The supervisor, his toadies, and the Internet
April 7, 2016
OPINION by DANIEL BLACKBURN
Karen Velie’s adult daughter Autumn died two years ago after suffering a seizure in her bathtub. In the aftermath and in the midst of family grief, a rumor was floated that Karen, co-founder of CalCoastNews, was being sought by investigators as a suspect in her daughter’s death.
The rumor was widely promulgated through an online account regularly shared by a county supervisor.
A couple of weeks ago, a website oozed to the surface called “Deport Karen Velie,” featuring a decades-old photo of Karen in a maternity ward holding baby Autumn, with the caption “Rosemary’s Baby?” and calling the child the spawn of Satan.
In another post, there is a photo of Karen with her stepfather a few weeks before he died. The post claims Karen resembles “Justin Beiber” and that her stepfather was already dead. Again, the meanness is being spread through sites promoted by the same county official.
For about four years now — half of this news website’s existence — an ever-nastier, one-way war has been waged against CalCoastNews, Karen, and anyone remotely connected to the site, even family members. Somewhere along the line, the assumption was made by someone that Karen, being just a mere woman, would wilt under pressure like a flower under a hot sun. That someone made a terrible tactical error.
I’m talking about Supervisor Adam Hill. There is really no conjecture here about his involvement in this incessant character assassination: Just ask him. He’s proudly boasted about it to a few too many people.
So I’ve been in a bad mood for days now, compelled by the increasing vitriol to mull Hill’s history of Internet venom spit at Karen. I’ve needed to keep reminding myself that even swallowing something benign like salt will make one retch when taken in too large a quantity.
A professional lifetime spent reporting on politicians and other powerful people made me witness to the hovering clutches of sycophants so often at their elbows… which is to say I understand succinctly what’s going on right now in old SLO County with Hill and his culpable cabal. But there is a real difference between now and the good old days: it’s the Internet, which allows bullies like Hill to soil the atmosphere under color of authority while sustaining minimal blowback.
But even before this odd fellow was elected to the county’s District 3 supervisor’s seat, a local media environment was proliferating which would facilitate the eventual malignancy. I’ve always believed that a lack of media oversight (here it must be termed purposeful ignorance) is a key factor enabling rampant civic corruption and blatant ripping off of taxpayers that thrives in this county.
Remember North County’s free-spending thief Kelly Gearhart?
CalCoastNews reported on his financial crimes, alone, literally for years, its work countered constantly by The Tribune’s puff pieces on the man. CalCoastNews’ offers to share with the daily’s reporters its volumes of evidence were declined. Gearhart is now spending 14 years in federal lockup.
Remember Paso Robles’ police chief, the popular Lisa Solomon?
CalCoastNews was called “Swamp Gas” by a Tribune columnist now retired, Bob Cuddy, for daring to report on her salacious conduct with unwilling underling officers. No other media seemed to think it strange when Solomon “resigned” and asserted in an official city press release that she was leaving city employment because this website had “made it impossible” for her to do her job any longer. Oh. And only CalCoastNews bothered to ask why she got more than $220,000 in city taxpayers’ money for walking. And got no answer.
Remember Tony Ferrara, the mayor?
His official actions caused community angst in Arroyo Grande, and he ignored a last-second write-in candidate only to get ejected from office at a particularly unfortunate time for him. CalCoastNews’ reporting was again controverted by the daily, which did everything to support Ferrara short of hiring a public relations firm.
Even today, several of CalCoastNews’ most vigorous detractors are media people here in the county — not one of whom has made the slightest effort to verify CalCoastNews’ documented reporting. New Times’ cartoonist Russell Hodin is one frequent critic prone to making phony online accusations about Karen.
In one post, Hodin claimed Karen started a website critical of Hill; she didn’t. Hodin then claimed Karen stole one of his cartoons and placed it on the website; she didn’t.
Against this backdrop of media negligence, guys like Hill fester and somehow prosper with little fear that their malfeasance will become the subject of reporters’ curiosity.
So Hill brazenly shares and promotes tasteless online posts penned by his minions, bedeviling Karen and CCN reporters, affiliates, and family members with spurious and false assertions of felonious activities, mental illnesses… even claiming Karen is an ex-con. (She is not.)
In 2012, when CalCoastNews published unflattering articles about Hill’s and Sheriff Ian Parkinson’s behavior, the pair badgered KVEC’s general manager, Ron Roy, into banning Karen from the station’s airwaves; that ban remains to this day.
