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Feb 21, 2014 7:19 PM

Hearst Castle supervisor put on administrative leave after Lady Gaga shoot

Lady Gaga prompted tens of thousands of social media postings when she paid a visit to the Central Coast recently to shoot a music video at Hearst Castle. Her visit also may have landed one state employee at the castle in some hot water.

Multiple sources tell KSBY Nick Franco, the State Parks District Superintendent who approved the Lady Gaga visit and video shoot at the Castle, was put on paid administrative leave the final day of the shoot. KSBY sources say the suspension is "until further notice." Contacted at home, Franco referred all questions to the Public Affairs Office in Sacramento. Spokesperson Vicki Waters declined to comment, saying because it was "a pending and ongoing personnel situation," she couldn't.

Lady Gaga's shoot involved re-filling the iconic Neptune pool. Just a week before, state crews were beginning the process of draining it because it was leaking and wasting thousands of gallons of water in the middle of a drought. It was down about 5 or 6 inches according to staff on the hill, who say Lady Gaga worked out a deal with Steve Hearst and the state to pump water from irrigation reservoirs to fill the pool for three days, after which it would be returned to the reservoirs.

Lady Gaga donated $250,000 to the Hearst Castle Preservation Board, paid about $22,000 in state permit fees, all state costs associated with the shoot, and donated $25,000 to the Cambria Community Services District for water sources exploration in San Simeon. She also committed to do public service announcements regarding California's drought and to promote Hearst Castle through separate video projects.

While no one has confirmed Franco's leave is because of the Gaga shoot, the timing has left people connecting the dots. "I don't know first-hand anything about this action," said Steve Hearst. "It is sure spreading like wildfire, though, and it seems as if it's being tied to something very good for the castle and the community." Hearst said he has worked with Franco a lot over the last dozen or so years and seen him as "a very dedicated state employee who had continually made good decisions that are in the best interest of the Castle and that's what he did in this case."

Hearst said if it was tied to the Gaga project, it would be unfortunate. "While Nick filled out the paperwork, the Hearst Corporation could be the only one to approve this project," Hearst said. "Specifically me." Hearst said the agreement with Lady Gaga allowed a generous donation that will allow preservation of the castle, and didn't involve any net loss of water. "I told them if there was, I would donate it," said Hearst.

During the shoot, Gov. Jerry Brown wrote a letter to Gaga thanking her for the financial assistance and the exposure she would be providing to the water woes in our state. "I want to personally thank you for the aide and assistance you are providing to Hearst Castle, the communities surrounding San Simeon and the state as a whole," said the Governor in the letter delivered to the superstar while she was shooting in San Simeon last week. "The state is experiencing an historic drought which threatens our farms, our communities and increases fire danger in both urban and rural areas. I've called on all Californians to conserve water in every way possible and the assistance you are providing will aide in that effort."

State Parks sector Superintendent Brooke Gutierrez is serving as Acting Superintendent for the entire coastal district in Franco's absence.

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