwards. Similarly, there is nothing in Novy’s agreement with Edwards and Tacker that mentions LOIG.
It looks as though Edwards’ instructions to Novy was a tacit admission that he was unable to provide or obtain the additional water/sewer credits.
As it turned out, the LOIG allegedly discovered that Edwards deliberately misrepresented the amount of sewer equivalencies available. The Regional Water Board explained to the plaintiffs that the property originally had 12, but the previous property owner wanted to develop a subdivision. The owner and all the interested parties agreed to lower the number to 10 equivalencies to avoid a low-income development requirement. The LOIG also learned that Edwards was aware of these facts because he and a partner unsuccessfully attempted to purchase the property before they did.
After learning of Edwards’ history with the Pine property and his false claims about the sewer equivalencies, LOIG demanded they receive their $10,000 deposit back. To date, the LOIG hasn’t received a single cent from Edwards.
LOIG’s complaint was brought to the attention of the Bureau of Real Estate, who assigned a special investigator to review the records. On Nov. 22 last year, Supervising Special Investigator Brenda Smith determined that Edwards did not submit the advance fee agreement to the Bureau of Real Estate within 10 calendar days before publication as legally required. The investigator also found that Edwards used an unlicensed fictitious business name. Though Edwards is a licensed real estate broker, his company name “J.H. Edwards Co.” is not licensed with the Bureau.
The investigator requested for a hearing to be conducted on Edwards’ code violations.
Is this expanding web of deceit and duplicity horrifying enough yet?
One of Julie Tacker’s favorite quotes to invoke is, “Perception is reality.” The perception is that Tacker and Edwards defrauded an elderly victim into paying another victim they defrauded — as if two extremely illegal wrongs make a right. Then Tacker and Edwards attend government meetings, telling residents that they are looking out for their best interests. However typical, not only is that cruelly, brazenly hypocritical, it’s truly disgusting.
When I raised issues with Tacker as part of SLO Truth’s #NeverTacker campaign, she told her supporters that she could explain everything. “I’m in the phone book,” she wrote on her now-defunct LOCSD campaign Facebook page. So how can she explain this? Maybe she can explain in court.
Instead of making their case in civil court, perhaps a criminal one is more appropriate.
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.
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?
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.
Click here to read Julie Tacker’s public records requests.
Who is watching the watchdogs?
For a lot of people, it’s inconceivable for anyone to scrutinize an activist or a “government watchdog.” It’s theirjob to hold others accountable, not to hold themselves accountable. If you criticize an activist, chances are people will think you’re part of the problem — as in part of the problem that the activists are trying to solve.
With self-proclaimed “government watchdog” Julie Tacker, there’s a twist. She served as a board member of the Los Osos Community Services District before and her leadership contributed to the district’s downward economic spiral. Yet here she is again, running to reclaim her old seat as the people’s underdog. While she’s campaigning to serve Los Osos, Tacker continues to appear at public meetings throughout SLO County with a strong emphasis on South County.
The closest we can get to figuring out her involvement in SLO County is by taking a closer look at her public records requests, which I just released.
On a few occasions, The Tribune touched on Tacker’s ethics regarding her various appearances in communities she doesn’t reside in. Tacker has been a resident of Los Osos for over four decades. In her latter years, Tacker invested more of her “activist” time outside of her hometown. The Tribune has asked her, “Why?” Her response has always been “because I’m a government watchdog.” Her reply elicited more questions than answers. Why was she a “government watchdog” in certain areas more than others? What personal or financial stake does she have in the communities she’s involved in? Honestly, there are no clear answers to these questions because she’s refused to provide answers. If she’s so opaque, why is she revered by people who are otherwise uncomfortable with outsiders discussing their politics?
Given Tacker’s extensive involvement in Arroyo Grande and Arroyo Grande mayor Jim Hill’s reelection campaign, I wanted to see how AG residents would react to my participation in their political discussions. Similar to Tacker, I live in the North Coast and we’re both opinionated about various issues throughout SLO County.
At first, I discussed issues that caught my attention — some of which I’ve written about on SLO Truth. According to the group guidelines, anyone who doesn’t live in Arroyo Grande is not allowed to discuss their politics. People residing outside of the city are allowed to join the group, but only to observe. I was aware of the rule and when Hill supporters reminded me of it, I asked them: Why were they so concerned about my opinions when they embrace Julie Tacker’s “activism”? Initially, they stated Tacker was not in the group, so they didn’t exactly answer my question. That’s when they came undone.
“I’m curious to understand what Caren Ray’s motivation was, to add Aaron Ochs to this Arroyo Grande-specific group,” wrote April Dury (AJ McLaughlin).
According to property records, Dury lives in San Luis Obispo. She also claims to be voting in the District 3 race. Arroyo Grande is not part of that district.
