Politics & Government

Supervisors address public comments after remark about Bruce Gibson affair

Bruce Gibson
Bruce Gibson The Tribune

A week after some offensive comments were made at a San Luis Obispo County Board of Supervisors meeting over Supervisor Bruce Gibson’s affair with his legislative aide, chairman Paul Teixeira tried to set a new tone Tuesday, reminding those gathered to “keep it clean, this is a family show.”

Supervisors also received a visit from former 2nd District Supervisor Shirley Bianchi, who told them to pull up their “big boy jeans” and get control of their meetings.

A number of other speakers also weighed in. Some criticized the board for its silence on the Gibson affair, while a few others noted, with some alarm, a rising sense of hostility during public comments.

Gibson caused a furor when he announced in November that he had had a long-term affair with his legislative aide, Cherie Aispuro. Gibson and his wife separated Nov. 11.

The County Counsel’s Office determined Gibson didn’t violate county policy, misuse money or expose the county to any significant legal liability. But numerous residents have repeatedly assailed him, other supervisors and county administrators for the affair and the way they have handled it, with some asking for an independent investigation.

The comments took a turn Feb. 19, when 2nd District resident Tom Salmon asked Gibson when his affair with Aispuro started, and then added, “Now did we hire this lady as a prostitute or as a whore?”

Teixeira tried to interrupt him, saying at one point, “I don’t think those comments are relevant.”

At the start of Tuesday’s meeting, Teixeira asked the public to keep comments clean and respectful.

“If we don’t get cooperation on that matter, I will ask for a break,” he added. “If we come back and it’s still not in a civil manner, we’ll clear the room.”

The Ralph M. Brown Act, which governs access to public meetings, allows the board to remove anyone who is willfully interrupting a meeting, and to clear the room if order can’t be restored.

Citizens have a First Amendment right to free speech and are entitled to comment during the public comment period on matters within the board’s jurisdiction, but that right must also be balanced with the board’s ability to conduct an orderly meeting, County Counsel Rita Neal said.

“There is nothing inappropriate for the board chairman to request that members of the public maintain decorum and civility during public comment and that they refrain from name calling and/or profanity,” she wrote in an email.

Two speakers and Bianchi said they’ve seen supervisor meetings become more hostile and urged the board and public to make a change. Bianchi said she was encouraged by Teixeira’s ground rules.

“I don’t have to mention that the public comment portion of the meeting is for items that fall under the purview of the board, and someone else’s sex life doesn’t fall under that,” she said.

But several other county residents disagreed.

“This isn’t about sex, this is about morals and leadership,” Nipomo resident Terri Stricklin said. “It’s about lies and six years of cover-up, and the real question is why has this board been so silent.”

Salmon also spoke, saying the words he used last week “are used in movies and television all the time.”

“This toxic stew has been going on a long time before I got here,” he said.

After comments wrapped up, Gibson suggested the board discuss its public comment period — ideas that weren’t well-received by some frequent speakers who were sitting in the back of the room.

“I think we need to discuss the length of public comment,” Gibson said. “I think we ought to have a conversation about what we consider relevant public comment and a discussion about what we need to do about repetitious public comment.”

To that, Los Osos resident Richard Margetson retorted from the back of the supervisors’ chambers, “Is it getting hot in the kitchen, Bruce?”