He may be mayor of Arroyo Grande, but that does not give Jim Hill the license to bully the South County Sanitation District.
Yet that’s what he did, according to a 102-page investigative report into allegations of misconduct by Hill, both in his role as mayor of Arroyo Grande and as a member of the South County Sanitation District Board of Directors.
In one of the most egregious examples cited in the report, Hill attempted to quash an investigation into a complaint made against a sanitation district employee. (Because it was a personnel matter, the nature of the complaint was not revealed.)
Hill made it clear that he wanted the investigation dropped: “I demand that the (redacted) cited by (redacted) cease immediately!! Stop the phony ‘investigations,’ stop wasting our time and resources!!” Hill wrote in a email sent to the sanitation district’s attorney, among other officials. He also blind copied Los Osos resident Jeff Edwards on the email.
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At Tuesday’s Arroyo Grande City Council meeting, Los Osos resident Julie Tacker—who has been extremely involved in South County politics and has been a Hill supporter—said the email sent to Edwards was actually intended for her, because she had been a witness to the events in question.
That still does not make it OK. As the report points out, “This person is not a ratepayer or associated with the district in any tangible way...”
In response to Hill’s demands to drop the inquiry, the sanitation district’s legal counsel tried to make it clear that the agency was obligated to investigate the complaint. Hill dismissed that line of reasoning: “Nonsense. Stop the harassment of our employee now!” he wrote in another email.
Hill is not king of the South County Sanitation District. He is one of three board members; the other two represent Oceano and Grover Beach. No single member has the authority to unilaterally direct the administration to do (or not do) something.
The investigation rightfully concluded that the mayor overstepped his bounds by becoming “involved in and/or interfering in personnel matters.” It also found that Hill had disclosed confidential personnel information, as well as information covered by attorney/client privilege.
The report wasn’t totally damning—of eight allegations, the investigation substantiated only four. Yet it’s hard to dismiss the way Hill tried to run roughshod over the sanitation district.
His reaction to the investigation’s findings is equally concerning. So far, there’s been no contrition, no acceptance of responsibility, no offers to stop this egregious conduct.
When contacted by a Tribune reporter, Hill referred questions to his attorney, Stewart Jenkins, who responded by criticizing the money spent on the investigation and by throwing out a Latin phrase: “De minimis non curat lex.”
Translation: “The law does not concern itself with trifles.”
In other words, this is all a big, fat nothingburger.
It’s not. Hill was way out of line, despite his attorney’s assurance that the mayor “is confident in the rectitude of his actions.”
If the mayor is so sure he was in the right, he should explain himself instead of hiding behind his lawyer’s highfalutin Latin phraseology.
Absent any further explanation from Hill, we urge the Arroyo Grande City Council to replace him on the sanitation district Board of Directors.
As to Hill’s future in Arroyo Grande politics, should he opt to seek a third term as mayor, we would urge voters to seriously consider the findings of the investigation—especially if Hill continues to treat these breaches of conduct as mere “trifles.”