Is Morro Bay parks official a government troll?
February 23, 2015
By CCN Staff
CLARIFICATION: CalCoastNews erred when it wrote that Aaron Ochs was considering getting a gun. To clarify Ochs’ statement, he said it was recommended by an unnamed individual that he get a firearm.
Here is what Ochs wrote on social media in January: “It came to my attention that Julie Tacker and Karen Velie made a direct threat of imminent harm to my family.” Someone “recommended that I should purchase a firearm because I was ‘going to be killed.’ “
Following the unsubstantiated claim, Tacker filed a report with the San Luis Obispo Sheriff’s Department. Tacker told deputies she had no idea what Ochs was talking about and that she feared for her family’s safety. Tacker also informed the sheriff’s department that she believed Ochs was cyber harassing her and that she felt stalked.
It takes a lot for a member of a city parks commission to get noticed, but Morro Bay’s Aaron Ochs puts in the effort.
Ochs is arguably the most frequent online commenter about politics in San Luis Obispo County. He contributes to multiple social media pages that give him carte blanche to post just about anything having to with his favorite subjects — CalCoastNews and any community activist who questions the actions of San Luis Obispo County Supervisors Bruce Gibson or Adam Hill.
Ochs’ online habits have now led to a rare scenario in which an organized push had arisen to oust a member of a volunteer parks commission.
Following a recent string of profanity-laden personal attacks on South Bay citizens, a robo-call made its way around Morro Bay this weekend suggesting residents ask their local representatives why a city official’s public Facebook page, calls a woman a “vindictive bitch.”
CalCoastNews has been unable to identify the source of the robo-call.
The Morro Bay City Council appointed Ochs to the parks commission in early 2014. He received supporting votes from Mayor Jamie Irons and council members Christine Johnson, George Leage and Noah Smukler, according to city council minutes.
Since then, Ochs, through Facebook and several websites, has made numerous false claims alleging specific people are felons, or diagnosed mentally ill. He has impersonated reporters. He also has frequently manipulated photos of journalists and activists on his website in order to demean them.
In a post earlier this month, Ochs responded to an allegation that he photo-shopped CalCoastNews reporter Karen Velie’s name onto an online post. In his post, Ochs admitted that he has used Photoshop to forge in the past.
“I could go back to forging documents in Photoshop,” Ochs wrote about his search for a new endeavor. “But that’s the old me. Times have changed.”
In recent years, some governments have turned to the use of Internet trolls to deflect criticism, antagonize investigative media and steer political discourse off topic. CalCoastNews has obtained no concrete evidence that Ochs posts online on behalf of certain government officials, but many county residents allege that his actions resemble those of government trolls.
Last month, activist Julie Tacker sent a letter to the county noting that Gibson had violated the Ralph M. Brown Act during the board of supervisors’ selection of Adam Hill as vice chair. As a result, a re-do of the vote occurred, and Hill lost the vice-chair seat.
Ochs then began a series of posts about Tacker on Facebook. In one of his posts, Ochs says that Tacker has made a threat to harm his family and that it has been recommended he get a firearm. On the Facebook page, Tacker is referred to as a “vindictive bitch.”
The robo-call that circulated around Morro Bay on Sunday addressed the remark.
“Bad news, Morro Bay has a vindictive liar on a parks commission making remarks on women, local businesses and individuals. Parks commissioner Aaron Ochs has a website that labeled one local woman a donkey, labeled a local business illegal, called another local woman, quote, a vindictive bitch,” the robo-call says. “This is a city official. Aaron Ochs does not belong on Morro Bay’s parks commission. Aaron Ochs is arrogant and does not listen to you. Aaron Ochs once wrote, ‘What is said during public comment is quite dumb.’ Aaron, you have posted this about buying a gun. Ask Mayor Jamie Irons and the city council why they put Aaron Ochs on a parks commission. Call the city at 772-6206. Call 772-6206.”
Cal Coast Fraud, until recently dubbed C2F , on which Ochs calls himself the “lead contributor,” launched in early 2014 with a stated goal of shutting down CalCoastNews. Shortly after it was created, Hill began sending out Facebook messages asking thousands of people, including other public officials and county employees, to go to the Facebook page and “like” it.
The first post falsely claimed that Velie was blackmailing former Senator Sam Blakeslee. Other posts targeted KVEC radio host Dave Congalton, whom Ochs has chastised for inviting Velie and CalCoastNews reporters on as guests.
One post showed a photo of Congalton spliced together with a picture of former U.S. Senator Joseph McCarthy, the man known for making unsubstantiated allegations about communist infiltration of America. A caption on the C2F post states that “the red-baiting Dave Congalton” and McCarthy have a lot in common.
In 2010, California passed a law making it a crime to knowingly impersonate another person on the Internet in an attempt to harm or intimidate.
In September, Ochs manipulated a post on Reddit by putting Velie’s email on one in a series of posts discussing “sucking dick for coke.” He then claimed Velie made the post on several Facebook pages he manages, after photo-shopping Velie’s name on it.
The original post on Reddit does not include Velie’s name, Ochs then claimed Reddit administrators provided him a post showing Velie’s email address on the post that he photo shopped.
Several SLO New Times editorial staffers appear to have fallen for the ploy.
“It’s sort of like the drunk, belligerent animal at the watering hole at this point; someone’s got to take her down for her own good and for everyone else’s,” SLO New Times Editor Ashley Schwellenbach wrote on Facebook under Ochs impersonation.
SLO New Times cartoonist Russ Hodin regularly gives a thumbs up to Ochs’ Facebook posts, including a recent one that falsely claims an 81-year-old man who chastised Hill at a board of supervisors meeting is running an illegal real estate business.
In addition to competing media, several public officials affiliated with local governments where malfeasance has been verified regularly participate on C2F. For example, after several articles on CalCoastNews presented evidence that Oceano’s former general manager Tom Geaslen was overpaying himself, he was fired for cause. At that point, several Oceano board members began participating in C2F.
Oceano Director Matt Guerrero, an attorney who has applied to the governor for a judicial appointment, gives “thumbs up” to many of the articles that falsely claim reporters and activists have committed felonies such as blackmail, extortion and terrorist threats. Director Mary Lucey demeans Tacker, while blocking her through Facebook so that Tacker cannot see her posts, Tacker said.
“Ochs’ belittling the public in this way is not only extremely unprofessional and unbecoming of a public official, it may deter people from speaking out on real issues,” Tacker said. “I hope the City of Morro Bay takes a good look at their choice of representatives on the Parks Commission.”
On Monday, the city received multiple calls asking about Ochs position. Morro Bay City Manager David Buckingham said Ochs’ position on the parks commission is not in his purview and that the council will look into the allegations.
Ochs, who is also the president elect of the Morro Bay Eco Rotary Club, did not respond to questions from CalCoastNews.
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