A divided Arroyo Grande City Council on Tuesday night requested that Mayor Jim Hill voluntarily step down as South San Luis Obispo Sanitation District director after an independent investigation substantiated four claims of misconduct, mostly related to his role with the sanitation district.
The council — which also asked Hill to undergo one-on-one ethics and Brown Act trainings — requested he stop attending the district meetings, and let alternate Tim Brown take his place on the board.
“I would like to see the mayor, out of a sense of I guess repairing trust, to voluntarily refuse, and allow Mr. Brown to attend,” Councilwoman Caren Ray said Tuesday.
The city does not have the power to remove Hill from the district board, because the mayor is required to be the representative on the sanitation district board, unless he or she is unable or voluntarily refuses to.
This leaves the decision on whether Hill will stay or leave the board up to him.
Hill has previously refuted allegations that he had shared confidential information with third parties and interfered in personnel affairs, and his lawyer, Stew Jenkins, on Tuesday night reiterated there was no wrongdoing.
“I think if you just use your common sense and your judgment ... you’re going to see that there has been absolutely no impropriety,” Jenkins said.
When reached for comment Wednesday, Jenkins said it was premature to ask whether Hill would comply with the council’s request, but he did note that he and Hill plan to attend the upcoming sanitation district meeting next week when the district will discuss the investigation and report by law firm Liebert, Cassidy and Whitmore.
He also added that as of Wednesday morning, Hill has already completed the requested ethics and Brown Act training.
A divided room
Some members of the public Tuesday night called the investigation a political witch hunt.
“I personally think Jim Hill is an amazing, ethical, very honest man,” resident Patricia Price said. “And I’ll stand by that. I would re-encourage the public to come down and participate. Make up your own mind. Don’t take my word for it.”
Ray, during discussion, denied that the investigation was politically motivated and said it was instead a question of following proper procedure.
“I assert that this investigation’s findings tell us not that he’s wrong, but that the ends don’t justify the means,” she said. “Good governance is following policy and following protocol.”
Other council members said they were disturbed by the investigation findings.
“I’m disappointed that out of the eight allegations, four were sustained,” Councilwoman Kristen Barneich said. “In my humble opinion, four is too many.”
Brown, who voted against the council’s recommendations, defended Hill’s intentions — though not all of his actions — noting that they were in response to difficult situations at the perpetually contentious sanitation district.
“I think Jim’s motives were true,” he said. “I don’t think there was any underhandedness. Do I wish he had handled it differently? Sure — I wish I had handled a lot of things differently, but as I end up with getting older, I want to look at my life in totality and think hopefully there was more good than bad. So when you look at Jim Hill, I hope you do the same thing.”
The council also recommended:
▪ the city adopt new email password policies (in light of the concerns that Hill’s wife may have had access to his password and confidential city communications)
▪ the city make a recommendation to the Sanitation District to implement the investigation report’s findings
▪ the rest of the council take the same ethics and Brown Act trainings as Hill
▪ compare its policies with those of the Sanitation District
▪ create a voluntary code of conduct policy that city representatives would be required to sign
▪ establish protocol for interacting with staff
▪ and create job descriptions for all city representatives