Former employees who brought allegations of misconduct against embattled San Diego County Supervisor Dave Roberts will receive a total of $310,000 after filing claims with the County, according to a settlement approved by Roberts' colleagues Tuesday.
Roberts former Chief of Staff Glynnis Vaughan will be awarded $150,000, his ex-scheduler Diane Porter will get $40,000 and ex-staffer Lindsey Masukawa will receive $120,000. In their claims, the women say Roberts misused County funds, practiced favoritism and in one case, attempted to bribe one of the former employees with a higher position if she lied to County Human Resources.
The three women were among eight staffers in Roberts' office who have resigned since the beginning of the year. Roberts had a total of 11 people in his employ.
"In the opinion of the Board, activities that occurred in the District 3 Supervisorial office, at a minimum, showed poor judgment by the Supervisor," a statement from the board of supervisors reads. "And, although not conclusive, the investigative material surrounding the inappropriate use of County funds, promoting a hostile work environment, an alleged bribe, campaigning on County time, improper use of a County vehicle and retaliation against District 3 staff members is significant and a matter of concern for the Board of Supervisors."
The supervisors' statement said Roberts has made inconsistent statements during the investigation, in closed sessions and in media interviews, which "certainly challenges his credibility as a witness during a potential trial."
Porter told NBC 7 she hopes the County has learned "that regardless if nobody's watching, that regardless if you're behind closed doors, you still have to do the right thing. And the truth is going to come out."
In a statement sent through her attorney, Vaughan said as a chief of staff, she was required by law to bring her concerns to County administrators. "Ms. Vaughan appreciates the Board's willingness to revisit her formal Claim, to resolve it, and to move forward," the statement said.
The board previously denied severance payments to two former staffers because Roberts insisted that the matter be settled without County funds, the supervisors say. However, when the women filed claims that sought $1.075 million in compensation, the board decided it would be best to approve the $310,000 for Vaughan, Porter and Masukawa instead of go to trial.
"We believe it is unlikely we would prevail on all three claims," the supervisors' statement says.
However, the statement concluded by saying the settlement does not mean the supervisors believe all the claims made by the former staff members are true. They thought it would be in the "best interest of taxpayers" to settle the claims as soon as possible. Read the full statement by clicking here.
In response to news of the settlement, Roberts said he takes full responsibility that the transition to a new chief of staff in his office did not go as well as expected.
"While I strongly oppose the action taken today by a majority of the Board of Supervisors, I respect my colleagues' right to make such a decision. I have said consistently that no taxpayer funds should be used to resolve these issues," he said in a statement. Read his full response below.
Allegations of Office Turmoil
Vaughan, Porter and Masukawa alleged they were retaliated against “and forced to resign because they identified, criticized and/or attempted to correct the inappropriate actions” of Roberts, according to the County.
In addition, Masukawa asserts she was forced to resign because “she refused to engage in potentially illegal conduct,” her claim states. The summary of the women's allegations run the gambit from misuse of County funds for campaign and personal purposes to the “inappropriate relationship with staff member Harold Meza” as well as “preferential treatment” for Meza.
The supervisors released supporting documents with their decision, which include a 900-page history of the County's investigation into the allegations. It addresses the appearance of favoritism and inappropriate conduct by Roberts toward Meza.
The documents detail how “Roberts shared a room with Meza” while on an overnight tour of the Colorado River Aqueduct System in January 2015. For the trip, Porter was ordered by Roberts to book two hotel rooms - a suite with a kitchen and a standard room with two beds. Roberts told staff the suite would be the hospitality room for a Lion’s Club event and he and Meza would share the other room.
The 900-page history also addresses another big complaint: how Meza spent his time chauffeuring the supervisor around. Based on Meza’s calendar entries, mileage reimbursement claims and daily vehicle reports required by the County, “it appears that his job was to drive Supervisor Roberts to work, County events and non-County events,” the documents say.
