Sex scandal sinks AG police officer confidence
September 18, 2014
By KAREN VELIE and DANIEL BLACKBURN
Arroyo Grande police officers lodged a formal complaint and a vote of no confidence Thursday against City Manager Steve Adams and Mayor Tony Ferrara fueled by disagreements over the city’s failure to investigate an alleged violation of city policy following a late night romantic interlude between Adams and a subordinate.
Allegations against Ferrara come at an embarrassing moment for him — he’s the newly-elected president of the League of California Cities.
The police association letter accuses city officials of participating in a coverup. It is addressed to the entire council and is “being sent on behalf of the Arroyo Grande Police Officers’ Association to communicate several concerns regarding the ongoing situation involving … Adams.”
According to the letter, police officers were faced with a decision following a July 3 incident. On that date, several officers were conducting a welfare check and had arrived at City Hall shortly before midnight to discover Adams looking “disheveled,” and a partially dressed Community Development Director Teresa McClish peeking from behind her boss’s door.
Adams originally told police McClish was not there, and then became angry with officers, according to officer reports.
Police representatives said officers recognized hours after the incident “that the situation involved a matter of significant public concerns…” but that all agreed “discretion was also needed.”
The letter continued: “Ultimately, the decision was made to remain silent and wait, for the expressed purpose of allowing our city council the opportunity to conduct an appropriate investigation.”
Instead of an “appropriate investigation,” however, the officers said, the citizens got “a sham.”
In the past, Adams has insisted on firing employees discovered to be in romantic relationships with subordinate employees. However, in this case, assistant city attorney Michael McMahon called the officers on the telephone, and then asked “leading” questions during what the officers describe as a “hostile interrogation instead of a fact finding process.”
From the association’s letter:
“As the ‘investigation’ was conducted, several issues and concerns were raised immediately. The ‘investigation’ consisted of very short telephonic interviews with our members. The collective consensus of the officers involved has generated a concern that the questions may have been asked or interpreted in a way, which made the officers feel as if it was a hostile interrogation instead of a fact finding process.
“During the telephonic interviews, the questions were asked in an attacking manner that made the officers feel as though they had done something wrong. The questions themselves appeared to come across as being uniquely focused, leading many to believe there was possibly a one-sided result being sought. In fact, the focus on the investigation seemed to imply that the officers were at City Hall for some improper reason.
“Most significantly, the interviews were not recorded and were conducted by an ‘attorney.’ This presents two issues: one, no record was made of what was said since it was not recorded, and two, having an attorney conduct the investigation gives the City the ability to claim attorney client privilege and withhold the results of the “investigation” from the public. This “investigation” was so far from how normal investigations occur.”
On Sept. 9, council members veered from earlier promises to probe deeper into the pair’s late-night rendezvous in City Hall and elected not to have the incident investigated.
“Our belief in our city management to do the right thing, and our belief in our city council to do the right thing, was severely misplaced,” the statement says.
This city council’s decision not to conduct a formal investigation was made after several city officials made allegations that officers were being untruthful in an attempt to impact labor negotiations.
“Additionally, there have been insinuations that our association’s contract negotiation process is to blame for this incident occurring,” the statement says. “Nothing can be further from the truth. Any attempts to blame our involved officers or our association, is irresponsible and offensive.”
The police officers voted unanimously to file the formal complaint.
“The members of the Arroyo Grande Police Officers Association have a Vote of No Confidence for City Manager Steve Adams,” the statement says. “Adams still has a professional, ethical, and moral responsibility to hold himself accountable in the same way he has held other city employees accountable.
“He failed in his responsibility. We can no longer trust that he serves the best interests of our citizens and our city employees.”
Officers were particularly critical of Ferrara.
“As a former experienced peace officer familiar with investigative techniques and internal affairs procedures, and as the long-time elected head of our City Council, we feel Ferrara should have ensured this situation was being dealt with in a more appropriate manner. He either knew or should know that this ‘investigation’ was a sham and was not conducted according to proper law enforcement procedures and guidelines. As the elected representative of our city, Ferrara should have exercised better judgment and we can no longer trust him to serve the best interests of our citizens and our city employees.”
In their statement, the officers also demand that the city preserve all video and other data regarding the incident and provide a chain of custody for video recordings.
The day after the incident, July 4, Adams spent much of the holiday at City Hall turning the alarm off and on four times, according to city alarm activity reports. He would then spend portions of Saturday July 5 and Sunday July 6 at City Hall. Also, on July 6, McClish and several other employees were also at City Hall with the alarm set for the evening at 11:14 p.m.
On Sept. 2 at 4 p.m., CalCoastNews made a public records request for the recordings from the eight video cameras located at City Hall. That night, Adams secretary Kitty Norton arrived at City Hall at 10:01 p.m., she did not enable the alarm and leave the building until after midnight.
On Sept. 3, a night meta-data from the videos show the files were modified beginning shortly before 5 p.m. Adams was last to check out leaving at approximately 7 p.m.
On Sept. 4, the city provide what it claimed was a copy of the tapes noting that the last six minutes had been left out because of space on the thumb drive. However, 80 minutes is missing from the middle of the tape during the time Adams and McClish were together in City Hall.
On Sept. 8, City Clerk Kelly Wetmore responded to a public records request for the missing segments in an email that says “staff is working on it.” It has been 16 days since the request for the video was first made.
“The integrity of our entire city and its police department has been called into question,” the officers’ statement says. “Public trust has to be restored by safeguarding public confidences, restoring the integrity of government, and avoiding any appearance of impropriety.”
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