Two of the three candidates for the Arroyo Grande City Council said Monday that they believe an independent investigation of a July 3 incident involving the city manager and a subordinate should have been conducted from the outset.
“We wouldn’t be talking about it now if we’d done an independent investigation to begin with,” Councilman Tim Brown said during a candidate forum hosted by the Arroyo Grande & Grover Beach Chamber of Commerce.
On Saturday, the City Council reversed an earlier position not to pursue an outside review of what was going on when police found City Manager Steve Adams and Community Development Director Teresa McClish alone late at night in City Hall.
Challenger Barbara Harmon, who sits on the city’s Architectural Review Committee, said public trust is paramount.
The city needs to examine and conduct a thorough review of its policies for management-level employees, she said, and include clear protocol that invokes an independent agency to examine anything of this nature in the future to safeguard the city from liability.
Councilman Joe Costello said the council’s initial decision to not pursue an additional investigation of the July 3 matter was based on statements from five police officers who responded to the call that night.
The city’s deputy attorney launched an investigation within days of the incident and found no policy violations after interviewing the officers, Adams and McClish.
“Yes, an error of judgment was made, discipline was handed out,” Costello said. “The independent investigation will go forward and let the chips fall where they may.”
The three candidates are running for two council seats. Costello has been on the council since 2002; Brown was elected in 2010.
Mayor Tony Ferrara, elected to the council in 1998, is running unopposed. He did not attend Monday’s forum.
About 70 people traveled to the South County Regional Center to hear the candidates’ thoughts on water, the city’s charter measure, ensuring transparency, and other issues.
Besides choosing their representatives, Arroyo Grande voters will also consider Measure C, which asks whether the city should change from a general law to a charter city. Opponents are concerned about a provision that allows the city to set guidelines for when it could waive prevailing wage requirements on public projects. At this time, that portion of the charter would not take effect because of a newly passed law that eliminated state funding to charter cities that use a prevailing wage exemption.
All three candidates said they support the measure. Costello said that any projects using federal or state dollars still require prevailing wage, so “there are only certain limited cases where we’re going to not have to pay prevailing wages.”
Brown said paying prevailing wage has hurt more projects than it’s helped. Harmon said the charter measure contains much more than prevailing wage — it would allow the city to have more control over the public bidding process, for example.
The candidates were asked what they could do to be more transparent, “other than less closed-door meetings.”
“I’m always open to anyone approaching me, I listen to what anyone has to say and will continue to do so,” Costello said, noting that labor negotiations and personnel issues must be discussed in closed session.
Harmon said the best way to ensure transparency is to take the time to explain decisions to the public.
“I really think if the City Council is going to follow through with something, than it really needs to for the benefit of the public trust,” she said, “and if not, make sure they’re clear on the obstructions of what new information came in.”
Brown said transparency is about communicating and being open and honest.“We cannot talk about what goes on in closed session,” he added. “I would love to. I would write a book but I cannot."