Bruce Gibson displays a lack of sense

Supervisor’s reappointment of his romantic partner as assistant is a conflict of interest that puts county in an awkward position

letters@thetribunenews.comJanuary 23, 2013 

Bruce Gibson

JAYSON MELLOM — The Tribune Buy Photo

In a county that’s had its share of sex scandals — including some that wound up in costly legal settlements — we hoped to see a new era of professionalism in SLO County government. Now, an elected county supervisor — who should be setting the tone for the entire organization — is engaging in blatantly unprofessional conduct. Bruce Gibson’s in-your-face decision to reappoint his romantic partner, Cherie Aispuro, as his legislative assistant is a huge disappointment.

Gibson is exploiting loopholes to justify conduct that wouldn’t fly with other management-level employees.

He is essentially claiming that a special set of circumstances allows him to reinstate Aispuro and continue to supervise her.

Here are the arguments:

Aispuro is an excellent employee — “quite simply the best person for the job” is the way Gibson put it.

Their relationship will not interfere with their service to constituents.

The legal document they signed, in which they disclose the relationship and indemnify the county, ensures that taxpayers will never be on the hook, should the relationship change in the future.

On top of that, theirs is a unique situation: Gibson supervises only one employee — Aispuro — so there is no opportunity for him to favor her over other employees in his office.

But so what?

This isn’t just about whether Gibson violated any county regulation — he didn’t — or whether he supervises one or two or five employees. This is also about leadership, judgment and common sense.

Gibson showed none of those attributes when he entered into an extramarital affair with his legislative assistant and failed to immediately disclose it. He shows even less now — something we didn’t think possible.

We believe it’s a clear conflict of interest for a public official or public employee to supervise aspouse, relative or romantic partner — period. Even if there’s little or no opportunity to favor that employee over other workers, the manager is still responsible for assigning work and evaluating performance.

What’s more, Gibson is placing the county in the awkward situation of having to monitor the relationship. What will happen, for example, if someone reports that Gibson and Aispuro do engage in a “display of affection,” which is forbidden under terms of the indemnification agreement? Will the county have to spend time investigating the complaint — whether it’s warranted or not?

We’re concerned, too, about precedent. If this is OK, what’s to stop another manager from using similar arguments to justify a romantic relationship with a subordinate employee?

In so many ways, Gibson has been an excellent county supervisor: intelligent, thoughtful, responsive and reasonable, no matter how heated the discussion or how virulent the complaints from his critics.

But reappointing Aispuro is a move that’s impossible to condone — and one that many voters are unlikely to forget, should Gibson decide to stand for reelection.

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