Arroyo Grande wins with Jim
November 18, 2014
OPINION By JULIE TACKER
Who is Jim Hill? While most Arroyo Grande voters voted for write-in candidate Jim Hill as a protest to the status quo, you may be pleasantly surprised to know a little more about Jim.
Jim has lived in the South County for over 30 years. Nearing the end of a 30-plus year career as an engineer at Diablo Canyon; he has been sought out by other nuclear facilities nationwide for his knowledge and expertise. If there’s going to be nuclear power in this county, it’s comforting to know a man of integrity, like Jim, is in such an important position.
Several years ago, Jim went to law school and achieved his Juris Doctorate. He did so while serving as President of the Oceano Community Services District Board of Director’s.
Not afraid of public service; Jim jumped head first into politics in 2002 with an unsuccessful bid for Congress, running as the Libertarian candidate against Beth Rogers (R) and Lois Capps (D). Living in Oceano at the time, Jim attended and watched the turbulent board meetings; he then decided to throw his hat in the ring when he heard about then General Manager, Mitch Cooney, yelling at a citizen on the street.
Jim walked door-to-door, introducing himself, listening to the people’s concerns and overwhelmingly won a seat on the district board in 2004. While serving on the Oceano board, Jim butted heads with the status quo there. Jim easily won reelection in 2008, general managers came and went as he and a new board grappled with financial woes and failing infrastructure that predated his service.
It was Jim who negotiated with developers to sell 100 acre feet of water to developers for a cool $2 million in cash, the district would have also benefited from all the hook-up fees associated with a proposed development in Pismo Beach. He very carefully explained to Oceano residents that due to the financial mismanagement of the past, this was the only way to overcome the district’s deficiencies without raising water and sewer rates.
The proposal was wildly unpopular; Jim thoughtfully listened to his constituents. When the issue was brought to the board, Jim voted against the very proposal he had worked hard to bring forward. Jim explained his vote by stating, “We have heard from the people.”
Jim’s governing style is vastly different to that which Arroyo Grande has witnessed since 2002 when Tony Ferrara became the city’s mayor.
Jim devoted countless hours to the community of Oceano looking for ways to upright its financial ship. Try as he might, there was no other way than to raise water and sewer rates, but rather than hire another expensive rate consultant, Jim personally worked to develop an incremental rate increase over the next five years.
During that time, Jim had to work closely with then General Manager, Raffealle Montemurro. He was able to see that Oceano was not being well served because the staff would not produce timely financial audits, so Jim asked fellow board members to terminate the district’s relationship.
Finding himself on the losing end of that vote and after seven years of hard work for the community, Jim felt as if he had done all he could do for Oceano and resigned. Jim remained humble and didn’t gloat when only a few weeks later Montemurro was terminated shortly after a CalCoastNews investigation showed he was paying himself for 40 hour per week of pay while also paying himself 10 hours per week in sick pay.
During his tenure Jim eliminated health insurance benefits and cell phones for directors paid by ratepayers, eliminated director stipends for committee meetings, got the board meetings televised so residents could follow issues, facilitated the formation of the Five Cities Fire Authority and raised rates sufficiently that the district, if properly managed would have been able to carry Oceano on, while at the same time building modest reserves. (Sadly the potential for reserves was mismanaged by subsequent general managers post resignation.)
Additionally, Jim served on the South County Sanitation District board as the Oceano representative. He found himself on the losing end of votes there too, often asking tough financial questions of the one in the same District Administrator and District Engineer, John Wallace. Jim push hard to have this unusual relationship segregated into two contracts, it wasn’t until the SLO County Grand Jury weighed in recommending the same that the lock-step duo of Arroyo Grande Mayor Ferrara and Grover Beach City Councilman, Bill Nicolls, agreed.
Jim, and his wife Lin, left their home in Oceano and moved to the neighboring community of Arroyo Grande. Thinking his public service days were over, in September he was approached by several members of the community to be the write in candidate. In a life changing split decision Jim agreed and with tremendous effort from a team of volunteers, Jim’s made new friends and is eager to serve as Arroyo Grande’s mayor. Bringing with him vast knowledge and experience having served the public before, Jim knows who he works for, listens and genuinely cares. In only 37 days of campaigning and a 95 vote margin; Arroyo Grande wins with Jim!