Mud slinging mars search for SLO County clerk recorder

SLO County Supervisor Bruce Gibson

By KAREN VELIE

The San Luis Obispo County Board of Supervisors on Tuesday will discuss whether to require seven candidates for the interim county clerk recorder position as voted by the board, or chose from three people selected by a committee. The board of supervisors is then tasked with interviewing and selecting the best candidate.

Shortly after former clerk recorder Tommy Gong stepped down, Supervisor Bruce Gibson pushed to have an employee of the office, where his then mistress and now wife used to work, run the department. Gibson voiced concerns about election law attorney and prominent Democrat Stew Jenkins heading the county elections office. Jenkins was the only candidate who previously served as a deputy registrar of voters.

In the past, Jenkins accused Gibson’s closest political ally, former supervisor Adam Hill, of selling his vote. Several months ago, the FBI confirmed Hill had solicited bribes for official actions.

During a July 13 SLO County Board of Supervisors meeting, Gibson argued for a requirement that the person chosen for the job have experience working in a county clerk recorder’s office, which would have supported his goal of having a current department employee run the department and barring Jenkins.

Generally, people elected to public offices such as assessor, clerk recorder, supervisor and governor are not required to have worked in an office to oversee a department or government agency.

Gibson also wanted fewer final candidates, while supervisors Debbie Arnold and Lynn Compton argued to have an open and transparent process with seven to 10 candidates.

County Administrator Wade Horton then asked the board to specify an exact number of candidates.

“It would be incredibly helpful to specify the board’s intent on how many applicants they would like to see because that is the direction we are giving your review committee,” Horton said.

In the end, the board rejected Gibson’s plan to require experience working in a clerk recorder’s office. The board then voted 3-2 to have a committee select seven candidates based on requirements from the government code, with supervisors Gibson and Dawn Ortiz-Legg dissenting.

Ignoring board direction, county staff then directed the committee to select up to five candidates, in support of Gibson’s plan.

Ken Hampian, Ortiz-Legg’s appointee to the committee, inaccurately informed the other committee members that the board wanted them to bring back up to seven candidates, while wanting only people with clerk recorder’s office experience, according to the minutes of the committee meeting.

While Horton was there to facilitate discussions, he then identified the three candidates who had worked in clerk recorder’s offices while failing to support the board majority’s vote against that requirement, according to the minutes of the committee meeting.

Based on the misdirection, the advisory committee selected two candidates who worked in the SLO County office and one who worked at the Yolo County Clerk Recorder Office.

For years, county staff has repeatedly failed to follow board direction, instead taking direction from supervisors Hill and Gibson. In 2017, county staff produced cannabis regulations that did not follow board direction, which staff was then required to redo costing cannabis cultivation applicants time and money.

In 2009, Gibson attempted to temporarily assume the county administrator position after then administrator David Edge was placed on leave because of a sex scandal. CalCoastNews reporters asked then county counsel Warren Jensen if allowing Gibson to manage the county while sitting on the board violated the law, which led to Gibson’s removal from the administrator position.

For years, the SLO County Clerk Recorder’s Office has been marred by errors in the election process, including miscategorizing a seat, sending the wrong ballots to voters, wrongfully removing registered voters and sending multiple ballots to some registered voters and none to others.

While the board majority was seeking seven candidates based on state requirements, they received three candidates based on Gibson’s desire to have a current employee lead the office.

Out of 44 candidates, the committee selected Helen Nolan and Elaina Cano — both of whom have worked in the SLO County Clerk Recorder Office — and former Yolo County Clerk Recorder Department staffer Jeffrey Barry.

Arnold then requested the committee return with more names, which the committee refused to do saying they selected the only candidates with clerk recorder office experience.

“The biggest issue for me is there was very clear direction given through a vote, and it was not followed,” Arnold said.

Gibson strongly objected, again wanting only former employees of the government office to be considered even though that is not a requirement for the office. Based on that criteria, Gibson could not have run for supervisor and SLO County Assessor Tom Bordonaro could not have run for county assessor.

On Oct. 5, the SLO County Board of Supervisors is scheduled to discuss how to move forward with the selection process.

Regardless of whom the board selects to head the clerk recorder’s office for the next 14 months, county residents will vote for a candidate to head the office during the 2022 election.

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