Meza was given time off during the week for working after hours or on weekends as Roberts' chauffeur, “whether or not related to County business."
NBC 7 has reached out to Meza and his attorney for a response, but we have not heard back.
Tensions Come to a Head
During a meeting in early March, Roberts’ office drama went from simmering to high heat. The meeting involved the supervisor, Vaughan and Porter.
The women wanted to talk to him about fellow staffer Harold Meza, who they said was goofing off and receiving special treatment from Roberts. According to their claims, Meza did little besides driving Roberts to various events.
Meza was brought into the meeting and, according to the women, Roberts defended him, using him as an example of the kind of employee they should be.
The staffers say Roberts call Meza “perfect.” According to their claims, Roberts then attacked the women’s work habits, saying they didn’t work hard enough, they didn’t put in enough hours.
Brittany Shaw, the first Roberts’ ex-employee to provide on-the-record details into the workings of the office to NBC 7, said the women were reduced to tears after their meeting with Roberts.
“The ladies were pretty teary-eyed after that meeting,” while Meza left with a big smile on his face, Shaw said. She is not involved in any of the claims and lawsuits swirling around this story.
Several days later, frustrated for being ignored, both women went to County Human Resources to report the problems. At the end of the week, Vaughan left on a leave of absence. Porter resigned soon after.
It was then that NBC 7 Investigates began to follow the story, pushed along by the fact that a number of other employees had quit Roberts’ office since the first of the year. When first commenting on the conditions within his office, Roberts initially said they had no employee issues and Vaughan was on a short leave. “She will return next week,” he told NBC 7. She never did.
Roberts: I Did Nothing Wrong
Roberts’ spokesman Gary Gartner defended his boss in a May 20 news conference. “Dave Roberts has held himself to the highest ethical standards,” Gartner said.
A week later, Roberts made the rounds with local media saying the same thing: he had done nothing wrong. All he did, he said, was make a couple bad hires, referring to Porter and Vaughan.
Both Gartner and Roberts have maintained the supervisor never did anything unethical or inappropriate with his staff members. They say the supervisor’s work was exemplary.
Roberts full statement on the settlement is below:
"When my Chief of Staff retired after 22 years in that position, the transition to a new Chief did not go as well as I expected and I take full responsibility for that. Now that the settlement has taken place, we are moving forward.
"While I strongly oppose the action taken today by a majority of the Board of Supervisors, I respect my colleagues' right to make such a decision. I have said consistently that no taxpayer funds should be used to resolve these issues.
"It is unfortunate that they occurred, but they are now behind us. My staff and I will continue to work hard delivering results for the people of the Third District as I have strived to do since my first day in office."
Legal Challenges Not Over
While the settlement clears some of the dust-up around the supervisor and his employees, other agencies still have an interest in the alleged problems. As NBC 7 Investigates revealed, the San Diego District Attorney’s office is interested in the supervisor’s actions while in office, according to Shaw, who was contacted by a DA investigator. The investigation is still ongoing.
There is also a lawsuit filed on behalf of Harold Meza, the staffer whose name was often mentioned during the office infighting. Meza sued Porter and Vaughan, saying they conspired against him. Meza says the women described him as unfit for his position, as having an affair with Roberts and as nothing but a “barista” who was favored by the Supervisor over other employees. Meza said he never had sexual relations with the supervisor something the women didn’t accuse him of though they did say Roberts and Meza had an inappropriate relationship.
After Meza sued, the County announced they would defend Porter and Vaughan against the lawsuit and, if the court rules against them, possibly pay the damages. If the conduct in question is within the “the course and scope of employment under the law” the County is financially liable for a judgment.
Roberts — the first Democrat elected to the Board of Supervisors in two decades and the first openly gay man elected to the position — now faces re-election challenges from two Republicans, Encinitas Mayor Kristin Gaspar and Escondido Mayor Sam Abed.