Will Gibson’s emails to his lover surface before election?
April 23, 2014
By JOSH FRIEDMAN
For more than 17 months, San Luis Obispo County officials have claimed they are attempting to comply with the California Public Records Act, yet they have failed to provide emails that could tarnish the reputation of a supervisor currently running for reelection, as required by law.
The California Public Records Act is a powerful tool used by reporters and the public to uncover governmental shortcomings and illegal activities. The act was enacted more than 40 years ago after it was determined that timely public access to information concerning the conduct of the people’s business is a fundamental and necessary right.
Nevertheless, nearly a year and a half has passed since San Luis Obispo County received a public records request for emails exchanged between Supervisor Bruce Gibson and his romantically entangled legislative assistant Cherie McKee, who previously went by the name of Cherie Aispuro. The county promised Los Osos resident Julie Tacker, the maker of the request, six years of Gibson-McKee emails but has only delivered two and a half years of messages, Tacker stated in a grand jury complaint she filed Monday.
In November 2012, Gibson revealed that he had been engaged in a long term affair with McKee. The second-term supervisor announced that McKee had won his heart and that he was planning on divorcing his wife of multiple decades.
Three days after learning of the affair, County Counsel Rita Neal and County Administrator Dan Buckshi cleared Gibson of any wrongdoing. Neal and Buckshi said they reviewed approximately 6,000 emails between Gibson and McKee and determined the pair had not used any county resources and had not violated any county policies during the course of their affair.
On November 29, 2012, Tacker submitted a request under the California Public Records Act for the emails Neal had already reviewed, as well as other documents she examined, such as travel reimbursements. Neal responded saying it would require considerable time to review and redact the emails, but that she estimated it would take less than a month to deliver them.
Neal has since sent Tacker several batches of emails but has not released any since November 2013. The majority of the emails remain outstanding, Tacker said.
Gibson, who is nearing the end of his second term, is currently running for reelection. The primary election, which will likely determine whether or not he keeps his seat, takes place on June 3, and absentee voters will receive ballots in two weeks.
“The evidence, if provided at this time, would be detrimental to the supervisor’s bid for reelection,” Tacker wrote in her complaint to the San Luis Obispo County Grand Jury. “The delay and over-redacting surrounding this particular request is not because it is voluminous as much as it is because it reveals that indeed county resources were used in the supervisor’s affair.”
Gibson said in his Tribune announcement of the affair that he and McKee always gave 110 percent to the job. But, one string of messages released by Neal brought into question whether Gibson and McKee were always hard at work.
On April 12, 2012, Gibson and McKee agreed by email to postpone a conversation with a constituent until the next day.
“OK, I don’t have the energy to deal with this today anyway,” Gibson wrote in an afternoon email.
McKee responded to him that day at 4:01 p.m.
“I just woke up,” she wrote. “You wiped me out.”
“Sorry to be so demanding! :)” Gibson replied.
This year, Tacker has given Neal three reminders of the outstanding record request, none of which received responses, Tacker wrote in her complaint.
In a prior reply to Tacker, Neal said she managed to review the thousands of documents in just a matter of a few days because, as the county attorney, she could view parts of documents exempt from public disclosure. She later said during a board meeting that complying with the request was taking hundreds of hours of staff time and costing the county thousands of dollars.
Neal did not respond to a CalCoastNews email asking why she has not released the emails and whether or not it has anything to do with the upcoming election.
Tacker copied the grand jury complaint to the San Luis Obispo County District Attorney’s Office and would like for a member of the agency to instruct Neal to comply with the public records act, she said.
It is unlikely the grand jury would take any action on the matter prior to the June 3 election. Still, if the body chooses to investigate the matter, there exists the possibility of the grand jury finding wrongdoing beyond failure to comply with the records act.
If the grand jury were to find criminal conduct on the part of Gibson or other county officials, it could call for prosecution.
“Who knows what’s in there?” Tacker said. “There could be criminal implications on more than just the public record act.”