The Arroyo Grande Police Officers Association has filed a formal complaint and taken unanimous votes of no confidence in Arroyo Grande Mayor Tony Ferrara and City Manager Steve Adams over the handling of a July 3 incident at City Hall involving Adams and another employee.
In a letter written to the Arroyo Grande City Council on Wednesday, the police officers union asks for a “truly independent investigation by an entity with no ties whatsoever to our city, any member of city staff, or any other connection in any way to this situation.”
By failing to call for an “independent and unbiased investigation,” the city council and staff have created distrust, called police officers’ integrity into question and significantly impacted morale, the letter said.
The July 3 incident and subsequent allegations of a cover-up has dominated public debate in Arroyo Grande over the past month.
Some local residents, upset at the city’s handing of the incident, have criticized the city’s investigation into the incident as inadequate and demanded an outside review. Two critics recently filed a complaint to the county grand jury, asking it to investigate.
About 11:30 p.m. on July 3, Arroyo Grande police officers found Adams and Community Development Director Teresa McClish in Adams' office after McClish’s husband had called police, worried because she hadn't returned home.
In separate statements written after the incident, officers later described them as looking disheveled. Adams appeared unkempt, with his shirt partially untucked and his hair uncombed, and appeared agitated when speaking to the officers.
A few of the officers who saw McClish described her as holding a shirt or article of clothing in front of her chest. Both also appeared sleepy.
None of the officers’ statements reported seeing Adams or McClish in an intimate situation, nor did they report whether McClish was unclothed behind whatever article of clothing she was holding.
But the police union letter states that officers felt extremely uncomfortable at the scene of the incident “when they clearly saw Adams, their boss, engaging in inappropriate activity with a subordinate.”
Adams and McClish told the deputy city attorney that they had a few drinks at two restaurants in the Village and were talking in Adams' office to ensure they were safe to drive home.
The deputy attorney, Michael McMahon, interviewed the five officers who responded, as well as Adams and McClish, and determined that no city personnel regulations, contracts or laws had been violated.
In the letter, the police union members said they remained silent and waited to see if the council would conduct “what we thought was going to be an appropriate investigation.” The union represents 24 members, including two non-sworn employees.
The investigation by McMahon, they wrote, consisted of short telephone interviews with uniquely focused questions “asked in an attacking manner that made the officers feel as though they had done something wrong.”
Also, the interviews were not recorded, leaving no record, and since the investigation was done by a city attorney, the results could be withheld from the public — leading association members to believe the matter is intended to be covered up.
“Due to the city’s effort to try to explain away the actions of two members of their management staff, which was done very publicly, the involved professional police officers have had their integrity called into question on numerous occasions by Adams and the council,” the letter reads. “This could affect their credibility, as well as the Arroyo Grande Police Department’s credibility, while serving in their capacities as peace officers.”
At its Aug. 26 meeting, the Arroyo Grande council decided to schedule a special meeting to consider hiring an independent investigator to look into the matter.
Some residents left with the impression that the council would hold at least part of the discussion in open session.
But that didn’t occur. The earliest the council could meet was Sept. 9 and the discussion took place in closed session. Council members decided not to pursue another investigation.
Adams should have immediately hired an outside investigator to look into the matter, the police union members wrote. In addition, the union believed Ferrara, as mayor, should have ensured the situation was dealt with in a more appropriate manner.
The union also noted in its letter that the incident has nothing to do with the association’s contract negotiating process. The union and the city have already agreed on a new contract.
Ferrara said Thursday that he was surprised and disappointed that the union waited so long to come forward and complain about the nature of the investigation.
“It seems to me that a reasonable response to any feeling of coercion would not be left to simmer and that it would be made known to the council and to me much sooner than it is in this letter,” he said. “We will be looking into the matter more closely and following up on some of the assertions that have been made.”
Adams could not be reached for comment, nor could city attorney Tim Carmel.
The complaint asks that all city hard drives, computers, data storage services, duplicate copies or any other devices containing potential video or audio footage of the incident in question be preserved.
“The integrity of our entire city and its police department has been called into question,” the letter concludes. “Our citizens deserve transparency. Public trust has to be restored by safeguarding public confidence, restoring the integrity of government, and avoiding any appearances of impropriety.”