The Dan Dellinger civil trial is not about breach of contract. Rather, it is about whether Dellinger accepted taxpayer money for campaign purposes and, if so, how much money he is liable for.
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This was the main point of deputy district attorney James Clinchard’s opening statement for the civil trial on May 20. Dellinger has four causes of action — similar to charges in a criminal trial — against him: unlawful gift of public monies, intentional use of public resources for campaign activities, negligent use of public resources for campaign activities and unlawful/unfair business practices.
In 2011, Dellinger and Cris Alarcon were hired by the Pioneer Fire Protection District as consultants to get Measure F, a tax measure on parcels in the district that would fund the fire department, to pass. Three agreements, made between May 5 and Aug. 30, 2011, were made. The earlier agreements noted a “win bonus” while the final agreement only noted additional compensation.
Anthony Palik, Dellinger’s attorney, said Dellinger was indeed hired by Pioneer Fire Protection District to “assist them putting the measure on the ballot and stay clear of legal obstacles,” which were now what the case is based on.
As for the three agreements, two of them are drafts, Palik contended. The final draft came after County Auditor-Controller Joe Harn voiced concerns and the contract was amended. Harn then cut a check to Dellinger.
Measure F passed with just less than 80 percent approval — more than the two-thirds needed. The entire process was transparent, there was a bidding process for consultants and nothing outside of normal consultation was done.
Dellinger did not have access to county resources, a county-supplied office or bank account, Palik said. The money was not a gift but what he was lawfully owed by a legal contract. “There may be smoke, but there is no fire,” Palik said.
Witnesses for the afternoon included Robert Janzen, a board member of the Pioneer fire district, who spoke of the decision to get a special tax instead of a benefit assessment on the ballot. The request for proposal for consultants to get the tax on a ballot was written by Chief Robert Gill before his retirement. Gill’s previous fire district had a similar tax pass. There were three initial responses. There were no offers, coercions or incentives to hire Dellinger, he said, and the contract had to be rewritten several times to adjust financial terms.
Janzen said that fundraisers for the campaign were organized by the Political Action Committee for the board.
On that committee was Craig Cooper-Wyble, a retired CEO of a high-end retirement community in San Diego and former chairman of the PFPD board.
The reason the department needed tax money was simple, he said: Former boards had burned through $400,000 in reserve money and left the department on the cusp of being broke.
After hearing from three consulting firms, Cooper-Wyble said, Ray Nutting, the county supervisor representing the district that included Pioneer Fire, suggested Dan Dellinger Consulting. Cooper-Wyble said it was “Ray’s way of saying if we wanted support,” they would choose Dellinger. He said personally he was opposed, but met with Dellinger all the same. The consultant seemed to have the best interest of the district at heart, and was chosen.
A roll-call action — a unanimous decision by the board — was required to approve of Dellinger, as taxpayer money would be used to hire him.
A campaign committee was formed. Dellinger was to work on the white paper — used to help inform readers or help them make a decision — and the timeline of the measure.
The board would meet in different areas of the district to inform voters of the measure. First, Cooper-Wyble said, as members of the Pioneer Fire board; then, switching hats to be the campaign committee. They were very clear which roles they were acting in, he said. Dellinger, as the author, simply answered questions about the white paper.
Under further questioning from Palik, Cooper-Wyble said he felt some political pressure from Nutting to choose Dellinger, but ended up choosing Dellinger for different reasons. “I did what I frequently did: Discounted Mr. Nutting’s opinion and went on my own.” Dellinger showed energy, interest and local knowledge, which earned him the job — not Nutting’s recommendation. If there had been any real coercion, the initial meeting with Dellinger would have been canceled, he said.
Cooper-Wyble said it was his understanding that the board could, with taxpayer money, put out educational and informational materials. Anything that was “Vote Yes on Measure F” had to come from the campaign committee, not the board. The fundraisers earned $11,000, which went to the campaign committee’s account to pay for campaigning. The PFPD board did not do any fundraising.
He said that the only payment to Cris Alarcon, Dellinger’s business partner, was reimbursement for printing signs and posters. He was not paid for the services. Dellinger, he said, was not paid by the campaign committee.
The trial continued the morning of May 21.