Arroyo Grande mayor accused of misconduct, Brown Act violations

Arroyo Grande Mayor Jim Hill at City Council chambers in Arroyo Grande.
Arroyo Grande Mayor Jim Hill at City Council chambers in Arroyo Grande. ldickinson@thetribunenews.com

The Arroyo Grande City Council will consider spending $15,000 for an independent investigation into allegations that Mayor Jim Hill violated the Brown Act by disclosing confidential information from a closed session and from confidential documents, among other accusations.

The allegations arose at a Jan. 24 council meeting, where public speakers accused Hill of sharing confidential information with third parties outside the council, performing “improper unilateral actions” and interfering with the administration of the city and the South San Luis Obispo County Sanitation District, of which he is a member as the Arroyo Grande representative, according to a city staff report.

Among the allegations were claims Hill had shared his city email password with his wife, talked about closed-session items in public restaurants and called for employee reviews of staff for the purpose of dismissing them.

“The biggest problem I have is I no longer feel this council member is looking out for what is in the best interest of the city of Arroyo Grande or the ratepayers of the sanitation district,” Arroyo Grande resident Patty Welsh said during the meeting. “I am no longer sure if it is our council member setting policy on the sanitation district, or someone very close to him.”

Hill did not respond to requests for comment Friday night, but in an email sent to news outlets after the January meeting, he attributed most of the accusations to long-standing friction between himself and speakers Mary Lucey and Matt Guerrero — both former members of the Oceano Community Services District board — stemming from his well-documented opposition to John Wallace, the sanitation district’s former plant administrator.

(The San Luis Obispo County District Attorney’s Office filed felony charges against Wallace late last month following a 10-month investigation into conflict of interest allegations.)

In the email, Hill asserted that he has not shared his password with his wife and has never given out “specifically confidential or attributable information” about closed-session items.

“As mayor, the Health and Safety Code provides that I be the sanitation district board member,” Hill wrote. “I take that responsibility very seriously. I will continue there to act in the best interests of ratepayers, employees and regional cooperation.”

Interim City Manager Bob McFall performed an initial review of the allegations following the January meeting before contacting law firm Liebert Cassidy Whitmore, which specializes in public agency personnel matters, according to the staff report for Tuesday’s council meeting. Attorneys from the firm indicated there was sufficient information to warrant an independent investigation.

On Tuesday, the council will consider paying between $10,000 and $15,000 to conduct an independent investigation.

“It is critical that the investigation be performed by someone who is viewed by all as credible, objective and impartial,” read the staff report. “(Liebert Cassidy Whitmore) is highly regarded in matters such as this, and the city has had previous successful experiences with the firm on other matters.”

The investigator would interview witnesses and review documents, and then prepare a written report of findings. LCW would then review the findings and prepare legal conclusions and recommendations. The process would take between four to six weeks.

Kaytlyn Leslie: 805-781-7928, @kaytyleslie