Tribune editorial misses the mark

Julie Tacker


In addition to being factually inaccurate, the Tribune’s recent editorial, “Arroyo Grande mayor claims he did nothing wrong. So why is he so quiet?” takes a poorly aimed pot-shot at Mayor Jim Hill.

The Tribune editorial staff suggests an email that was blind copied to Jeff Edwards, intended for me (we share an email account), was sent to the district’s attorney, and “other officials.” This is factually inaccurate.

The email in question was sent only to the sanitation district’s legal counselors, former administrator Gerhardt Hubner, Superintendent John Clemons and me – no “officials” were copied. This is just part of what’s wrong with the investigations mash-up of several email strings that were the subject of a complaint filed against Clemons by Nancy MacNeil, Oceano resident and wife of former sanitation district board member Mary Lucey.

In fact, the mash-up of emails are put in chronological order, but are incongruent and disjointed as they are sent to and from different people and have differing subject lines. I had never seen any of these emails until the report became public and until now had not seen anything confidential or that was “attorney work product privileges.”

The email in question was blind copied to me because I was one of several meeting attendees who witnessed the Dec. 21 incident at a sanitation district meeting. Those inside the board room could hear the noisy dust up in the parking lot where Lucey and MacNeil threatened Clemons; saying “watch your back” after a disagreement ensued over a $600 washer/dryer purchase.

The intent of the purchase was to wash sewage spills from employee’s personal garments and dry jackets and coats that had been soaked while working in heavy rain events. Hubner disagreed with the purchase, the unit was returned and no cost was incurred by the district. The wisdom surrounding the return is still a question in my mind.

I was interviewed in the Hill investigation by Scott Nelson who showed me a redacted copy of the subject email, and asked why I thought I was copied.

The redactions by the sanitation district were such that neither Nelson or I had the full context of the subject. I answered by looking at the date, it has to be related to the Nancy MacNeil complaint. I also told Nelson, I was at the meeting where the incident took place and was probably copied because I would likely be questioned.

That email is still in my inbox, my copy is not redacted, I have gone back and read it and know exactly what it says and am no longer guessing, as the investigator was, at what it said. I would be happy to share it with him today, if I thought it would change his report.

The only thing confidential in the email is the word; “confidential” in the subject line, the email itself did not contain MacNeil’s complaint or any other “personal” information about any “personnel matter.”

The editorial takes a pot-shot at me too, repeating the investigators statement, “This person is not a ratepayer or associated with the district in any tangible way…” I may not be a ratepayer in that district, but I am informed and involved, and have been for nearly a decade.

I am a county-wide board watcher. The sanitation district under John Wallace went unchecked by citizens; sewage treatment is not a subject that interests of most people.

I also was called a “supporter” of Mayor Hill; my observations of Hill are that he is the most thorough government official I have ever watched at a dais. The voters of Arroyo Grande are fortunate to have someone as detail oriented and intelligent looking over the matters of their community. These observations are not necessarily “support.” Hill and I differ greatly on some important topics at the sanitation district and national politics.

The editorial fails to delve into much of the meat in the report, another topic suggests Hill acted unilaterally and interfered in a contract extension. Hill did nothing of the sort. I know, because I requested the contract at issue prior to its extension.

A quick perusal of the contract revealed it had expired and it needed revision. I brought it to Hill’s attention, he contacted legal counsel and legal telephoned Hubner.

Hubner apparently had also noticed the error and had begun the process of extending the contract, likely because the request had brought it to his attention. Hill’s alerting legal counsel was in no way “unilateral” or “interfering,” it was notifying legal counsel of a mistake and taking it through the proper channels to see it was fixed.

Contracts are in place to protect both parties, the district was at risk as long as it was operating under an expired contract.

This, along with countless other documents, was thrown like mud on a wall to see if anything would stick.

As the report contends, most of these documents were irrelevant to the original accusations. When investigator Nelson told me he had nine three inch binders of material, mostly from the accusers in Oceano, and proceeded to ask me about former Oceano CSD general manager’s, Tom Geaslen and Lonnie Curtis (the two were found either stealing red handed or stealing by incompetence and were hired and fired long after Hill left Oceano), I knew the investigation was a ‘witch hunt’ and I said so at the time.

No one that was interviewed was under oath. No one that was interviewed was under penalty of perjury. There are no national secrets in Arroyo Grande or at the Sanitation District, and as it turns out nothing “confidential” was shared.

Investigator Nelson assured me he had 31-years of experience in these types of investigations and would stake his reputation on it. Some investigator. He conducted his investigation without questioning the principal party involved — Mayor Hill.

Nelson’s report plays politics instead of being impartial; in my opinion Nelson’s reputation is mud.

An irony in all of this is that at the time the investigation began; only sanitation board members and Patty Welsh had Hubner’s contract with his Ventura address on it. Now, as part of the report, that unredacted address is now available on the internet – for all to see. Wasn’t this the “threat of litigation” that started the whole investigation?

Perhaps the most ironic thing in all of this is the report itself; and it’s there, plain as the nose on one’s face, on the front page, posted on both the City of Arroyo Grande and South San Luis Obispo County Sanitation District’s websites, reported by several media outlets and linked on their websites for all the world to access:

“Report of Investigation regarding the joint investigation by the City of Arroyo Grande, California and the South San Luis Obispo County Sanitation District” (wait for it) “Confidentiality Notice — This report is subject to the attorney-client communication privilege and the attorney work product doctrine. Unauthorized viewing of this document is strictly prohibited.” Just because it says “confidential” on it doesn’t necessarily mean it’s confidential.

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3 Comments about “Tribune editorial misses the mark”

  1. William J Sidis says:

    “Tribune editorial misses the mark”

    Big surprise. Don’t ALL of them “miss the mark”?

  2. masterofnone says:

    The so called investigation of Mayor Hill fails to state the obvious. The people who pay for these “attorney investigations” get a report that supports their position. If the attorneys supplied a report that the people paying for it are unhappy with, the attorneys don’t get more work or referrals.

    This is a “witch hunt”. Let the mayor do his job.

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