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Sanitation district joins investigation into Arroyo Grande Mayor Jim Hill

Arroyo Grande Mayor Jim Hill
Arroyo Grande Mayor Jim Hill kleslie@thetribunenews.com

The South San Luis Obispo County Sanitation District will join an investigation into allegations that Arroyo Grande Mayor Jim Hill shared confidential district information, including an unapproved employment contract that he allegedly sent from his city email account to a personal account that appears to be operated by his wife.

The district board, with Hill recusing himself, voted Wednesday to split the cost of an independent investigation with the Arroyo Grande City Council. The investigation could cost up to $15,000, with the city and the district each paying half.

Grover Beach Mayor John Shoals — one of three district board members, along with Hill and Oceano Community Services District Director Karen White — stressed that the decision was in response to liability concerns for the district and not an attack on Hill.

“This is not a witch hunt. I actually like working with Jim,” Shoals said. “If we have to go through this to clear his name, then we need to get to the facts, and we have to get to the bottom of this.”

He has been disparaged by this act. OK? It’s unfair.

Otis Page, Arroyo Grande resident

The Arroyo Grande City Council decided Feb. 14 to pursue the investigation and approach the sanitation district to share the cost, because the allegations involve Hill’s positions with the city and the district.

Hill has denied the accusations, calling them a “pure political attack” derived from his long-standing opposition to former sanitation district administrator John Wallace.

Wallace was recently charged with felony conflict of interest after a district investigation into Wallace’s management practices — an investigation for which Hill strongly advocated.

The allegations against Hill were raised at the council’s Jan. 24 meeting.

Among the accusations are claims that Hill shared his city email password with his wife, shared an unapproved employment contract from a closed-session meeting and discussed confidential, closed-session information in public.

An email chain given to the city of Arroyo Grande and the district as part of the allegations shows a copy of the employment contract for district administrator Gerhardt Hubner being sent from Hill’s city email account to a personal account April 4 — about two days before the contract was approved by the district.

The second account’s owner is labeled as Hill’s wife, Lin Hill.

The second email account has been used to send news releases, opinion pieces and comments from Hill to The Tribune in the past, though the information in the body of the email has never been stated to be from his wife and, in most instances, is signed by Jim Hill.

Hill did not return a request for comment Thursday.

In a previous comment to The Tribune regarding the allegations, however, Hill said that unapproved contracts are routinely included in public board packets before meetings. (The Brown Act requires an agenda and supplementary materials be posted and made available to the public at least 72 hours before a meeting).

The board packet for the April 6 district meeting does include an employment contract for Hubner.

Hubner did not respond to a request for comment about whether the shared contract was the same contract that appeared in the board packet or whether it included confidential information beyond the publicly available version.

If we have to go through this to clear his name, then we need to get to the facts, and we have to get to the bottom of this.

John Shoals, member of South San Luis Obispo County Sanitation District Board of Directors

Several members of the public spoke in support of Hill at Wednesday’s sanitation district meeting, calling the investigation a waste of money.

“Jim Hill has an excellent reputation in Arroyo Grande,” Arroyo Grande resident Otis Page said. “He has been disparaged by this act. OK? It’s unfair.”

The investigation will be conducted by Liebert Cassidy Whitmore, which specializes in public agency personnel matters. The firm is involved in at least one other investigation with the sanitation district. The process could take four to six weeks.

Kaytlyn Leslie: 805-781-7928, @kaytyleslie

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