Oceano does background checks on activists
June 13, 2013
UPDATE: An attorney from the law firm of Hall, Hieatt & Connely explains why his firm ran a check through Westlaw’s PeopleMap at the bottom of this story.
By KAREN VELIE and DANIEL BLACKBURN
Oceano Community Services District’s former manager Tom Gealsen ordered background checks on several people who questioned his management of the district.
Following two occasions when Board President Matt Guerrero shut off public comment from Los Osos resident Jeff Edwards and called the San Luis Obispo County Sheriff’s office for assistance, Geaslen ordered a background check on Edwards and his wife, Julie Tacker.
Both times his microphone was turned off, Edwards was attempting to address his concerns about the management of the district. Tacker has spoken out during public comment and through opinions posted on CalCoastNews about Geaslen’s failures to follow laws in place to promote transparency.
The Ralph M. Brown Act, which established rules for public comment at government meetings, permits members of the public to voice their concerns about government officials.
On Feb. 14, the attorney firm of Hall, Hieatt & Connely did background checks on Tacker and Edwards and charged the district $67.50 for the investigation, according to district records.
Tacker says she feels violated and outraged.
“I am stunned that they would waste any district resources looking into us,” Tacker said.
In 2011, Giselle Naylor was escorted out of the building after she became incensed when district staff would not comply with her records request. While trying unsuccessfully to get a restraining order to keep Naylor out of the office, Geaslen ordered a background check on the Oceano activist.
Mary Lucey, a district board member, said she was unaware of the background checks that Geaslen had ordered.
“It did not go in front of the board,” Lucey said. “He did a lot of things on his own.”
In April, the district board voted unanimously to terminate Geaslen for cause.
UPDATE: The attorney firm utilized Westlaw’s PeoplesMap to look into the couple, according the firm’s bill. The program provides information on peoples’ property holdings, business relationships and criminal history.
Attorney Chase Martin said his firm had been asked to look into whether or not Tacker or Edwards owned property in Oceano.
“The PeopleMap function on Westlaw allowed us to confirm that was the case,” Chase said in an email. “The reason the research was done is the subject of attorney-client privilege but did deal with an issue affecting the District. I do not believe anything was saved or retained from that PeopleMap function; it was used to verify residence only.”