Jim Hill has won the Arroyo Grande mayor’s seat, beating incumbent Tony Ferrara by 95 votes, according to unofficial results posted by San Luis Obispo County elections officials Monday.
The stunning conclusion to a whirlwind campaign comes just two days before the Arroyo Grande City Council is set to hear the results of an investigation into a July 3 incident that served as a catalyst for Hill’s candidacy.
That investigation did not find any evidence of an inappropriate or romantic relationship between the city manager and a subordinate, nor did it find any attempt by the council or anyone else to cover up the incident.
As a write-in candidate, Hill did not appear on the Nov. 4 ballot, but he won with 3,090 votes, according to a manual tally by the San Luis Obispo County Clerk-Recorder’s Office. Ferrara received 2,995 votes.
The “blank” votes, where the bubbles next to Ferrara’s name and next to the line for a write-in candidate’s name were not filled in, made the difference, Clerk-Recorder Julie Rodewald said.
Those votes can count toward the total if a candidate requests it, which Hill had done. Elections staff counted 135 blank votes where Jim Hill’s name had been written in, she said.
Rodewald said she hopes to certify the elections results Tuesday or Wednesday.
The unofficial result means that Ferrara will have to resign from his position as president of the League of California Cities. He has served on the council since 1998, including 12 years as mayor.
On Wednesday, the City Council will first meet in closed session before hearing a report in open session on the July 3 incident, where five Arroyo Grande police officers found City Manager Steve Adams and Community Development Director Teresa McClish alone at City Hall at night.
The investigators interviewed 34 people — including the responding police officers, as well as Adams and McClish — and watched video security footage from July 3.
Sintra Group investigators Charles Hookstra and Peter Ruggiero did not find any substantive evidence that would point to an inappropriate or romantic relationship between the pair, according to a summary of their investigation.
However, their actions exhibited poor judgment and gave the perception of some form of inappropriate conduct, the summary states. In addition, the investigators found, a significant number of city employees who were interviewed perceived there was “something more than just a casual or business manager-subordinate relationship between the two.”
But the speculation was not supported by any substantive evidence.
“Adams, in his position as city manager, should have been aware of this perception and should not have perpetuated it on July 3,” the summary states.
In addition, the investigators found no evidence that the council or anyone else tried to cover up the incident.
Adams was reprimanded for the incident during a July 8 closed-session meeting, but that decision was not made public at the time because it was a personnel matter.
The council directed City Attorney Tim Carmel to notify Adams that any additional or similar behavior could result in his dismissal in employment from the city, according to the summary.
Adams on Oct. 2 announced his plan to resign as soon as a successor could be hired.
After the July 3 incident, Deputy City Attorney Michael McMahon interviewed the five police officers to see if there was anything they wanted to add to their statements.
The investigators determined that the police officers misunderstood the purpose of the original interviews. McMahon’s questions were intended to find out if anything improper happened in Adams’ office and did not allow for any conjecture by the officers being interviewed.
The officers each told investigators that they felt they should have been allowed to express their opinions on what Adams and McClish were doing that evening in Adams’ office.
The officers also felt their integrity was being called into question. The investigators concluded that no one interviewed had anything other than praise for the police officers involved in the incident, and that their integrity and professionalism was not called into question.
“It is always easy to look at situations in hindsight, but if the initial inquiry had been handled more like a personnel investigation, and if council had the benefit of publicly disseminating their actions of July 8, this matter might not have reached the level that it has,” the summary states.