The Investigator, Robert Eringer
The Santa Barbara mayor, city council members and city staff, as well as the county Board of Supervisors, should be reminded, on a regular basis, that they are public servants; that their salaries and benefits — which are exceedingly high compared to the salaries of public officials in other California cities — are paid for by the taxpayers — we the people.
And luckily for them, we Santa Barbarians are a generous (if lackadaisical) bunch.
Salaries and benefits paid in 2019:
City Administrator: Base salary, $277,000 + Benefits, $40,000 + “Other Pay,” $11,000 + Pension Liability, $50,000 = a whopping grand total of $380,000.
City Attorney: Base salary, $260,000 + Benefits, $35,000 + “Other Pay,” $15,000 + Pension Liability, $37,000 = a whopping grand total of $347,000.
Board of Supervisors: Base salary, $97,000 + Benefits, $7,000 + “Other Pay,” $5,000 = $130,000.
Mayor (considered a part-time job): Base salary, $55,000 + Benefits, $8,500 + “Other Pay,” $10,000 + Pension Liability, $20,000 = $104,000.
Police Chief: Base salary, $230,800 + Benefits, $68,000 + “Other Pay,” $20,500 + Pension Liability, $78,750 = a whopping grand total of $398,050.
To give you a sense of how well Santa Barbara public servants are paid, the Santa Maria police chief’s salary is a mere $117,860 in comparison — almost half the amount paid to Santa Barbara’s police chief.
These salaries rise by about $10,000 each year. For more detailed information, readers are encouraged to visit transparentcalifornia.com.
For a start, these salaries tell you the pecking order of who is really running this city — and it ain’t the mayor and city council. If you haven’t been paying attention, the position with all the power is city administrator, who is appointed, not elected.
At least this aspect of governance is transparent (as it should be, if not truly democratic). Other aspects are much less crystal clear, such as the results of investigations that are initiated as a result of public servant transgressions.
The concept of public servants spending taxpayer money on investigations into other public servants, then not allowing the taxpayer to know the contents of such reports, is a gross affront to the intelligence of everyone who pays the aforementioned high salaries.
Sure, their fallback is “privacy issues,” but this is poppycock — a self-serving state and city code that never should have been codified. These are public servants, not private servants. They should be accountable to we the people, especially when we the people are paying out the nose to have them serve us — and then paying even more when the alleged miscreant behavior of some public servants demands investigation. Otherwise, we are living in an Orwellian nightmare in which some farmyard pigs are more equal than others.
Transparency is the rule in any democracy. Or it should be.
If someone governing us has screwed up, we the people have the right to know the truth about whatever occurred, not trust that the findings held in confidence by other public servants are dealt with properly. Because what’s to say, in the contentious arena of 2021 politics, such “private” information isn’t used by those who possess it to further advance their own careers or agendas?
If you desire “privacy,” you should not enter public service. And if you’re already serving the public and cannot deal with the exposure of any bad deeds you may commit, please leave quietly.
Santa Barbara Police Chief Lori Luhnow unexpectedly retired ahead of schedule. She apparently left quietly.
When complaints against Chief Luhnow were registered, City Attorney Ariel Calonne hired an independent investigator to look into whatever allegations had been made. The results of that investigation were never released to the public.
Assistant City Attorney John Doimas responded to The Investigator: “The report was not released as it is exempt from disclosure because it is protected by the attorney-client privilege and work product doctrine, as well as the reasonable expectation of privacy employees have that is afforded to them under the California Constitution.”
Recently, City Administrator Paul Casey announced his surprise departure, effective Sept. 10.
City official Anthony Wagner was suspended on paid leave. Then, once “cleared” (by a detective agency on a mere $7,000 investigative budget), he had no position to return to because Interim Police Chief Bernard Melekian eliminated a job that perhaps never should have been created in the first place. Thank former Chief Luhnow for creating that position for reasons still unexplained.
In his groundbreaking Los Angeles Magazine article last March, Mitchell Kriegman pointed out “a significant potential conflict of interest for Calonne to investigate his own office and his assistant city attorney, Tava Ostrenger, who worked closely with Wagner.”
It is obvious to anyone with half a brain that there is some Machiavellian intrigue going on beneath the city administration’s surface that needs to bubble up.
This extends, of course, to the curious case of Rob Dayton, the transportation and parking manager for the city, who has, very mysteriously, been on paid leave since May. Assistant City Attorney John Doimas told a reporter he was unable to comment because employees have privacy rights when it comes to their jobs.
Again, an outside firm was contracted by the city to investigate whether Mr. Dayton had, within city government circles, been discriminated against due to his religious beliefs.
Again, the resulting report of this investigation has been branded hush-hush and was discussed only during the Santa Barbara City Council’s closed session, contemptuously regarding we the people as children without a need to know.
In his e-mail to The Investigator, Mr. Doimas pointed out that “The legal authority for the exemptions asserted are California Government Code section 6254(k),” which indeed exempts from disclosure of “records of complaints to, or investigations conducted by, or records of intelligence information or security procedures of law enforcement agencies, although specified information from arrest records and police reports is disclosable.”
In other words, we were fed the usual government mumbo-jumbo that (to their minds) justifies keeping we the people in the dark.
Given the whistleblower law, we’d like to point out that the lower ranks of filing clerks and secretaries are fully entitled to blow the whistle on wrongdoing and make the reports mentioned above available to the media for dissemination to the public. Whistleblowers are protected by law; anonymity is guaranteed if they contact this column with the goods.
THE SKUNKY SCENT LEADS TO A GUILTY PLEA
Helios “Bobby” Dayspring, 35, a San Luis Obispo cannabis dispensary owner, has pleaded guilty in federal court to paying bribes to former SLO County Supervisor Adam Hill, who a year ago died from a drug overdose. Authorities ruled Mr. Hill’s death a suicide.
Needless to say, in addition to the FBI hunting down public officials on the take — and also those who offer bribes — the IRS becomes involved when recipients of corrupt money do not include their illegal windfall on income-tax returns.
Between late 2016 through 2019, the late (and disgraced in death) Mr. Hill reportedly received corrupting gifts totaling $32,000 from Mr. Dayspring, who also tried to bribe San Luis Obispo’s mayor. In his plea agreement, Mr. Dayspring said Mr. Hill accepted those bribes, then took actions that benefited Mr. Dayspring’s cannabis business.
Mr. Dayspring has agreed to pay restitution of $3.4 million to the IRS and must cooperate with the federal government’s ongoing investigation into San Luis Obispo County officials suspected of malfeasance.
Anyone with information about public officials in Santa Barbara County accepting bribes should contact the FBI’s Los Angeles Field Office: 310-477-6565. Or let The Investigator know, and we’ll take it from there.
Robert Eringer is a longtime Montecito author with vast experience in investigative journalism. He welcomes questions or comments at email@example.com.