By KAREN VELIE
An investigation into accusations that Arroyo Grande Mayor Jim Hill shared closed session information in violation of the Brown Act determined the accusation was unfounded. However, the report did find that Hill was involved in personnel matters and shared an email from the district’s legal counsel about the personnel issue.
For the past few years, officials with the city of Arroyo Grande and the South San Luis Obispo County Sanitation District have been bitterly divided by those who support former sanitation district administrator John Wallace and those who wanted Wallace investigated for conflicts of interest. An investigation into the allegations of conflict of interest resulted in the San Luis Obispo County District Attorney filing three felony and two misdemeanor counts against Wallace.
The controversy surrounding Hill began on Jan. 24, when Arroyo Grande resident Patty Welsh spoke at a city council meeting. Welsh claimed that Hill shared his email password with his wife and distributed an employment contract that had yet to be approved by the sanitation district board.
However, the contract was posted on the sanitation district website before Hill emailed it to Welsh. As for the allegation of sharing his password with his wife, the investigator with the legal firm of Liebert, Cassidy & Whitmore speculated that Hill “likely” shared computer access with his wife.
Welsh also accused Hill of revealing information discussed during a closed session hearing. That allegation was determined unfounded.
Following Welsh’s allegations, the sanitation district and the Arroyo Grande City Council agreed to split the cost of the $15,000 investigation.
In addition to looking into allegations of the alleged Brown Act violation, the investigators researched allegations that Hill disclosed attorney client privileged information and was involved in personnel matters.
According to the investigation report, Hill emailed district legal counsel asking that they stop the witch hunt into allegations made against sanitation district superintendent John Clemons and then blind copied a witness to the altercation in the email. In doing so, Hill disclosed confidential attorney client information and interfered in personnel issues.
Allegations that Hill’s attorney Stew Jenkins found not worthy of an investigation.
“The law does not concern itself with trifles,” Jenkins said noting the Latin saying De minimis non curat lex which means the law does not care for, or take notice of, very small or trifling matters,”
Though the investigators interviewed 20 people, they did not interview Hill even though they had the opportunity, Jenkins added.