Last year, Dury was involved in Los Osos politics, having appeared at a few LOCSD board meetings to opine about the accounting practices of then-General Manager Kathy Kivley. As a professional bookkeeper, Dury coordinated with Tacker to evaluate district accounting records. McLaughlin is also a member of “Los Osos Sewer Sleuth,” a Tacker-led Facebook group that’s exclusive to Los Osos residents.
After a small minority of group members complained, I was promptly removed from the group. But then a familiar face appeared.
“Aaron fabricates MANY lies and makes wild conclusions posited as fact,” wrote AGCA member Kevin P. Rice. I think we all know who he is. But here’s one thing he isn’t: an Arroyo Grande resident. He lives in SLO.
Rice urged people to personally block me because reasons.
Full disclosure: In 2014, Rice co-founded a Facebook group called “Block Aaron Ochs” with Tacker. Dury was also a member of that group. Participation in that group resulted in anonymous postcards and robocalls that were delivered to residents in my hometown about me. You can read more about that here.
What do Tacker, Dury and Rice have in common? They are people who are heavily involved in communities they don’t live in. Should they be able to express an opinion about what’s happening in other communities? I don’t see why not. In my opinion, the problem is when they get involved in other communities and attempt to sway local elections. Unlike them, I just write about the issues and promote my work to a wide audience.
I’m not an Arroyo Grande resident, and neither is Julie Tacker. Unlike Tacker, I don’t have a personal stake in the outcome of their elections.
Tacker, a former director of the Los Osos Community Services District and self-proclaimed “government watchdog,” is a constant presence at South County meetings, always playing the contrarian. She advocates for everything Arroyo Grande mayor Jim Hill wants and never explains why she’s obsessed with South County politics. Tacker has been at Hill’s side since he expressed support for her controversial developer/partner Jeff Edwards’ Oceano airport redevelopment plan, which was ultimately shot down by residents and County leaders.
These conflicts didn’t faze CalCoastNews, a website that claims they investigate corruption.
Hill advertises on the website that helped launch his 2014 write-in mayoral campaign. At the time, the site alleged there was “sex scandal” involving the former city manager and a subordinate. Despite alleging that the scandal was covered up by then-mayor Tony Ferrara, internal and independent investigations commissioned by Ferrara and the council found no wrongdoing. No sex was found in the scandal. Nonetheless, Hill rode that distrust to the mayor’s seat in a city he’s called home for only a few years.
Before moving to Arroyo Grande, he was board president of the Oceano Community Services District. According to current OCSD president Mary Lucey, Hill left the district in shambles.
Ignoring his past record and current issues on the council, Hill supporters pivot toward conversations about his civility.
Let’s talk civility. In May, Hill leaked his private correspondence — about his FTC letter with councilwoman Barbara Harmon — to the New Times via Spencer. Harmon responded to the leak by asking Hill, “Does this mean that every time you question the mayor, it will end up in the press?”
Prior to the firing of city manager Dianne Thompson, Hill and his council colleague Tim Brown disparaged her work performance on the “Dave Congalton Show” and at televised meetings. This led to a letter sent to the city by the California Joint Powers Insurance Authority. The CJPIA expressed concerns that “comments made in a public setting could lead to allegations of harassment and a hostile workplace at your city.” Hill stood by his comments about Thompson.
Last month at a South San Luis Obispo County Sanitation District meeting, Hill unsuccessfully pushed to censure his board colleague Mary Lucey for criticizing him and staff on Facebook. The irony was not lost on Lucey, who brought up disparaging comments Hill made about Oceano CSD staff on CalCoastNews. Echoing Hill’s comments was Julie Tacker, who accused OCSD General Manager Paavo Ogren of extorting ratepayers with their billing practices.
Wherever Julie Tacker is, shadiness follows. It’s only natural that Arroyo Grande politics pique my curiosity.
Does Julie Tacker believe Los Osos residents will forget her past? Does she expect to get the same if not more votes than the last time she ran for office — before she let the entire community down and left the Los Osos CSD in disgrace? These are questions that Los Osos residents and I have been asking since she announced her candidacy earlier this month. And there will be more questions that she won’t answer, including: What lengths will she go in order to not answer these questions?
I have the answer.
We know that Tacker has an extensive and very unappealing public record, and most of it is indefensible. But rarely will she address it. Instead she will invite people to ask her about it privately. “I’m in the phone book,” she often writes. Despite calling for local government to be more transparent, Tacker does the opposite — and that’s the way it’s always been.
If you bring her record into the public light, prepare for the consequences.
Tacker viciously attacks those who criticize her, her record or her effectiveness as a self-proclaimed “government watchdog.”
If someone publicly criticizes her on Facebook, Tacker repeatedly reports their posts and the user gets blocked from posting. I’ve been blocked numerous times. In fact, Tacker helped mount a vicious hate campaign against me that included threatening voicemails, false police reports and an anonymous automated call that went to thousands of residents.
