Supervisor Adam Hill told a Pismo Beach man to “f--- off” in a private message, prompting the four other members of the San Luis Obispo County Board of Supervisors to ask staff to draft a code of conduct to guide officials’ interactions with the public.
The incident was just the latest example of Hill’s behavior being raised as an issue in a public forum, but the first time the board responded with action.
On Tuesday, with Hill absent, the remaining supervisors voted unanimously to ask staff to draft a code of conduct or governance manual, or as board Chairman John Peschong described it, “something that would give us direction in dealing with constituents in our community and so an action like this doesn’t happen again.”
The code of conduct will be drafted by the county Administrative Office and will be brought back to the supervisors for review after June budget hearings.
Hill, who had called in sick to Tuesday’s meeting, told The Tribune that “this attention to decorum and niceness is superficial and serves to distract from what really matters.”
A handful of his constituents who took the issue to the board, however, wanted action.
Mark Burnes of Pismo Beach asked supervisors to censure Hill or remove him from the board after Burnes said he received an offensive message Sunday morning from Hill in response to a letter to the editor that was published in The Tribune. In the letter, Burnes said “despite the fact that I have been a friend of supporter of Adam’s for many years, I, too, am disappointed with some of his antics and attitude.”
In response, Hill sent him a private Facebook message that said, “Thanks but no thanks for your stupid letter,” and “Now? F--- off. All talk, no balls.”
After Burnes summarized the “ugly situation” to the board, he asked, “Short of an all out recall election, is there a manner in which an errant member of this board might be removed?”
There is not. Only the voters could remove Hill from the board through a recall or by voting him out of office. He has represented District 3 since 2009 and isn’t up for reelection until 2020.
Two other constituents also raised issue with Hill’s behavior, including an alleged threat.
“I supported (Hill’s) opponent, and he threatened the Food Bank that if they did business with me ... they would lose any county funding from him,” said Julie Tizzano of SLOCO Data & Printing. “I think something should be done about that. An elected official should not be able to threaten any nonprofit agency.”
Jack Hardy, another of Hill’s constituents, said that what happened to Burnes also happened to him.
“I’m going to ask the members of the board, how long are we going to put up and deal with my supervisor, which embarrasses me, with these kinds of antics,” Hardy said.
In response to the comments, Supervisor Debbie Arnold said, “We’ve discussed this over the years, and the remedy seems to be mostly voluntary. I think the answer is just to, like you did today, bring these issues forward so hopefully the folks in each district will hold their particular elected officials accountable for their behavior towards constituents.”
After the meeting, Burnes said he appreciated the professionalism and quick response from the board.
“I wish Adam would stay within that professionalism and refrain from the mean-spiritedness, and build bridges as opposed to burning them down. He has that ability if he would only choose to use it,” said Burnes, who voted for Hill twice, in 2008 and 2016.
Hill did send an apology to Burnes before Tuesday’s meeting that said, “Mark, after a few emails from people based on your letter, I want to sincerely apologize to you, and wish you well.”
He later told The Tribune that he is not interested in Mark Burnes, except to say, “the beginning premise of his LTE (letter to the editor) is untrue. He is neither a friend nor a supporter. He never contributed to or volunteered for any of my campaigns, and I have not seen him in several years. That he wouldn’t accept an apology even after demanding one, is his right. I wish him well in his political career and his music career.”
Hill criticized that idea that the situation was news and said that the focus on niceness is “for people who are comfortable to stay in their comfort zone and never have to worry about all the working poor and homeless poor that struggle without any real voice in our community.”