OPINION by OTIS PAGE
An open letter to Arroyo Grande Council members Caren Ray, Barbara Harmon and Kristen Barneich:
You three, representing an Arroyo Grande Council majority, have proceeded on a 3-2 vote to condemn Mayor Jim Hill despite the fact the investigator for Liebert Cassidy Whitmore concluded no censure was required based on its finding of facts as it pertains to the city.
Jim Hill — by education, background, and practice – is a highly ethical elected official who honors the law and is faithful to the Constitution which he is sworn to uphold.
Your condemnation is a malicious political issue — especially for the citizens of Arroyo Grande who elected Hill to be mayor in two elections. You three have the right to criticize Hill or each other as council members but you do not have the right by law to enforce any demands you make regarding Hill’s conduct as mayor.
Your conduct in condemning Hill is unethical. What you have in done in censuring Hill is, de facto, the real breach of ethics and fair conduct. Why?
First, you three Council members have political “unclean hands” in judging Hill. The record of your political opposition to Hill’s election is clear and has a history that reaches into the past when Tony Ferrara was mayor and he participated in the mismanagement issues at the sanitation district.
Second, citizens who elected Hill to be mayor will support him for his ethical and legal stands. They will support him now against an apparent conspiracy to undermine his reputation as a witness in the indictment of John Wallace by the SLO District Attorney on the matter that Hill and former mayor of Grover Beach Debbie Peterson exposed regarding the sanitation district.
No due process
You three as council members and the city’s legal counsel are wrong in not providing for due process in the investigation into the allegations against the mayor. Hill deserved the respect and benefit of the doubt against the charges made against him by one citizen from Arroyo Grande and past board members of the sanitation district who reside in Oceano and condoned Wallace’s mismanagement.
Adding to and confirming this error, the investigator is wrong, and seriously misconstrued the law in stating Hill did not have the right of due process, that it is not in the Constitution.
“The Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution each contain a due process clause. Due process deals with the administration of justice and thus the due process clause acts as a safeguard from arbitrary denial of life, liberty, or property by the government outside the sanction of law.
The Supreme Court of the United States interprets the clauses more broadly because these clauses provide four protections: procedural due process (in civil and criminal proceedings), substantive due process, a prohibition against vague laws, and as the vehicle for the incorporation of the Bill of Rights. Due process ensures the rights and equality of all citizens.”
Undermining a witness in the John Wallace Indictment
You three members appear as co-conspirators with those in Oceano to embarrass and indict Hill in an act of political revenge by joining the effort to undermine his witnesses in the SLO County District Attorney’s indictment of Wallace.
You are further wrong in your malevolent judgment of Mayor Hill in any event. Hill answers only to the voters. He has in fact insisted that the law and ethics be followed, both with the city and at the sanitation district board.
Hill diligently and with competence exposed the illegal and mismanagement practices, now subject to the prosecution of Wallace by the SLO County District Attorney.
The financial miss-administration of the Hill investigation
Further, the city’s attorney is wrong and thereby makes you wrong in the financial administration of the matter — especially within the scope of the agreement of shared expense with the sanitation district. The financial exposure to the city is confirmed that the initial budget was $15,000 and presently appears to be $50,000.
The budget has expanded many times over by the investigator’s self-serving opportunistic expansion of the investigation. It has gone far beyond what was required to establish the facts on spurious and vindictive charges challenging the mayor’s ethics.
One outstanding example of the spurious and vindictive charges challenging, the mayor’s ethics is the redundant inquiry addressed and settled by the city council long before this new investigation — when the mayor reached out to find a new store where Albertson used to reside, and the coincident ridicule of highly respected citizens of Arroyo Grande, who were candidates to locate their business there. The city’s counsel knew this and should have excluded it from the investigation.
The sanitation district’s legal cost exposure is now also out of control on this matter. Add to this is the shame that Mayor Hill had to spend substantial sums of his own money to defend himself and his wife, which can be construed as a crass political tactic to bring a defendant to its knees.
There has been no consideration for reimbursing Hill for his extensive financial costs to defend himself that leaves the council open to legal action seeking damages.
A lingering political wound
This matter is a lingering wound for the city as will certainly be apparent at the sanitation district meeting on Wednesday, Sept.20 at the Arroyo Grande City Chambers.
Mayor Hill must not step down — which begs the question given that you three members insisted that he should. How does the city or you enforce it in any event? Neither you or the city can override the California Health and Safety law that establishes the mayor as a member of the sanitation district board.
Your responsibility will be discussed in the coming electoral year where your malicious conduct will be considered — as it now exists in the court of public opinion – by the citizens who will voice their opposition to what you have done to disparage Mayor Jim Hill.
Otis Page Citizen is a long-term resident of Arroyo Grande and South San Luis Obispo County Sanitation District ratepayer.