Subsequently, county employees were instructed by top bosses to prevent CalCoastNews or KVEC’s popular talk radio host, Dave Congalton, from obtaining equal access to government information by denying or delaying records requests, refusing to answer questions, or failing to provide public information. (Congalton too has had the temerity to muse publicly about Hill’s fiscal machinations. So did another long-time radio icon, Dick Mason, who was subsequently terminated by management at KKJL after complaints from Hill.)
Hill frequently uses his office to threaten CalCoastNews advertisers who have pending projects with the county, thereby deflecting vital reporting by trying to choke off the news source’s revenue stream.
He has loudly claimed that CalCoastNews writes about his children (not true), and that legitimate reporting of his actions in office constitutes harassment (it does not). He refuses to meet with constituents he deems “friends” of CalCoastNews. Don’t believe me? Ask Hill.
CalCoastNews reporters have had their phone numbers and addresses posted online; homes vandalized; a family dog poisoned; mutilated cats left on porches. On one occasion, a commercial alarm was left taped under Karen’s porch. She has moved three times in the last four years because a few of his thugs continue to act on Hill’s coaxing.
In 2012, Hill told CalCoastNews if reporters did not stop writing about his girlfriend (now wife) Dee Torres-Hill and her habit of pilfering gift cards from the county’s homeless she ostensibly was serving, he would retaliate.
Shortly after that, several anonymous ads were placed on Craigslist seeking to pay a blogger to “change public opinion” in SLO County. One job applicant reported Tom Fulks, a campaign consultant and regularly-featured columnist for The Tribune, was the originator of the ads. Fulks, whom Supervisor Bruce Gibson has called “his evil genius behind the curtain,” has denied any connection to the ad.
But from that appeal immediately emerged a slimy website called CalCoastFraud (perhaps coincidentally?) which may be the only website in the world devoted to minute-by-minute critiques of a single news outlet. Initially promoted by Hill through Facebook, it’s “written” by Aaron Ochs.
Ochs allows comments on his site from miscreants like Bill Leys, a local businessman and owner of Central Coast Waterproofing, who calls another of Karen’s daughters “a dried-up c**t.”
Earlier this week, Leys posted several threats against Karen and supervisor candidate Dan Carpenter, Hill’s opponent. The threats prompted a local chief of police to send an officer to one of the events Leys claimed he would attend. Leys failed to show.
Ochs claims he’s not being paid by anyone for his efforts, which if true only confirms his lack of acuity. Ochs claims to “monitor criminal activity, misconduct, malicious and fraudulent activity conducted by CalCoastNews and their contributors.”
Hill, on a regular basis, forwards Ochs’ garbage via the Internet to folks all over the county.
We asked for Hill’s emails, only to learn that County Counsel Rita Neal encourages supervisors to expunge emails from public servers as they desire, in violation of state law. Hill deletes his county emails almost daily, and the county has installed a system that scrubs deleted emails from the servers within 30 days.
A couple of years ago, Karen’s grandchildren were taken from their home by Lee Collins of the county’s Public Health Department under the auspices of Child Protective Services. The reason? Allegedly having a “messy house.” The grandchildren were eventually returned after a growing public outcry, but Collins still posts under his own name on CalCoastFraud about Karen. Confidentiality? No such thing in Collins’ vernacular.
Hill, too, makes frequent and shameless mention of this incident.
Recently, CalCoastNews wrote a series of articles about a local developer, PB Companies, that has surreptitiously been using Hill as a paid advocate. CalCoastNews has been provided with evidence that those articles prompted internal company discussions of hiring “a hit man” to terminate the reporting, and the reporter.
Law enforcement authorities have been notified about many of these egregious actions.
Last month, Karen requested copies of several law enforcement reports to include in correspondence to the Committee to Protect Journalists, in an attempt to get an unbiased investigation. Sheriff’s records staffer Makay Butz first told Karen that exact dates of the incidents were needed in order for her to locate the right records. Then Butz said a state law prohibited Karen from sharing the reports, but was unable to identify the law.
Butz eventually did send the reports, which were essentially blank. The deputy who originally took Karen’s report said the document she received from Butz was not as he had written it.
Another deputy told Karen he was ordered by his commander, who just happens to be the uncle of a PB Companies principal, not to investigate another of her incident reports.
I’ve been curiously omitted from much of Hill’s and Ochs’ toxin, maybe because I’m an old and cranky man whose reaction to this misogynistic nonsense could prove very unpredictable. But I’ll certainly get targeted now by these two little fellows.
So here’s my message to the twin aberrations: Let fly the insults. If I can distract for even a short time your despicable assaults on Karen, then purpose served.
These are some of the things that have been happening around CalCoastNews lately. I just thought some of our tens of thousands of loyal daily readers would like to know.