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Kevin P Rice

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Last Friday on his HBO show, comedian Bill Maher discussed how conspiracy theories are the mainstream ideology of the Republican Party. Obviously, Maher was talking about national politics. But what’s happening in SLO County is a microcosm of the conspiracy theory-thinking that’s pervaded our political discourse nationally.

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.

Stew Jenkins and Kevin Rice
Arroyo Grande mayor Jim Hill’s attorney Stew Jenkins addresses the board with SLO resident Kevin P. Rice giving a thumbs down

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!

Photo by David Middlecamp (The Tribune)

Back in September, radio show host Dave Congalton compared me to self-styled activist Kevin P. Rice on his show. Congalton said I pale in comparison to Rice, a person who believes “activism” includes harassing political adversaries for sport.

Congalton is right. There can only be one Kevin P. Rice.

Congalton, who supports Rice, was outraged that San Luis Obispo mayor Jan Marx cited SLO Truth as a source that documented many of Rice’s exploits. Marx revealed in her campaign newsletter that Rice donated $300 to Marx’s opponent, Heidi Harmon. When she was made aware of Rice’s donation, Harmon vowed to return the donation, which she ultimately did. After The Tribune and the New Times ran stories about his donation, Rice complained on CalCoastNews and said Marx “debased herself” by “intentionally propagating manufactured and unquestionable lies which are readily controverted by documented facts and/or completely without substance.”

Rice lost momentum he accumulated from opposing the controversial rental inspection ordinance, which Marx initially supported. Harmon’s treasurer, Kathie Walker, also opposes the ordinance and has worked closely with Rice, according to a number of sources involved in that movement. According to Walker, she accepted the donation from Rice but took responsibility for failing to disclose the donation to Harmon.

Rice made headlines last month for a series of robocalls he was involved in. Each robocall was made in opposition to District 3 Supervisor Adam Hill.

The first robocall was from Grover Beach city council candidate Debbie Peterson, who claimed that Hill once locked her in “county hall” when no one else was in the building and claimed he had a permit to carry a concealed gun. On the “Dave Congalton Show,” Peterson claimed Hill mentioned that he needed to have a concealed carry permit because he was harassed by Rice, who she originally described as a “political opponent” in an editorial published on CalCoastNews. The Tribune looked into Peterson’s accusations and could not confirm its veracity. The New Times’ Shredder described Peterson’s accusations as being discredited.

The second robocall featured local businesswoman Julie Tizzano, who claimed that Hill threatened to cut county funding to the Food Bank Coalition if she continued doing business with the organization. Tizzano, co-owner of SLOCO Data & Printing, previously printed materials for the Food Bank Coalition. In the robocall, Tizzano claimed Hill was “willing to hurt senior citizens, the poor and the homeless,” and encouraged people to not vote for him. In March, Tizzano’s business hosted a meet-and-greet for Hill’s opponent Dan Carpenter. When I spoke to her last year, Tizzano mentioned that Rice is one of her business clients.

After The Tribune’s Cynthia Lambert looked into the second robocall, Rice lashed out against the newspaper in a string of rants.

“IntegritySLO regrets that Cynthia Lambert has been forced to attach her good name to these echelon-ordered Adam Hill campaign pieces,” wrote Rice on The Tribune website. “Cynthia is a good journalist who otherwise produces high quality work, unlike her employer.”

Rice elaborated on his remarks in an “open letter” to The Tribune, which was published on CalCoastNews.

“It is newly disappointing that the Tribune is now openly providing cover for an abusive public official,” wrote Rice. “I am shocked the Tribune is also abusing reporter Cynthia Lambert in this sham. She is a good journalist and you are sullying her fine reputation and name by forcing her to write false and shoddy stories on behalf of Supervisor Adam Hill. I know Cynthia’s work, and this is not hers.”

Tribune executive editor Sandra Duerr responded to Rice’s baseless allegation.

“We take exception to your assumption that we are ‘abusing’ reporter Cynthia Lambert,” wrote Duerr. “We agree that she is an excellent journalist — and in fact, she is the one who suggested fact-checking the robocall.”

Then Congalton distanced himself from Rice.

“I agree with the basic analysis behind Kevin’a argument, though I would be more comfortable if he had chosen another phrase other than the Tribune ‘abusing Cynthia Lambert,'” wrote Congalton on CalCoastNews. “That’s a pretty harsh statement and far from the truth–I don’t think a verb like ‘abusing’ should be tossed around so lightly.”

On Nov. 8, District 3 residents voted to re-elect Hill by 13 points, effectively rejecting Rice-style politics that plagued the contentious race.

There are many words to describe Rice, but “activist” is not one of them. When one of his critics called him a “sociopath,” Rice hand-delivered legal threats to the critic’s residence and added his Social Security number on the documents. Personally, I find “alt-right troll” to be a more appropriate label. Rice’s methods are similar to ones deployed by the alt-right movement.

Voters know better. When they look at Kevin P. Rice’s handiwork, they know something isn’t quite right. They get the feeling they’re being duped. I’m just here to confirm the obvious.

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 their job 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.

April Duty/AJ McLaughlin
April Duty/AJ McLaughlin

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.

Earlier this month, I joined the Arroyo Grande Current Affairs Facebook group. The group recently made headlines when The Tribune featured them in an article about missing and vandalized campaign signs. AGCA prominently features posts from Facebook users who support Hill; many of whom are familiar with or support Tacker’s “activism” in their city.

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.

Where do you draw the line?