FBI probes SLO Supervisor Hill
San Luis Obispo County Supervisor Adam Hill announced July 6 that he is temporarily stepping away from his duties to seek residential treatment for what he described as “persistent, and at times, painfully debilitating depression.”
Hill’s 3rd District, which includes the southern half of the city of San Luis Obispo as well as the cities of Pismo Beach and Grover Beach, will be without a supervisor at the dais for the near future.
Hill’s legislative aide, Nicole Nix, will lead his office and head up constituent services while he is away, said Guy Savage, an assistant county administrative officer.
Hill is under investigation by the FBI for something related to his duties as supervisor, according to multiple people who say they have been interviewed by agents asking about him. Hill did not respond to requests to comment for this article.
Hill was re-elected in March to a term that runs through 2024. But 4th District Supervisor Lynn Compton said that she’s aware of at least one group of residents preparing a recall campaign against Hill, to be launched after his new term starts in 2021.
Compton, who took over from Hill as chair of the board, said the board’s operations won’t change much with Hill absent. He has already missed some board meetings in recent months, and things have carried on as usual, she said. The only exception was the most recent meeting, when Compton was scheduled for possible jury duty, which would have left the board with three voting members. That was enough to vote on most items — though they would have required a 3-0 vote to pass — but there were a few special items that needed four votes to pass, and Compton put those off for a future meeting.
“It’s frustrating for me, but there’s no action we can take,” Compton said. “He’s an elected official. We’re not his boss. The voters are.”
Compton said she empathizes with Hill’s need for treatment, and compared it to an elected official who had to miss months of work after a heart attack.
“It’s not your fault, but it hurts your constituents if you can’t do the job,” she said.
The FBI investigation, though, “looks bad,” Compton said. “It puts the board in turmoil. It taints all of us.”
On the morning of March 11, FBI agents served search warrants on Hill’s office in the San Luis Obispo County Government Center and his home in Pismo Beach. The exact nature of the investigation remains unclear, but others who have been interviewed by the FBI say the focus of the agents’ questions was on Hill.
On the day the FBI searched his home and office, Hill was hospitalized after attempting suicide.
Since then, he has been an occasional presence on the board.
He missed three of the board’s 10 meetings between his March hospitalization and the July 6 announcement that he would enter residential treatment, Savage said.
The supervisors’ meetings since March have taken place mostly via videoconference, though some supervisors and staff members call in from their hearing room at the county building. Compton, who took over for Hill as chair, said that even when Hill was officially present at a meeting, Nix would often be the one on the video call.
“She would say, ‘I’m listening for Supervisor Hill,’ but she can’t vote for him,” Compton said.
Hill also missed meetings of the Air Pollution Control District and other county boards and committees that he sits on, Compton said.
Compton is part of a three-person conservative majority on the board, which also includes Supervisors John Peschong and Debbie Arnold.
Supervisor Bruce Gibson is Hill’s most reliable ally on the board.
Hill’s relationship with some of his fellow board members has been acrimonious. Compton described him as “very confrontational. He attacks you personally if you disagree with him.”
But after his hospitalization in March, Hill was much quieter and the board was “peaceful,” Compton said.
All four of Hill’s colleagues were interviewed by the FBI. Compton said two agents visited her at home in May. The interview lasted around two and a half hours, she said.
“There were a lot of questions about procedure, and are you aware of different rules and regulations,” Compton said.
The agents wanted to know whether supervisors were trained on state law regarding the Brown Act, which is California’s law protecting the public’s right to open meetings, and on state laws regulating gifts to public officials.
Compton said she told the agents that supervisors did get that training, and that she never accepts gifts of any kind.
There were also questions about consulting fees and potential conflicts of interest, she said.
The agents also asked her about the county’s policies on permits for legal cannabis businesses, and its policy requiring supervisors to deal with department heads and not directly with rank-and-file county employees.
Some questions were about Hill specifically, Compton said, and there were no such specific questions about other supervisors. The agents asked about a consulting firm that Hill has worked with, she said.
“There are some things I think are not quite right at the county and I did tell them about those,” Compton said. She would not give further details.