Steve Adams to resign from post as Arroyo Grande city manager

Arroyo Grande City Manager Steve Adams, whose involvement in a July 3 incident at City Hall has dominated public debate and prompted a torrent of criticism against the City Council, has announced his intention to resign.

In a lengthy emailed statement to The Tribune embargoed until midnight, Adams said the recent events have created too much of a distraction for him to effectively lead the city.

“To be involved in something divisive to the community would be the ultimate contradiction of everything I have tried to stand for in bringing the community together during these past 14 years,” he wrote. “As a result, my family and I have decided to pursue new opportunities elsewhere.”

Adams plans to continue working for Arroyo Grande until a permanent successor can be named. That process could take at least three to six months, Councilman Jim Guthrie said.

“Steve has been a valuable employee for 14 years,” Guthrie said. “He’s not going to be easy to replace.”

Adams has been at the center of a controversy since mid-August, when the public learned that five police officers found Adams and Community Development Director Teresa McClish alone late at night in City Hall on July 3.

The Arroyo Grande Police Officers Association later called for an independent investigation of the incident, which the City Council is now pursuing.

Adams said he is voluntarily resigning and will not receive a severance package. He said he will receive a payout for annual leave and believes he currently has 691 hours accrued.

Based on Adams’ current salary of $157,294, that would be about $52,255 if he were to leave now. He will continue to accrue annual leave as he continues working. Annual leave can be used for vacation, illness or other personal purposes.

A deputy city attorney investigation in July found no violations of city policies or state laws. Adams and McClish told the attorney that they had a few drinks at two restaurants in the Village that night and were talking in Adams' office to ensure they were safe to drive home.

On Sept. 17, the Arroyo Grande Police Officers Association filed a formal complaint and announced unanimous votes of no confidence in Arroyo Grande Mayor Tony Ferrara and Adams over the handling of the incident.

The union called for an independent investigation. On Sept. 20, the City Council reversed a previous position and decided to pursue an outside review.

The investigation will still move forward, Guthrie said. He and Councilman Tim Brown have been interviewing investigators and hope to choose one by the end of the week, Guthrie said.

“The public really wants answers, not the answers that they’ve gotten so far,” Guthrie said Wednesday.

In separate statements written after the incident, officers described Adams and McClish as looking disheveled. Adams appeared unkempt, with his shirt partially untucked and his hair uncombed, and appeared agitated when speaking to the officers, according to the police statements.

A few of the officers who saw McClish described her as holding a shirt or article of clothing in front of her chest.

In his resignation announcement, Adams said he stands by earlier comments that no one was unclothed or partially dressed.

His statement commends the City Council for handling the incident “consistent with how similar incidents are dealt with involving other staff,” defends the city attorney’s office for its handling of the matter, and said the city clerk and her staff has worked tirelessly “to respond to a barrage of public records requests, only to have wild unfounded insinuations made about altering records and tapes.”

“The impact of Ms. McClish’s reputation is an even greater travesty,” Adams wrote. “She has served this community with great distinction and does not deserve the meanness that has been directed toward her.”

Adams also wrote he had apologized to police officers for putting them in an uncomfortable situation and has never accused them of lying.

But, he wrote he also wanted to clarify some of the officers’ statements. For example, McClish was standing out of officers’ view on the evening of July 3, he wrote, because she feared for her safety.

“Due to the extent of the activity by the officers in the building, our belief was that they could be responding to a serious threat,” he wrote.

Adams acknowledged that he has failed to maintain a positive relationship with the police union and “there were things that I could have done and/or communicated better to improve this relationship.”

Their relationship was strained during the Great Recession, he wrote, and the city could not have maintained the same level of service “without some tough decisions and tough labor negotiations.”

He also wrote that the police officer’s union hired an attorney to represent it during negotiations whose former law firm had practiced “questionable tactics” and “advocated ‘public ridicule’ of blunders by the city manager, mayor and City Council.”

The police union has regularly denied that contract negotiations played any part in the July 3 incident.

“Negotiations had been ongoing for months prior to the incident caused by the city manager, not the responding officers,” the union wrote in its Sept. 17 letter to the City Council. “The association does not control when negotiations are started, the position of the city regarding their half of the process, the city electing to continue with negotiations during the situation, nor do we control the actions of the city manager.

“Any attempts to blame our involved police officers or our association, is irresponsible and offensive,” the union said in a letter to the City Council on Sept. 17.

Police union President Shawn Cosgrove could not be reached late Wednesday for comment.

Contract negotiations recently wrapped up; the council on Sept. 23 approved a two-year memorandum of understanding with the union.

Adams said he does not have any specific plans yet.

“I believe my greatest legacy is the effective team we have assembled over the years and am extremely proud of all that they have accomplished,” he wrote. “My wish is that my departure will remove this distraction and allow them to return their full focus to these important efforts.”

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