Former vets services officer says county officials are ‘sabotaging’ his job search

Former San Luis Obispo County Veterans Services Officer Dana Cummings (right) directs surfers and volunteers during a Pismo Beach event in October 2011.
Former San Luis Obispo County Veterans Services Officer Dana Cummings (right) directs surfers and volunteers during a Pismo Beach event in October 2011.

The former head of San Luis Obispo County Veterans Services filed a lawsuit against the county Friday, alleging that the county’s chief administrator and other officials are “sabotaging” his efforts to find another job.

Dana Cummings served as county veterans services officer for four years before he abruptly resigned in 2015, weeks before the release of a county auditor report critical of his department’s cash handling procedures.

County counsel Rita Neal said Friday that the county had yet to be served with the lawsuit and declined to comment.

Cummings, a disabled Marine Corps veteran who served two tours of combat duty in Operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm, ran the department of about 10 employees from September 2011 to September 2015.

According to the lawsuit, during his tenure, Cummings had “ongoing personality conflicts” with County Administrator Dan Buckshi, who the lawsuit claims “seemed intent on forcing (Cummings) from his position,” possibly “in retaliation for disagreements about how to manage the department.”

Cummings — who did not reveal the reason behind his departure at the time — states in the lawsuit that he voluntarily resigned from his position because of tensions with Buckshi, but not before he signed a nondisparagement clause with the county that stated the county and Buckshi would not “disparage, defame, discredit, malign, ridicule or slander” Cummings in the future, and vice versa.

The clause also allegedly stated that Cummings would have the opportunity to respond to any questions from prospective employers about his tenure with the county in order to “prevent Buckshi from sabotaging his efforts to obtain future employment.”

After leaving the county, Cummings said he sought employment as a veterans services officer in other counties, and had several successful interviews “only to mysteriously fail to receive an offer once the potential employer began checking references.”

Cummings said he was offered a VSO job in Stanislaus County in March 2016, only to have the offer rescinded days later, after he had received congratulatory phone calls from Stanislaus County officials.

“When Mr. Cummings inquired why, he was informed that the offer was revoked because (Buckshi) spoke to the (county administrative officer) of Stanislaus County and recommended that Stanislaus not hire Mr. Cummings,” the lawsuit reads.

Cummings is seeking unspecified damages and recovery of attorneys’ fees for alleged breach of contract, breach of fair dealing, and intentional interference with prospective economic relations.

Civil lawsuits only represent one side of the story. The county has 90 days to file a response, and a case management conference has been scheduled for June.

In October 2015, the county released an internal report drafted by the County Auditor-Controller-Tax Collector’s Office roughly a month after Cummings’ resignation that found “serious lapses” in financial oversight of the Department of Veterans Services.

That report followed an Auditor’s Office review of internal controls and cash handling procedures that identified inconsistencies with how the department handled cash and checks. The report stated that Cummings performed all functions of collecting and depositing cash and reconciling the department’s receipts, in conflict with county policy that requires those duties be done by different employees.

In addition, checks used to pay for some staff salaries, supplies and programs were being deposited days late, and receipts were not being provided for cash or check transactions at the department office, the report found.

In a strongly worded response to the report, Cummings said much of the financial review was “simply not true” and argued that he had tried for three years to hire an accounting staff but was “told on several occasions that the department would not get that type of support,” his response reads.