Yes, truth is stranger than fiction.
There was a time when Tacker and I were on speaking terms. When a Los Osos-based website criticized her and partner Jeff Edwards, Tacker asked for my help to “remove” the offending context. Frustrated with the author of those comments, Tacker had this to say about him: “Dead men tell no tales, and when I’m through with [him], he won’t be telling any more of them.”
Yet when she reached out to me to donate money for her stillborn Board of Supervisors campaign, Tacker said she wanted to “elevate the debate.”
Tacker, a “free speech advocate,” has attacked people for simply agreeing with criticism about her. Readers have informed me that Tacker personally harassed them. Sometimes she contacted the employers of their readers. In one email to a reader’s employer, Tacker wrote, “It’s really nice to see you supporting Aaron Ochs’ [site] from time to time. You don’t know me. I wonder if your employer knows you are commenting and ‘liking’ things on Facebook that reflect poorly on [him]. I have copied him here; he can ask you about it.”
Tacker also supports anonymous hate campaigns that targeted my readers — which they call “trolls” — by placing flyers of their faces, mentioning their employment, contacting their employers, and advertising their libelous spite on social media.
Julie Tacker does not want people to know the truth about her. She’s done whatever it takes to quash it.
This morning I received some interesting and surprising news. Facebook reinstated my previous page and personally apologized for removing it in the first place.
Why does that matter? Facebook has an abuse reporting system and anyone can report any post or photo for anything. My posts were reported and removed countless times for “violating Community Standards.” These posts were reported by local extremists that I’ve civilly criticized and sometimes parodied. Most of the extremists I’ve criticized are public figures who shouldn’t be exempt from scrutiny. I don’t see them any differently than people like Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton. These people injected themselves into the public debate and have made headlines doing so — whether they’re filing lawsuits, running for office, writing news articles or being part of the public process. Many of the people I’ve criticized — as being part of the fringe media — are vocal proponents of free speech in the public eye. But nearly every time I’ve mentioned their names, Facebook removed my posts and had my personal account blocked over some ambiguous violation. They never informed me of what I specifically violated — only that I violated something and the punishment was handed down.
And every time Facebook removed my posts, the very people I’ve criticized used the recently made void in commentary to spin the circumstances in their favor. The most notable instance of this was when I reported that Los Osos “government watchdog” and CalCoastNews contributor Julie Tacker made threatening remarks about me over my work. The person claiming Tacker made threatening remarks about me explained in a voicemail I saved that she urged me to get a gun to protect myself. Tacker reported the post I made that calmly explained the situation and Facebook took it down. After they did, Tacker reported me to law enforcement, falsely claiming that I threatened her. The post was further spun into automated calls that went throughout the community, claiming that I referred to her by some derogatory slur and that I mentioned something about a gun. Because Tacker reported the post and Facebook took it down, I was immediately at a disadvantage because I couldn’t properly defend myself. Most of what was stated about me was categorically untrue, and Tacker knowingly and maliciously participated in the farce.
I bring up that specific instance because Tacker is the one responsible for reporting a post that resulted in Facebook taking down my entire page, leaving hundreds of readers in the dark on what happened.
The post that was removed (now restored) addressed Tacker’s criticism of former District 4 Supervisor Caren Ray, who recently announced she was running for a seat on the Arroyo Grande City Council. I talked about how her criticism of Ray was hypocritical, given her track record as board director on the Los Osos Community Services District. Of course the removal of the page was spun by the haters as being removed by Facebook for “harassment.” The haters spent money to advertise this claim throughout Facebook, labeling my page as “Adam Hill’s internet defamation machine,” though it appears their investment was for naught.
Here is the problem: The fringe considers free speech about public figures as “harassment.” Having served on the LOCSD as a board director for several years and acting as a self-proclaimed “government watchdog” ever since, there is no mistaking the fact that Tacker is a public figure. The same standard applies to people like CalCoastNews’ Karen Velie and Kevin P. Rice. These are people who clearly subjected themselves to public scrutiny, yet they objected to the very existence of criticism — specifically my criticism.
Some have alleged that I’m a hypocrite for decrying censorship while blocking some people from commenting, but blocking doesn’t challenge the existence of criticism. They’re free to criticize anywhere they want except on my pages and sites. That’s just me rejecting harassment from the extremists. They can personally block me and exercise the choice to not read what is written about them. But the fact they’ve spent a considerable amount of time and money to scrub my commentary off social media and disparage me is concerning. Why don’t they grow up? SLO Truth was born from that concern.
It’s funny to see them freak out and ask, “Why is this guy doing this? He must be paid to criticize us. Has to be!” The answer is quite simple: Because the haters repeatedly and viciously attacked me for speaking my truth, I recognized how invaluable the truth is. Let’s preserve the truth. Let people know that censorship shouldn’t deter people from speaking their truth.