Allegations May Leave Supervisor Dave Roberts Politically Vulnerable
Amid a widening scandal that hit his office in May, San Diego County Supervisor Dave Roberts now finds himself being targeted for political defeat next year.
The freshman supervisor is the lone Democrat on the five-member county Board of Supervisors, and he intends to seek re-election.
His ascent to the board, bucked the odds.
"Nobody thought we could win the 2012 campaign," Roberts said.
The former Solana Beach city councilman, who has five adopted children with his husband, was the first Democrat elected to the Board of Supervisors in two decades. And he was put there by voters in the Republican-tilting 3rd District that includes coastal North County and parts of San Diego and Escondido.
More than halfway into his tenure, Roberts has helped expand county treatment for the mentally ill, pushed for additional open space and worked to get more foster children into permanent homes.
But he is also mired in controversy.
Eight of Roberts’ 11 staffers have left his office since he was sworn in as supervisor in January 2013. In the past month, three of his former staffers have filed claims against the county — an action necessary before filing a lawsuit against a government entity.
They allege Roberts instructed county employees to run his personal errands and work on campaign tasks while on county time. The staffers also say he played favorites with one office employee despite the worker's poor performance and that he offered a promotion with a pay raise if a staffer kept quiet about the office’s problems.
District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis' office also has been investigating activities in Roberts' office.
Roberts has denied all of the accusations.
“I am holding up," Roberts said in a recent interview with KPBS. "I have to admit this has been very hurtful. I wanted to be the best 3rd District supervisor because I wanted to make this great county even greater.”
Roberts' former scheduler, Diane Porter, believes the supervisor has fallen short. She is one of the three ex-employees who has filed filed a claim against the county.
“I’ve picked up dirty laundry," Porter said. "When he moved his cousin here last year, he had to file for conservatorship. It was my duty to do that for him. I would go back and forth to the county. I filed all the claims for him. I went to court with him. I went and babysat the youngest son while they were in court. This went on for four months.”
Roberts called Porter's assertions “ridiculous.”
Porter also said Roberts gave her campaign assignments during work hours. When Roberts was told he couldn’t do that, Porter said he sent the tasks to her via email at home.
Roberts contended Porter volunteered to do campaign work for him.
“Diane Porter did exactly what Diane Porter wanted to do and when she wanted to do it," he said. "She was never asked to do anything inappropriate. There’s been no use of government funds and no outside activities on government time.”
Roberts is also facing allegations he used county money for campaign purposes. Nearly $1,000 in county funds were spent this year to buy 10,000 Dave Roberts baseball-style cards, with his photo and name on them. When questions were raised about the expense, Porter said Roberts sent an email asking her to put the cards in a drawer. She said he later asked her to “make the cards disappear.”
Porter is also one of the staffers who alleges Roberts had an inappropriate relationship with office aide Harold Meza, who was hired last year as a policy adviser and community representative.
Porter said Meza's only job was to drive the supervisor to events. She said Roberts and Meza also stayed in the same room during a county trip to a water facility near the Arizona border.
Roberts said participants on the trip were asked to share a room in military-like barracks because of a space shortage.
"Let me categorically deny: I did not have an inappropriate relationship with him or any of my staff," Roberts said.
But in text messages to Porter, Roberts wrote that Meza should keep him warm on a county trip and mentioned how he plans to sleep in the same bed with him on a separate trip. Roberts said he now regrets those texts.
"After that trip, an air of kidding started," Roberts said. "That was wrong. That has stopped, and we no longer do this jovial texting.”
Meza has denied having an affair with Roberts and filed a lawsuit this week against Porter and another former Roberts staffer accusing them of spreading “salacious rumors in the workplace.”
"The person he’s alleged to have had the relationship with has denied it," said Carl Luna, a San Diego Mesa College political science professor. "He has denied it. This is one of those things that eventually gets vetted out in a civil suit.”
But Luna added that Roberts could land in criminal trouble if government resources were abused.
"It’s usually the money that brings you down," Luna said. "If you find that substantial amounts of money in terms of time, in terms of office resources, were diverted in inappropriate ways, that’s actionable. That could bring in a DA and a grand jury.”
Roberts’ former chief of staff, Glynnis Vaughan, filed a claim last month accusing the supervisor, in part, of entering into an unauthorized agreement with an Arizona consultant before she was employed by the county. She said Roberts’ office encouraged the consultant to apply for a county grant to get paid for his services even though that money is meant for nonprofits. Vaughan said the consultant refused because he would have had to misrepresent the nature of his work.
Roberts said he never signed off on a contract with the consultant and blamed Vaughan.
"I asked that it be resolved by my chief of staff, and obviously she let me down," Roberts said.
In a third claim filed this week, Roberts' former policy adviser, Lindsey Masukawa, said the supervisor tried to bribe her with a promotion and a raise. In exchange, Masukawa said, Roberts asked her to tell the county that complaints by Porter and Vaughan were false.
Roberts contends his accusers are motivated by money. Porter is asking for $250,000 and Vaughan wants $475,000 to settle their claims. Masukawa's claim does not specify how much money she is seeking from the county.
“I won’t let it happen," Roberts said. "I’m trusting my colleagues won’t let it happen.”
The four other supervisors have already denied Vaughan’s bid for a $75,000 severance package. But in a statement, the supervisors said the allegations against Roberts were concerning and their decision was not tied to whether they believed they were true. They also said any payouts to his former staffers should come from Roberts’ personal funds.
Roberts conceded the scandal has spurred momentum to challenge him in next year’s election.
“What started out as internal personnel issues were quickly flamed," he said.
The San Diego County Republican Party has sent mailers highlighting the scandal. And Escondido Mayor Sam Abed seized on the controversy in announcing this week his entrance into the 3rd District race.
“The people of the 3rd District deserve honest representation and a supervisor who treats all people with respect and dignity and one who respects the law and this office," Abed said. "The public’s trust must be restored.”
Abed is a Republican. So are the others being mentioned as potential Roberts challengers: San Diego City Councilman Mark Kersey, Encinitas Mayor Kristin Gaspar and state Assemblyman Brian Maienschein.
Short of a criminal indictment for misuse of public funds, political analyst Luna said that Roberts’ fate is likely up to voters. But most people don’t know who their county supervisor is or what they do, Luna said.
For perspective, the Board of Supervisors presides over a $5 billion annual budget, ensures state programs like mental health are provided at the local level, and provides basics services including law enforcement and firefighting to people living in unincorporated areas.
Luna said some voters just don't care about the supervisors or the Roberts scandal.
"The Chargers are threatening to leave town," Luna said. "The economy is still not fully recovered. People are trying to pay their mortgages. On the scheme of things people worry about, I would put this down on a scale of one to 10, maybe 2 ½.”