Accusations that Arroyo Grande Mayor Jim Hill intentionally shared confidential information were unsubstantiated, according to an independent investigation released Monday. But it also concluded that he may have acted outside his role as mayor and a director on the South San Luis Obispo County Sanitation District board.
Of eight claims, the report said, four were substantiated, two were unfounded and two were unsubstantiated (one with an exception).
Hill referred questions to his lawyer Stewart Jenkins.
But Jenkins said Monday that he was unimpressed by the findings in the 102-page report, describing it with the Latin phrase “de minimis non curat lex” — “The law does not concern itself with trifles.”
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“It’s clear to me the city and Sanitation District has spent $30,000 on trifles,” he said. “I was not impressed.”
Stewart noted that Hill is “confident in the rectitude of his actions.”
The Arroyo Grande City Council is expected to consider the report’s findings at a future meeting. It will not be added to the agenda for the regularly scheduled meeting Tuesday night.
The city launched the investigation in February, and was joined by the South San Luis Obispo County Sanitation District the next month, after accusations arose that Hill had shared an unapproved employment contract via a personal email account shared with his wife. Hill was also accused of attempting to influence personnel matters.
Hill has denied the allegations, saying they were a “pure political attack.”
The investigation was conducted by Liebert Cassidy Whitmore, which specializes in public agency personnel matters. The investigation was expected to cost $15,000, to be split between the city and the Sanitation District.
Hill was not interviewed in the investigation, because “efforts at conducting an interview with (Hill) as part of this process have been unsuccessful as of the date of this report,” according to the report.
Jenkins said Hill was not interviewed because he requested a list of “the accusations leveled against him and his accusers,” but Liebert Cassidy Whitmore declined to provide it.
Arroyo Grande claims
There were four claims against Hill as mayor of Arroyo Grande. One was unfounded, the report said; one was sustained; and two lacked sufficient evidence to determine whether the alleged conduct occurred, although the report did note a concern related to one of these claims.
The investigation did not find sufficient evidence to support claims that Hill, acting as mayor, intentionally disclosed closed City Council session communications and confidential personnel matters to third parties.
Those accusations centered around claims that Hill discussed the circumstances of former City Manager Dianne Thompson’s departure from the city with outside parties before the separation was finalized.
The investigator was unable to corroborate those, saying there was insufficient evidence.
The report did raise concerns at the potential access that Hill’s wife, Lin Hill, had to his city email account and any confidential communications sent between the city and Hill. Linn allegedly had the password to both Hill’s city-issued iPad and his email account, and would sometimes act as a sort of “administrative assistant” for Hill, helping with scheduling and contacting him while he was at work, according to the report.
An interview with a city employee recalled Lin Hill calling the worker on Jan. 23 — the day before the council meeting in which accusations first arose against Hill — asking for Hill’s email password because he had forgotten it. The worker said she was given the password.
The report concluded that Hill “more likely than not provided, permitted and/or was aware of access to his city email account by his wife, potentially exposing a variety of confidential communications to an unauthorized third party.”
In addition, the report concluded that Hill may have acted outside the legal bounds of his role as mayor by sending a letter to the Federal Trade Commission in February 2016, asking the federal agency’s help to bring a grocery store back to Arroyo Grande after Haggen’s departure.
In the letter, which was not on city stationary, Hill identifies himself as the mayor of Arroyo Grande, and mentions Spencer’s Fresh Markets — whose owner was a well-known supporter of Hill’s — as a contender for the spot. The rest of the council was not notified of Hill’s intention to write a letter.
Hill has said he was not acting in his official capacity as mayor when sending the letter.
Sanitation District claims
Of the four claims pertaining to Hill’s position on the South San Luis Obispo County Sanitation District board, the report found three to be substantiated and one unfounded.
The concerns stemmed mostly from Hill’s involvement in the administration of the Oceano wastewater treatment plant and district.
The report alleges that Hill on numerous occasions would “step outside his role as one member of a legislative policymaking body while inserting himself into a personnel matter within the province of administrative staff.”
As its chief example, the report points to an email exchange regarding a complaint and subsequent administrative investigation into a district employee.
In the emails, which span between Dec. 30, 2016 and Jan.17, Hill appears to ask that the investigation be dropped, while also sharing the emails with the employee in question, and at one time blind-copying an outside individual not involved in the district’s operations on one of the emails.
Additionally, the report added that legal counsel advised Hill and his fellow directors to refrain from discussing the investigation with anyone other than legal counsel, a request that Hill appeard to disregard, according to the report.
“Mr. Hill clearly inserted himself into a personnel action in a manner which bears no tangible relationship to his role as an individual district director,” read the report.
Hill was also accused of sharing closed session information from district meetings with outside parties, but the investigation revealed this claim to be unfounded.