Arroyo Grande City Councilwoman Caren Ray is our pick for mayor

The city of Arroyo Grande faces some big decisions, and it needs a strong mayor to provide leadership. We believe City Councilwoman Caren Ray is the right person for the job.

Ray is hard-working, articulate and extremely — sometimes painfully — analytical, which is exactly what the city needs as it examines pros and cons of some major issues, such as the future of fire protection. (The city is weighing whether it makes financial sense to remain in the Five Cities Fire Authority.)

Throughout her career in politics, Ray has impressed us an independent voter who looks at all sides of an issue.

Ray, a Democrat, was appointed to the Board of Supervisors by Gov. Jerry Brown in 2013, but she lost the seat to Lynn Compton in the 2014 election. During her time on the board, Ray had been expected to vote in lock-step with the other liberal supervisors, but she sided with conservatives on some contentious issues, including water.

She’s retained that independence and forthrightness.

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Example: When the City Council recently voted to disband three advisory commissions to save money (the city has proactively gone into budget-cutting mode to pay down its employee pension debt). Ray cast the only vote against it; she opposed eliminating committees that are designed to allow for more public input.

We also believe Ray’s background in politics — including enduring a nasty political campaign against Compton — has prepared her for the vicissitudes of local politics.

That’s important, because we look to a mayor to stay above the fray and keep a community on an even keel.

The current mayor, Jim Hill, has not always succeeded in that. Last year, Hill was accused of misconduct in office, allegations that included sharing confidential personnel information and overstepping his bounds, both as mayor of Arroyo Grande and as one of the three members of the South County Sanitation District Board of Directors. The city and the sanitation district spent $30,000 on an outside investigation, which upheld four of eight allegations.

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In one episode cited in the report, Hill attempted to quash an investigation into a complaint made against a sanitation district employee. “I demand that the (redacted) cited by (redacted) cease immediately!! Stop the phony ‘investigations,’ stop wasting our time and resources!!” Hill emailed the sanitation district’s attorney.

Hill insisted he had done nothing wrong, and he refused to step down from the sanitation board, even though he was asked to do so.

When two different agencies see a need to spend taxpayer money on an investigation, and when that investigation upholds allegations and the public official refuses to admit wrongdoing, that’s a big red flag. As we editorialized at the time of the investigation, it’s hard to dismiss the way Hill tried to run roughshod over the sanitation district.

We believe it’s time for a change. The Tribune strongly endorses Caren Ray for mayor of Arroyo Grande.

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