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Politics

Supervisor Dave Roberts Responds To Claims He Misused His Office

San Diego County Supervisor Dave Roberts mingles in the halls of the County Administration Building in downtown San Diego, Jan. 5, 2015.
Angela Carone
San Diego County Supervisor Dave Roberts mingles in the halls of the County Administration Building in downtown San Diego, Jan. 5, 2015.

An ex-staffer alleges a series of wrongdoing by the board's lone Democrat

Supervisor Dave Roberts Responds To Claims He Misused His Office
The former staff member alleges San Diego County Supervisor Dave Roberts misused taxpayer funds, inappropriately delegated campaign responsibilities to government employees and maintained an inappropriate relationship with an employee, according to a claim filed with the county.

Claim Filed By Ex-Staffer For Dave Roberts
Read the claim filed with San Diego County by a former staff member for Supervisor Dave Roberts.
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San Diego County Supervisor Dave Roberts is accused in a legal claim filed by a former staff member of misusing taxpayer funds, inappropriately delegating campaign responsibilities to government employees and maintaining an inappropriate relationship with an employee.

Diane Porter, a former aide who handled scheduling for Roberts, filed the complaint Wednesday with the county. NBC 7 San Diego and U-T San Diego were the first to report on the claim being filed.

According to the complaint, Porter alleges Roberts:

• Requested Porter to do work for his campaign while on county time, including editing letters seeking endorsements and scanning office contacts for Roberts to email fundraiser invitations. “It was also common place for Ms. Porter and other staff to spend their county time setting up political fundraisers for Mr. Roberts,” the claim states.

• Purchased with county dollars baseball cards featuring the supervisor's portrait. According to Porter’s complaint, “When they arrived concerns were raised that this was an inappropriate county expenditure. In response to the concerns, Mr. Roberts sent Ms. Porter an email on March 11, 2015, stating, ‘Diane — Please do not allow any staff to use the baseball cards and put the boxes of cards in my office in a closed drawer until further notice. Thanks!’” The complaint includes a photo of the baseball card and a copy of the referenced email.

• Had an inappropriate relationship with his staff member, Harold Meza, whom he used as a personal driver. The document said, “One of the problems that Ms. Porter and others reported was the misuse of public funds when it came to Mr. Meza. Mr. Meza’s only job was to chauffeur Mr. Roberts from event to event in a county car; even though Mr. Roberts enjoyed a $1,000 a month county car allowance. Often these chauffeured events were purely campaign related functions…"

A claim like the one Porter filed is the first step someone must take before filing a lawsuit against a government agency. In the complaint, Porter’s lawyer, Chris Morris, said his client would drop her claim in exchange for a lump sum of $250,000.

Morris said his client had suffered “various physical manifestations” due to the stressful situation.

“She has twice been rushed to the hospital with an unexplained rash,” he wrote in the document.

In response to Porter’s claim, Roberts’ office issued the following statement:

“I am disheartened to see the allegations contained in one former employee’s complaint that was filed with the County on Wednesday. This claim contains many inaccuracies.

I am confident that if this matter advances further, the inaccuracies will be proven for what they are.

As the allegations currently present a threat of litigation, I cannot discuss them further at this time.”
Four of Roberts' staffers have resigned over the past month. He is the only Democrat on the five-member board.

Since Roberts took office in January 2013, eight of his employees have resigned — a turnover greater than the rest of the supervisors' offices combined — including former chief of staff Glynnis Vaughan.

In her resignation letter, Vaughan charged that Roberts fostered a toxic work environment, displayed unprofessional conduct and misused government resources, U-T San Diego reported.

According to NBC 7 San Diego, Vaughan was expected to receive a $75,000 settlement.

On Monday, the Board of Supervisors revealed in a statement that it had voted 5-0 not to approve any taxpayer dollars to pay severance to the Democrat's former staffers.

“The Board of Supervisors stands united in their belief that whatever issues occurred in the District 3 offices, should be dealt with by the Supervisor. If any money is to be paid to any of his former staff members, it should be paid from his personal funds and not taxpayer dollars,” the statement said.

The supervisors said in the statement that the decision does not indicate they determined the allegations to be accurate.

"The Board of Supervisors believes it is important to let the public know that the vote was not related to whether or not the Board of Supervisors believed the allegations to be true or false," the statement said. "The vote was made in the context of whether taxpayer money should be used to resolve issues resulting solely from the actions of one supervisor and multiple staff members he hired and managed."

The statement from the board also accused Roberts of violating the state's open meeting law by revealing publicly the 5-0 severance vote that was made in closed session.

Roberts said on Monday that service to his constituents has not been affected by the turmoil in his office.

"We are proud of the high level of service and accessibility we provide to the residents of the Third District," Roberts said in a statement. "I have taken the actions necessary to address the issues in my office, including hiring Mel Millstein as my chief of staff."

The county has six months to respond to Porter's claim. Her attorney, Morris, said if the county denies the claim his client is willing to move forward with a lawsuit.

"She’s resolute in seeing that this behavior is ended. That’s really her main concern. She really wants to see that this doesn’t happen to anybody else,” he told KPBS in a phone interview.

Morris said he has been contacted by other former staff members of Roberts, but he has not been hired by any other than Porter. He said he expects at least one additional claim from an ex-staffer that he does not represent to be filed within the next few weeks.

Roberts, who is up for re-election next year, is a former Solana Beach city councilman. His county district includes coastal North County as well as parts of Escondido, Mira Mesa, Rancho Bernardo, Rancho Peñasquitos, Scripps Ranch and Tierrasanta.

Corrected:
CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story incorrectly said where Supervisor Dave Roberts was a city councilman.