Attorney questions validity of Jim Hill investigation

Arroyo Grande Mayor Jim Hill

By KAREN VELIE

At a contentious South San Luis Obispo County Sanitation District Board meeting on Sept. 6, an attorney for Arroyo Grande Mayor Jim Hill asked the board to apologize to Hill for conducting a publicly funded inquisition.

In a Sept. 5 letter to the sanitation district board, attorney Stew Jenkins says the investigation into Hill was politically motivated. Hill then asks the board to reject the “seriously flawed advice” of the investigator.

In March, shortly after the district attorney’s office lodged criminal conflict of interest charges against former sanitation district administrator John Wallace, two long-term supporters of Wallace asked the Arroyo Grande City Council to investigate Hill for Brown Act violations. Hill had strongly advocated for an investigation into Wallace.

“It soon became clear that the intent of the exercise was to publicly fund an open ended fishing expedition to please hidden detractors of Mayor Hill when your board commissioned that expensive law firm to conduct the vaguely described investigation of recent allegations focused on Arroyo Grande Mayor Jim Hill,” Jenkins says in his letter.

Following the lengthy investigation that did not include interviewing Hill, the legal firm of Liebert, Cassidy & Whitmore determined Hill had not violated the Ralph M. Brown Act. However, the investigator found that Hill shared a confidential email and discussed personnel issues, according to the investigator’s report.

In his letter, Jenkins questions the motivations for the investigation as well as its findings. The letter also chastises the investigator for not interviewing Hill.

“Your board compounded this wrongdoing by choosing a firm that expressly refused to comply with basic due process,” Jenkins says in his letter. “When asked to supply a list of charges against Mayor Hill, and the identities of the accusers, as a precursor to meeting with an agent of Liebert, Cassidy & Whitmore, that firm refused in a letter that can only be described as a tantrum. That firm broke contact rather than comply…”

Jenkins goes on to rebut the investigator’s finding that Hill interfered in personnel matters and disclosed confidential attorney client information.

The investigator determined Hill acted inappropriately in sending a letter to the Federal Trade Commission regarding the city’s only full service grocery store. In response, Jenkins argued that it is a mayor’s duty to seek information about “critical matters affecting the common good”. In addition, because Hill has no financial interest in any grocery store, he has no legal conflict of interest, Jenkins said.

For several years, former board member Mary Lucey has voiced her disapproval of a romantic relationship between two sanitation district employees. At a time that district superintendent John Clemons was dating district secretary Amy Simpson, because of staffing changes he was temporarily assigned as her supervisor.

The investigator criticized Hill for sharing an email in which Hill asked the board to agendize a discussion over the alleged harassment of Clemons, a black employee, by a board member.

“And what was Hill defending Clemons against? Public disparagement and public comments criticizing him for his personal relationship with a white woman by Oceano’s representative on the sanitation board, Mary Lucey,” Jenkins says in his letter.

Jenkins letter argues that Hill’s email request to agendize the issue of employee mistreatment was not a discloser of confidential work product. In addition, Jenkins argues Hill was not interfering in personnel matters by asking to have the issue placed on the agenda.

“Instead of interfering with personnel matters, it supports and preserves personnel relations,” Jenkins said.

On Sept. 6, about 40 people attended the sanitation district meeting held in Arroyo Grande. The vast majority of speakers supported Hill with many asking the board to apologize to the Arroyo Grande mayor.

During the meeting, a supporter and a person critical of the mayor had a verbal confrontation, the meeting was stalled while Arroyo Grande police officers spoke with the parties.

During public comment, former sanitation district board member Matt Guerrero said malfeasance had been proven. Guerrero went on to chastise Hill for sending opinion pieces to CalCoastNews.

Matt Guerrero

In the end, the sanitation district board voted 3-0 to bring the issue back for further discussion.

On Sept. 12 at an Arroyo Grande City Council meeting and on Sept. 20 at a sanitation district board meeting, a representative of Liebert, Cassidy & Whitmore will discuss the investigation and present three recommendations.

“These options include, but are not limited to, public censure, enhanced training on the Brown Act and government ethics, and/or updates to city policies,” according to a Arroyo Grande staff report.

Stew Jenkins letter — Cal Coast Times on Scribd

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3 Comments about “Attorney questions validity of Jim Hill investigation”

  1. seeker says:

    Just had to copy this one I saw on CalCoastNews.com

    Eat your heart out, Pelican! Can you beat this?

    Thank you, Jeannie C. Riley – Harper Valley P.T.A.

    http://www.jango.com/music/Jeannie+C+Riley

    I wanna tell you all a story ’bout Arroyo Grande Mayor Jim
    Who had a moral conscience and a little wife called Lin
    His Council bribed some crazy gals to lie, and they all cried “investigate!”
    And they said.” We can’t let our Mayor carry on this way”
    The PI said, ” Mayor Hill, you’re talking way too much to your little wife.
    It’s reported you’ve been talkin’ runnin’ circles ‘round the board and causin’ strife.
    And we don’t believe you oughta be standin’ up for sewer staff like this.”
    Stop making us all look bad, immediately desist.
    Well, it happened that the district board was gonna meet that very afternoon.
    And they were sure surprised when the Mayor brought his lawyer into the room.
    And as he introduced Stew Jenkins, JD, I still recall the the faces we could see.
    Jim said I’d like to address this meeting of the South Slo County CSD.
    Well, there’s Mayor John Shoals sittin’ there, and seven times he’s asked staff for a date.
    And Barbara Harmon’s husband has also gone astray.
    And Mayor Shoals can you tell us why a secretary had to leave this town?
    And shouldn’t Caren Ray be told to keep her window shades all pulled completely down?
    Well, Guerrero couldn’t be here cause he’s at Harry’s Bar and needs a lift.
    And if you check out Kirsten Barneich you’ll find her ‘non-profit’ charges the City for it’s gifts.
    And the Oceano Community Services District is afraid that they’ll be the next to be hit.
    And then you have the nerve to tell me, you think that as a mayor I’m not fit.
    Well, this is just a little Peyton Place, and you’re all Five Cities hypocrites.
    No, I wouldn’t put you on because it really did it happened just like this.
    The day our mayor socked it to all Five Cities Hypocrites.

    (-1) 3 Total Votes – 1 up – 2 down
  2. SLOBodan says:

    This is a complete waste of ratepayers funds!! Anyone observing will see it is a witch hunt. The charges first brought forward could have been dealt with in discussion of the violation and promise to not share his password with his wife (which is possible that others have done the very same thing). The behavior of the AG City Council and So County Sanitation District directors is embarrassing to say the least. Grow up, this is not High School! It’s embarrassing to say you are our elected officials. I can only wonder what you are hiding that you are afraid Mr. Hill will disclose. Let’s get back to REAL business!

    (15) 21 Total Votes – 18 up – 3 down
  3. seeker says:

    See photo of Matt Guerrero, above, taken at the Sept. 6th SSLOCSD board meeting. Once an elegant attractive man, Guerrero appears to be morphing into an Adam Hill lookalike.

    (1) 3 Total Votes – 2 up – 1 down

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