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Investigation raises doubts about Debbie Peterson’s claims against Adam Hill

Former Grover Beach Mayor Debbie Peterson, who ran unsuccessfully for county supervisor against Adam Hill and Dan Carpenter in the June primary, accused Hill, right, of violating state law and intimidating her during a private meeting in 2013.
Former Grover Beach Mayor Debbie Peterson, who ran unsuccessfully for county supervisor against Adam Hill and Dan Carpenter in the June primary, accused Hill, right, of violating state law and intimidating her during a private meeting in 2013. dmiddlecamp@thetribunenews.com

Grover Beach City Council candidate and former Mayor Debbie Peterson, who ran unsuccessfully for San Luis Obispo County supervisor in the June primary, said this week she felt threatened during a private meeting with 3rd District Supervisor Adam Hill about four years ago when he allegedly became agitated and made reference to having a concealed weapons permit — a story Hill says is a politically motivated lie.

A Tribune investigation into the incident casts doubt on Peterson’s story.

Peterson said she met with 3rd District Supervisor Hill at the County Government Center when it was closed for Martin Luther King Jr. Day in January 2013 at his request because he wanted to show her stacks of papers and files on a computer about a political opponent, later acknowledged as local activist Kevin P. Rice.

Peterson said she and Hill were alone in the locked building and that she became worried when he allegedly became increasingly angry and said he had gotten a permit to carry a weapon for his safety.

Peterson made the allegations publicly this week in an opinion piece posted on website Cal Coast News and on the Dave Congalton radio talk show. She told The Tribune she was motivated to tell her story now to prevent Hill from being re-elected.

“The discomfort of seeing Adam being re-elected would probably be greater than the fallout of telling the story,” she said.

Peterson said the meeting violated the state Political Reform Act but she has not filed a complaint with the state Fair Political Practices Commission or with the county. She also didn’t raise the issue during the primary because she would have been accused of electioneering, Peterson said.

“I didn’t report it because it’s one of those things that’s a he-said-she-said,” said Peterson, who ran for supervisor against Hill and Dan Carpenter.

Hill said the two did meet that day, at his request, because he wanted to talk to her about Rice, a San Luis Obispo resident and off-road advocate who supported Ed Waage’s campaign for supervisor against Hill in 2012.

But Hill adamantly denied the rest of her account.

I didn’t report it because it’s one of those things that’s a he-said-she-said.

Debbie Peterson

He said he has never had a concealed weapons permit — a fact confirmed by the San Luis Obispo County Sheriff’s Office, which said Hill did not have a concealed weapons permit in 2012 or 2013, nor does he have one today.

He also denied they were alone in the building. Hannah Miller, Hill’s legislative assistant, said she also worked that holiday and recalled meeting Peterson in the supervisors’ outer office. She was not inside Hill’s office during the conversation but said that it appeared to be a cordial meeting.

“I don’t eavesdrop on his conversations, but I can hear words here and there and tone and conversation, and it was a totally normal-sounding conversation,” she said. “She was smiling and said goodbye, and I can’t remember who walked her out.”

Peterson said the meeting violated the Political Reform Act because Hill used his office to research or discuss a political opponent. The meeting took place three months after the November 2012 election.

State law prohibits elected officials from using public resources for a campaign activity or personal purposes.

FPPC spokesman Jay Wierenga said any complaint must be filed with the commission within four years. But an alleged misuse of public funds lies outside the jurisdiction of the Political Reform Act and is generally in the jurisdiction of the local district attorney or the attorney general, he said.

The San Luis Obispo District Attorney’s Office has not received a complaint and is not looking into the matter. County Counsel Rita Neal said she could not speculate about “the misuse of county property unless I have facts to inform me one way or another.”

Hill said he met with Peterson because he was worried that she was siding with Rice over a controversial dust control rule requiring State Parks to reduce particulate pollution from the Oceano Dunes State Vehicular Recreation Area. Their meeting came two days before the county air board was scheduled to discuss the rule.

Peterson who represented the city of Grover Beach on the county air board at the time, authored a petition in July 2013 urging repeal of the rule at the request of a local group, Grover Beach United. The council later removed her as its representative to the air board.

Peterson disputed that their conversation was about the air board, but instead said it was about things that had happened during the 2012 supervisorial race. She said she listened to Hill, who she said became more agitated when she didn’t agree with him.

“That’s when he said, ‘I have a permit to carry because this person is so dangerous,’ and then he kind of stopped because he probably saw my reaction,” Peterson said.

In a phone interview, Hill responded: “Everything she portrays is not just inaccurate, it’s a blatant lie.”

Cynthia Lambert: 805-781-7929, @ClambertSLO

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