A former employee in San Diego County Supervisor Dave Roberts’ office says the supervisor refused to act on complaints from staffers as documents confirm there has been almost a complete turnover of staff at the District 3 office since January.
At least two of those former staffers claim Roberts created a “hostile workplace.” NBC 7 Investigates has also confirmed those former employees have both hired attorneys and are considering lawsuits against the county.
Former staffers, Glyniss Vaughan and Diane Porter, say they were forced to leave because they asked tough questions about Roberts' professional and personal relationship with Harold Meza, a young male staffer who was working as a Starbucks barista when Roberts hired him.
In an exclusive interview with NBC 7 Investigates, another former employee said Roberts refused to act on complaints from staffers that Meza was not qualified for the job.
“Harold was never wrong, according to [Roberts],” Brittany Shaw told NBC 7 Investigates. "We had to tip-toe around what we said. If Harold was doing something wrong, if we said something, Dave would get very upset."
Shaw, who worked as an administrative specialist, and other former staffers said Roberts bent the rules to favor Meza. Shaw said Meza initially worked as Roberts' chauffeur, until staffers pointed out no other county supervisors have a driver on staff.
Using the state public records act, NBC 7 Investigates obtained thousands of pages of documents, including a January 6 memo in which former Chief of Staff Vaughn questioned Meza's work schedule.
Those documents also include invoices showing Roberts and Meza attended functions that involved both work and play. Those events included a cocktail reception in Palm Springs, a black-tie dinner at the San Diego Marriot and a "Roaring 20's party" at the Hilton Hotel in Carlsbad.
Shaw said Roberts' office reacted quickly to justify hiring Meza after NBC 7 Investigates raised questions about Meza's qualifications.
"After you guys put up the story, his title changed to Community Representative, within 24 hours," Shaw said.
She said Meza was given more job duties to quiet talk of favoritism.
Shaw also mentioned a closed door meeting at which Vaughn and Diane Porter, another former staffer who resigned last month, approached the supervisor to talk about Meza.
Shaw said Roberts' defense of Meza was so strident, it reduced the women to tears. “The ladies were pretty teary-eyed after that meeting," Shaw told NBC 7 Investigates.
The San Diego County Board of Supervisors reassured taxpayers Monday that any legal settlement made with former employees of Supervisor Dave Roberts will be paid from Roberts’ “personal funds and not taxpayer dollars.”
That assurance is the first official confirmation of the possibility that personnel problems in Roberts’ office might result in some sort of legal settlement involving payment to one or more of former Roberts’ staffers. The memo attempts to clarify what happened in that closed session meeting. It says the vote “was not related to whether or not the Board of Supervisors believed the allegations [made by former Roberts’ staffers] to be true or false.”
When the media unearthed information about the possible lawsuits from Vaughn and Porter and discontent in Roberts’ office, Shaw said Roberts' current Chief of Staff Melvin Millstein and assistant Adam Kaye tried to manage the political fallout.
“We were coached pretty much every other week on how we were going to handle the media,” Shaw said.
Asked for a response to Shaw’s comments, Millstein told NBC 7 Investigates, “I am not going to respond to another former employee's allegations. However, I can tell you that the Supervisor did not add more job duties to Harold Meza. That was done by me after I was appointed as Chief-of-Staff.”
Millstein said Roberts does not directly manage his lower-level employees, and instead leaves that job to his chief of staff.
“The Chief-of-Staff makes all scheduling decisions, staff coverage, and modes of transportation,” Millstein said. “Supervisors are elected to make policy decisions as a legislator.”
As for questions about Meza’s job qualifications, Millstein said, “Harold Meza immigrated to the United States as a teenager, is bilingual, and he worked as a Starbucks shift manager in Escondido for nine years to put himself through college. He was awarded a Bachelor's Degree in History from Cal State San Marcos. I believe his skills were not utilized in the past and since I became Chief, I have given him additional responsibilities of representing two active communities where he lives in the Third District.”
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