Supervisor’s zipper costly to county taxpayers
November 29, 2012
By DANIEL BLACKBURN and KAREN VELIE
Supervisor Bruce Gibson’s adulterous, long-term affair with a subordinate — his legislative assistant of six years — will cost county taxpayers $68,870 in annual salary plus benefits for a parallel county position she’s been offered by the county administrator.
Cherie Aispuro was appointed by Gibson as his legislative assistant, an at-will job that concludes when the elected official leaves office. After news of the affair with Gibson became public, the county offered Aispuro the new job.
SLO County Administrative Officer Dan Buckshi said he plans to shift her to another county position. Legislative assistants, however, are not considered civil servants, and do not have the ability to transfer to a county civil service position.
Former North County supervisor Mike Ryan, who served on the board for eight years, was outspokenly critical of Buckshi’s decision.
“Reassigning her? There is no reassigning her,” Ryan told CalCoastNews. “(The county) can’t let her go, because she works for Bruce Gibson, and they can’t reassign her into a civil servant position without violating civil service. She has to get back into line for a job. Otherwise she’s taking a job that someone else was waiting for.”
Ryan added, “I like Dan (Buckshi) and I think he is a very capable guy, but if (County Counsel) Rita Neal is guiding him through this, he may have the wrong guide. Both, incidentally, just got nice contracts from the board.”
Although her previous position in the clerk recorder’s office paid about $35,000 a year, the county is offering Aispuro the same $68,870 she has been earning, to be paid from supervisor discretionary funds. Buckshi made his decision based on the premise that she once worked for the county. She quit county employment to work for Gibson. Other county employees who have quit positions to become supervisors’ legislative assistants, however, have not similarly benefited. None was subsequently offered a job with the county.
Several local attorneys speculate that county counsel weighed the potential financial risk if Aispuro should lose her position and then sue for sexual harassment. Officials, apparently determined to protect the county, have offered her equal compensation, without regard for qualifications or available county jobs.
U.S. courts have been wrestling with increasingly technical sexual harassment and coercion issues for at least the last decade. Just last week, the U.S. Supreme Court heard arguments in a case regarding responsibilities of people in supervising positions in instances of sexual harassment.
And in 2005, the California Supreme Court issued a landmark ruling in the case of Miller v. Department of Corrections which held that even if a supervisor’s sexual relationship was consensual, the employer nevertheless should be held legally liable for creating a hostile work environment. Employees can sue their employers for sexual harassment if their employment is affected by an office romance between their supervisor and a fellow employee.
The court explained: “Although an isolated instance of favoritism on the part of a supervisor toward a female employee with whom the supervisor is conducting a consensual sexual affair ordinarily would not constitute sexual harassment, when such sexual favoritism in a workplace is sufficiently widespread, it may create an actionable hostile work environment in which the demeaning message is conveyed to female employees that they are viewed by management as ‘sexual playthings,’ or that the way required for women to get ahead in the workplace is by engaging in sexual conduct with their supervisors or the management.”
Gibson, 60, has not said when he started his affair with his assistant other than to admit that it has been a long-term sexual relationship. More than three years ago, a friend of Gibson’s wife called CalCoastNews to tell of the ongoing affair (of which Gibson’s wife was aware, according to the friend). Calls to Gibson’s wife at the time were not returned.
Gibson told The Tribune recently that his wife became aware of the affair only a week ago.
County attorney Neal downplayed Gibson and Aispuro’s affair, noting that the county doesn’t have a written policy that prohibits county employees from having relationships.
When a 2009 workplace sex scandal ended with the Board of Supervisors’ termination of the county’s top two administrators, David Edge and Gail Wilcox, the Board approved a set of “Organizational Values” to be followed by all county officials and staff.
“We are dedicated to high ethical and moral standards and uncompromising honesty in our dealings with the public and each other,” according to the Organizational Values. “We assume personal responsibility for our conduct and actions and follow through on our commitments.”
Neither Gibson, Neal nor Buckshi responded to questions about the use of discretionary funds for a non-public purpose, or why Aispuro is winning a lucrative county job after having an affair with her supervisor.
San Luis Obispo-based attorney Stew Jenkins said that offering Aispuro a job in the aftermath of the affair does not seem appropriate from a fairness standpoint, and that the use of supervisor discretionary funds to assure Aispuro stays employed is improper.
“Discretionary finds have to be used for a public purpose,” Jenkins said.
And Ryan wondered: “How did Gibson and Aispuro think they could pull this off and not have the public find out?”