Arroyo Grande hires investigator to look into July 3 incident

During a contentious meeting Wednesday, the Arroyo Grande City Council approved a contract with a Ventura-based firm to conduct a thorough review of a July 3 incident and the city’s handing of it.

The council voted 4-0, with Councilman Joe Costello absent, to approve the contract with Sintra Group. Investigator Chuck Hookstra is expected to start work Thursday.

“I talked to the investigator and asked flat out, ‘Are you going to have trouble telling us we're wrong if we’re wrong,’” said Councilman Tim Brown, who along with Councilman Jim Guthrie interviewed investigators and selected Hookstra. “He said he’s going to tell us the truth.”

Hookstra is tasked to reinvestigate the July 3 incident where five city police officers found City Manager Steve Adams and Community Development Director Teresa McClish alone late at night at City Hall.

Hookstra will also review an internal investigation by a deputy city attorney, investigate concerns identified by the Arroyo Grande Police Officers Association and prepare a public report.

The city’s response to the incident has angered some Arroyo Grande residents, who have accused the City Council of acting inappropriately, erasing or concealing evidence, and stifling public participation in the process.

Wednesday’s special council meeting was no exception, with about eight speakers criticizing the council and Adams, who last week announced his intention to resign as soon as a successor could be hired.

The meeting was contentious at times, with resident Otis Page escorted out of the meeting by a police officer after he tried to speak after the public comment period had ended. Mayor Tony Ferrara called a recess, and Page left the building.

During public comment, Page said the council’s involvement in selecting an investigator creates an “incestuous conflict.”

“The council is framing the process by which it investigates itself and is then the judge of the results of the investigation,” Page said. “This process is absurd, and it violates common sense.”

After Ferrara told the audience to refrain from clapping, Page stood up and hollered at the council. Later, while Guthrie was speaking, Page stood up and shouted, “What are we doing? This is a fraud.”

A few other residents criticized the council for calling a meeting on a Wednesday morning, when fewer people could attend.

“If you are trying to be more transparent, I think this meeting should have been held in the evening,” said Patty Welsh, who was wearing a sticker in support of write-in mayoral candidate Jim Hill. “You need to try to rebuild trust at every opportunity.”

She questioned why one of the eight cameras at City Hall was not working July 3. In a previous interview, police Chief Steve Annibali said the camera is positioned on a back deck and may not have been working for some time.

Guthrie said the meeting was held Wednesday morning to get the investigation moving forward as quickly as possible.

More than 25 people attended the meeting; a few spoke in support of the city.

“I know the decisions you make are with the best interest of the entire community in mind, not just for a specific small group,” said Doug Perrin, the city’s former recreation director. “No decision will be well received by everyone.”

Brown asked everyone “to take a deep breath.”

“We’re not going to heal if we don’t do this,” he said. “There’s clearly been mistakes made. There was a rush to judgment — I admit that.

“Let’s get to the facts of the matter and then let’s have a civil discourse over the outcome,” he added.