Supervisors Fire Interim County Admin Officer

Written by Neil Farrell

Neil has been a journalist covering the Estero Bay Area for over 27 years. He’s won numerous journalism awards in several different categories over his career.

December 4, 2023

County Supervisors fired interim County Administrative Officer, John Nilon, on Nov. 17, after allegations of discrimination and harassment were field against him by an unnamed County employee

The County is again under the direction of a temporary administrative officer, after the Board of Supervisors fired an interim CAO they just hired a few months ago, and pegged the No. 2 woman at the County to take over while the worldwide search for a permanent replacement continues.

Supervisors on Nov. 17 announced the immediate termination of Interim CAO, John Nilon, “After an investigation of improper conduct toward women in violation of the County’s policy against discrimination and harassment,” reads a new release from the County Counsel’s Office. 

The announcement came a couple of days after a closed session meeting on Tuesday, Nov. 14 amongst Supervisors when he was told of the complaint and investigation. They put him on paid leave at that time.

Nilon resigned the next day (Nov. 15) and under his contract the resignation wouldn’t be effective for 30 days, but the ongoing investigation, which apparently came to a head at another closed session meeting on Friday, Nov. 17, proved decisive enough for Supervisors to act immediately.

“The Board made the decision to terminate Mr. Nilon’s employment effective immediately in closed session,” the news release said.

Board Chairman, Dist. 1 Supervisor John Peschong, said, “Our policy is clear and adherence to it is mandatory by all employees. The County has a zero-tolerance policy for any violations.” 

“The County,” he continued, “is committed to providing a work environment where everyone is treated with respect and professionalism. We expect all employees to adhere to the policy and expect our CAO to exhibit the best judgment when dealing with employees in the workplace.”

No further details were given and none would be expected given that this is a sensitive personnel matter.

However, the County did say that Nilon’s firing has nothing to do with another County employee’s alleged shenanigans. “Mr. Nilon’s departure is unrelated to the investigation of an employee within the Information Technology Department

Neal told The Tribune that Nilon was fired for alleged “improper conduct toward women;” specifically for violating the County policy on discrimination and harassment.

Citing an anonymous County source, the Tribune reported that “Nilon was questioned about the harassment allegations on Wednesday, and submitted his resignation later that day.”

But according to an online news site, Cal Coast News, Nilon is calling it all a bunch of hokum.

“First,” Nilon reportedly told CCN after his ouster, “it is ridiculous to terminate someone who has already resigned. Second, and most important, this is purely a political stunt, trying to curry favor with those unhappy with the speed at which I have led change.”

He pointed out that he’s never gotten anything in writing. “I have never been presented with any written allegations of misconduct by anyone in the county,” Nilon was quoted by CCN, “and as such, any comments by the board or their representatives are entirely fabricated and have no basis in truth.”

The hints there’s something wrong at the County. “Two CAO’s and one homeless division director,” he told CCN, “have resigned within the last six months, perhaps the focus should not be on those who resigned but instead on the board who caused those resignations. I have done what I set out to accomplish and look forward to going back to where I came from, retirement.”

Former Assistant County CAO, Rebecca Campbell, was named the interim CAO replacing John Nilon who was fired amidst harassment allegations.

Assistant County Administrative Officer, Rebecca Campbell, was named Acting CAO until a permanent replacement is chosen.

Nilon was hired May 1 to take over the CAO’s duties after former CAO Wade Horton resigned suddenly last March and also without explanation. 

Much speculation has been made over Horton’s departure, as it came closely after Supervisors voted 3-2 to throw out the redistricting map that had been approved in 2021, a normal procedure after the results of the U.S. Census (in 2020).

That new map radically changed all five districts and placed Los Osos and Morro Bay, as well as a large portion of SLO, into different districts. The new map took away the right to vote for County Supervisor away from voters in Morro Bay, Los Osos, SLO and the residents in between. Dist. 2 Supervisor Bruce Gibson, whose new Second District, now included Atascadero, Parts of Templeton and San Miguel. Despite losing much of his traditional voter base, Gibson still eked out a 13-vote win over challenger Bruce Jones of Atascadero.

After Dist. 4’s Jimmy Paulding, who won his seat in the June Primary, and Dist. 3’s Dawn Ortiz-Legg, who also won the seat she had been appointed to by the Governor, to replace the late Dist. 3 Supervisor Adam Hill.

Despite winning the election, the Board’s liberal majority (Supervisor positions are non-partisan), settled a citizen’s group’s lawsuit seeking to overturn the 2021 map, and settled out of court for $300,000.

The majority then voted to cancel the 2021 map and approved a new map that closely matched the former district map that was instituted after the 2010 Census.

Nilon also played prominently in a recent announcement of a recall effort against Gibson. The proponents of that recall effort listed Horton’s departure and claimed Gibson had hired one of his donors (Nilon) for the lucrative interim CAO position, which paid some $144 per hour.

The official “Notice to Recall” document filed against Gibson, it stated the he “abused his power as County Supervisor by (a) getting rid of effective County Administrative Officer, Wade Horton, and replacing him with a crony and political contributor.”

That recall effort was recently terminated by the County Clerk-Recorder after the proponents missed a paperwork deadline that she had set.

Though the recall petitioners can still move forward, they must start all over again with a Notice to Recall.

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