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Learn from Mike Brown 

A misleading county supervisor and the Shredder should take note of a watchdog uncovering SLO County's horrendous debt

Do San Luis Obispo County Supervisor Adam Hill and the Shredder owe the more than 1,500 members of COLAB here on the Central Coast an apology? We believe so. What prompted the recent attacks on this organization (“No—just, no,” March 3), whose primary mission is to serve as a government watchdog?

It could have something to do with the fact that the former city manager of Berkeley, Calif., and Hartford, Conn., who also served as the former CEO of Santa Barbara County, is now employed as a watchdog in San Luis Obispo County. How many of the enlightened readers of New Times think that these communities, three of the most liberal communities in the entire nation, would hire the same person as did a fiscally conservative organization to serve as a government watchdog?

The answer has to do with the man, Mike Brown. Mike has 42 years of experience in local and state government. He has an advanced degree, and also some post-graduate management training from some of the finest institutions in the land, including Yale. He is one of the most distinguished administrators in the entire country, having received international recognition for producing award-winning budget data and analysis 14 years in a row, a feat that no other administrator in California has done.

What Mike Brown has done is expose the fact that San Luis Obispo County is up to its eyeballs in debt. Despite the best intentions of county supervisors and their staff to never publicly reveal the true extent of their debt, and the ineptness of local media, including New Times, to fully discover the same, Brown figured it out his first week on the job!

In a nutshell, San Luis Obispo voluntarily took on what has now amounted to a quarter of a billion dollars in debt before any other Central Coast county fell into substantial debt with respect to stock market losses and resultant pension obligations. That is to say, most jurisdictions fell behind in pension obligations due to the real estate crash, but long before that happened, SLO borrowed money and lost even more money in the process, as a result of a very bad decision to try to stave off poor investment strategies that have plagued their pension fund for decades. Instead of fixing the root problem, the Board of Supervisors simply made matters worse and incurred even greater debt as a result. Brown has exposed this, and the Board of Supervisors is simply scared of the fallout.

That brings us to some specious and slanderous allegations circulated in San Luis Obispo by County Supervisor Adam Hill last week, and then reprinted nearly verbatim under the byline of the otherwise anonymous “Shredder.” Hill and the Shredder (or maybe Hill is the Shredder?), instead of responding to the disclosure of the county debt by the new government watchdog, decided to attack the messenger and its employer, the Coalition of Labor, Agriculture, and Business. The Shredder failed to distinguish the fact that Mike Brown is working for COLAB SLO County, a distinct organization from the COLAB in Santa Barbara County (COLAB SBC). The old guilt-by-association ploy, I guess. The Shredder portrayed the COLAB Santa Barbara County membership at their annual dinner as “drunk, white Republicans.” Well, at least the only clichés they didn’t also falsely accuse us of is being angry and beating our wives, but I digress.

So Brown, a political independent, was hired by the likes of the city of Berkeley and an organization such as COLAB. What do they have in common? Well, what does organized labor have in common with agriculture and the business community? The answer to this is something that Hill and the Shredder can’t fathom, but here is the truth of the matter: Things are so bad out there that organized labor has thrown its lot in with the ag and business community to try to turn things around. How many of the following organizations fit the description of “drunk, white Republicans”? The Service Employees International Union (SEIU), the United Auto Workers, the United Food and Commercial Workers Union, the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, the San Luis Builders Exchange, the Tri-County Central Labor Union, the County Fire Union, the Deputy Sheriffs Union, the Building and Construction Union Trades Council? These organizations have or had a seat on the board of COLAB at some time. COLAB has never been a Republican organization in either county. In fact, our founding executive director, Andy Caldwell, was a registered Democrat the first eight years COLAB was formed, and the first and current chair of COLAB SLO is also a Democrat!

Finally, with respect to the absolutely despicable and pathetic attack on COLAB SBC with respect to our having Steve Bridges appearing as an entertainer at an upcoming dinner in Santa Barbara County, let us set the record straight. Bridges is a presidential impersonator. He impersonates Clinton, Bush, and now Obama. He takes on the persona of these presidents by wearing a Hollywood prosthetic mask so audiences cannot tell the difference between him and the character he is impersonating. That is his act. COLAB SBC had him as its entertainer a couple of years ago as he portrayed President Bush. You see, we are not afraid of somebody making fun of a conservative president. And in fact, much to his credit, the very week after his performance in Santa Barbara County, Bridges was invited by President Bush to appear with him simultaneously at the White House correspondents’ dinner. Bridges is that good!

Bridges has not and does not take on the persona of a race; he takes on the persona of the president of the United States, regardless of, and irrespective of, race. To infer or imply anything else is, in our opinion, rooted in a willful ignorance of fact and a shameful desire to race-bait. Oh, and by the way, our entertainer at last year’s dinner was a highly entertaining comedian who happened to be African American.

Just as they are being deliberately misled about the fiscal health and well being of San Luis Obispo County, the constituents of Supervisor Hill and the readers of the Shredder are being intentionally misled about our organization, our staff, and our intentions. COLAB SBC has received awards and recognitions from the readers of the Santa Maria Sun (a New Times Media Group publication), the disabled community, the Farm Bureau, the technology industry, the Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts, Rotary, city councils, county supervisors, and the State Senate and State Assembly for our work on the Central Coast as government watchdogs, business and taxpayer advocates, and public guardians over the past 20 years. What is being said about us by Hill and this paper is patently false, unfair, and deliberately misleading. And much of the attack by this SLO County supervisor has nothing whatsoever to do with the COLAB SLO organization.

We encourage you to listen to the comments by Mr. Brown at each hearing of the SLO Board of Supervisors. You will see that he is a consummate professional who gives insightful analysis based upon facts. He does not resort to ad hominem attack or the politics of personal destruction. Hill and the Shredder should learn from his example. 

 This commentary came from the board of directors of COLAB SLO and the board of directors of COLAB Santa Barbara County. Send comments to the opinion editor at

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