City Council has limited options in Arnold case

Though Arroyo Grande City Councilman Ed Arnold has been arrested on suspicion of attacking a female city employee, the council has only limited authority to remove him from office, according to Mayor Tony Ferrara.

The only condition for removing a council member is if the person cannot physically attend City Council meetings, Ferrara said.

Arnold — a local businessman who was elected to the Arroyo Grande City Council in 2004 and again in 2008 — was arrested early Wednesday on suspicion of assault with a deadly weapon, domestic violence and burglary. He was booked at County Jail but posted $50,000 bail and was released.

“The most common response in a situation where there is controversy is for them (a council member) to voluntarily step down,’’ Ferrara said. “But I’m not sure yet if that’s going to happen.”

Ferrara said he had a conversation with Arnold on Wednesday to determine whether he planned to remain on the council. Arnold told Ferrara that he was “leaning toward resigning” and would decide by the end of December.

Arnold could not be reached for comment Thursday.

If Arnold voluntarily resigns, Ferrara said the council can accept applications from candidates for a replacement, and then make the appointment. Arnold also could be recalled by voters, or the city could hold a special election, Ferrara said.

Ferrara said he would support an interim appointment because that would “be a smoother way to go.”“A lot of people are asking questions,’’ he said. “But we cannot wave a magic wand and remove him from office.”

City Manager Steve Adams said he also had talked with Arnold.

“He intends to get back to us fairly soon,’’ Adams said. “There’s nothing we can do right now. We will do a little more research so that we are ready for any circumstance. At this point, we are waiting to hear what his plans are within the next couple of weeks.”

Adams stressed that the police investigation into the alleged attack is ongoing, and that it is being handled as any other investigation would.

“The most important thing we want to communicate to the public is that they’re handling everything correctly and dealing with it the same as they would with any person involved in something like this,’’ he said.

Arnold, 44, was arrested after the woman he’s accused of beating reported the incident to police Tuesday evening. Police responded to the residence in the 800 block of Turquoise Drive, where they found a 28-year-old woman with lacerations, abrasions and contusions on her head. She was treated at an undisclosed local hospital and released, police said.

Adams said Thursday that the woman is recovering and will be “for the next couple of weeks.”

“To have individuals involved in something like this who we’ve known and worked closely with, it’s distressing,’’ Adams said. “It’s a sad situation all around.”

City officials have not identified the employee nor said what her job is.

John Houj, commander with the Arroyo Grande police, said Thursday that police are still investigating the incident. The findings should be turned over to the District Attorney’s Office early next week, he said.

He declined to comment on a possible motive or say whether there was a romantic relationship with the parties involved. Houj confirmed, however, that a weapon was used. He also said that between July 2008 and about two weeks ago, Arnold, the purported victim and Arnold’s wife lived together.

Arnold’s wife filed for divorce on Dec. 7, citing irreconcilable differences. She also indicated that she plans to seek full custody of the couple’s two children — a 13-year-old daughter and a 12-year-old son. Terms sought by Arnold’s wife would allow him to visit the children, and would require him to pay support, according to the divorce filing.

Those who knew Arnold on a professional level said they had no insight into whether he was having marital or other personal problems.

“I have known Ed as a councilman and as a friend for about eight years, and I’m very surprised by what is alleged,’’ City Councilman Jim Guthrie said. “I knew that he hurt his back badly in an ATV crash and missed several meetings back in November. But other than that, there was nothing else that I know of going on.”

Councilman Joe Costello said he is upset by the news. “I’m just stunned by what is going on. It just floors me.”Costello said it will be up to Arnold whether he should resign.

“I’m going to wait for a few weeks and see what develops,’’ he said.

John Keen, a city planning commissioner, said he has respect for Arnold as a council member and a businessman. Arnold, officials said, dabbled in a number of ventures, including investment research and an “organic T-shirt” business.

Keen endorsed him for City Council because he worked well with him as a fellow planning commissioner.“We were able to work out compromises,’’ he said. “He had good business knowledge, and he could see the other sides of things that a lot of other commissioners did not see.”

On a personal level, Keen said Arnold enjoyed spending quality time with his family. He often took his children to ride all-terrain vehicles and on skiing trips. The family, he said, was involved in youth activities through the city’s Parks, Recreation and Facilities Department.

Ferrara reiterated Thursday that Arnold was “very much a participating member of the council.” The city, he said, “is just reeling” from what he called an unprecedented situation.

“I’m just hoping that we can put this behind us and move on,’’ he said. “These kinds of things just don’t happen in our city.”

Staff Writer Patrick Pemberton contributed to this story.