Emails expose alleged misconduct by Arroyo Grande officials

December 1, 2014

Kristen BarneichEditor’s note: A video of Arroyo Grande Council Member Kristen Barneich noting her reasons for voting against an independent investigation into the July 3 incident is at the bottom of this story.


Several public officials in Arroyo Grande unsuccessfully instructed members of the city’s police force to take official action against political opponents and critics in apparent violation of state and city laws prohibiting elected officials from managing staff. Many of those demands are documented in emails, texts, and voice messages obtained exclusively by CalCoastNews.

Then-mayor Tony Ferrara and city council member Kristen Barneich demanded members of the police force and administration prevent police officers from speaking during the council’s public comment period. The pair also attempted to use law enforcement to stop members of the public from carrying signs favoring different political candidates; to remove political opponents’ campaign signs; and to initiate multiple investigations into ultimately unsupported allegations against critics. None of these requests were granted.

Ferrara was toppled Nov. 4 by write-in candidate Jim Hill.

Tensions between the city council and police surfaced after officers found then-city manager Steve Adams and Teresa McClish, a subordinate employee, in darkened city hall near midnight on July 3. In their reports, officers said McClish was partially dressed and that Adams initially lied to officers claiming McClish was not at city hall.

City Manager Steve Adams and Teresa McClish

City Manager Steve Adams and Teresa McClish

In supporting the city manager, Ferrara claimed McClish was not partially undressed and that the officers had lied in an attempt to manipulate salary negotiations. The controversy led to a police officer association vote of no-confidence against the mayor and city manager, and a campaign to elect write-in-candidate Jim Hill.

On Sept. 24, following a city council meeting in which several officers spoke during public comment about their dissatisfaction with Ferrara and the need for an independent investigation, Ferrara sent an email to Commander Kevin McBride. In the email, Ferrara asserted McBride was the only person at the police department to whom he could speak in confidence. Ferrara then asked to meet with McBride to discuss stopping officers from speaking to the council during public comment.

“Last night’s show was viewed by many in the community as a negative, union-sponsored demonstration,” Ferrara wrote. “It was not even close to a public comment period. That’s not what AGPD is about and it is not what we’re about. It has to stop.”

In response to a CalCoastNews request for the email, City Clerk Kelly Wetmore initially said she had talked to McBride and that he told her he had deleted all emails he received from the mayor during the past month. Though the practice appears to violate public record laws, Arroyo Grande had adopted a city policy requiring employees to delete all emails shortly after reading them.

Nevertheless, McBride later told CalCoastNews he had not been asked by city staff about the email, which he had not deleted. Following a second request, city officials provided the email to CalCoastNews.

After volunteers in the campaign to elect Hill began placing campaign signs around the city, Ferrara and Barneich began emailing, texting, and calling police officers and Chief Steve Annibali. Officers said Barniech often called the police department more than a dozen times a day requesting officers remove “elect Jim Hill” signs, or to go to homes displaying the signs and verify the Hill campaign had permission from the home owner.

In addition, both Ferrara and Barneich claimed to have been threatened or in fear of their safety in emails to Annibali. Ferrara said he had received threatening and intimidating phone messages at his home, although he claimed he had deleted all of them.

On Oct. 18, Barneich emailed the chief asking him to mount an investigation into alleged actions of an officer after hearing third-hand information about the unnamed officer. The officer reportedly asked a friend during a casual conversation if her mother, Peggy Hoobery, had been hassled at her business because of the election.

Hoobery,  owner of Burdine’s Printing, then mentioned the conversation to Barneich. Hoobery told CalCoastNews she never mentioned Barneich or any other city council person or staffer by name while talking with Barneich.

Barneich then asked for an investigation into the “incident.” In her email to the chief, Barneich surmised that the officer was speaking about her, and that the officer knew she had been to Burdine Printing.

“To have officers spreading completely false information about myself is extremely disappointing and worrisome,” Barneich wrote in the Oct. 18 email to the chief. “I also have no idea how they knew I contacted Burdines…this concerns me as well. I appreciate your prompt response in this ever growing frightening situation. I am beginning to feel very uncomfortable and unsafe in my hometown.”

On Oct. 19, Annabali emailed Barneich, explaining proper procedures for requesting a police investigation.

“If you, or any other party, have specific information regarding alleged misconduct on the part of any member of the Arroyo Grande Police Department, I urge the person to come forward with a formal complaint. That being said, please be assured I take these matters seriously and once a complaint is received, I will ensure the matter is properly investigated by either the Arroyo Grande Police Department or an outside investigator.

“Although the AGPOA may be politically active at this time, as of this writing, I have no evidence that any member of the Arroyo Grande Police Department would put your safety in jeopardy and any comments to the contrary are without merit.

“Once again, there is an absolute need to balance the public’s right to free speech and expression with the duty to maintain peace and order. I have worked diligently and successfully to preserve the impartiality of the Arroyo Grande Police Department. I ask all parties to remain calm during these turbulent times.”

Barneich, in several more emails, acknowledges she received his response. Nevertheless, Barneich tells Annibali in the emails to get in touch with her after he interviews Hoobery and her daughter.

Both Ferrara and Adams also contacted the chief, asking him to investigate the incident even though a formal complaint had not been made.

On Oct. 22, the chief sent a letter to Hoobery in which he asks her to file a complaint if she has information about police officer misconduct.

Hoobery responded in a voice message saying, “Absolutely nothing happened.”

Hoobery’s voice message to Annibali:

In addition to requesting Hill campaign signs be removed by officers, Ferrara also directed Annibali to take action against people he had spotted holding Hill signs. In an Oct. 19 email, Ferrara wrote that he saw Arroyo Grande resident Mike Byrd at the corner of Courtland and Grand streets a day earlier holding a Hill sign. Ferrara said a city ordinance regarding retail signage also applies to political signs.

Mayor Tony Ferrara

Mayor Tony Ferrara

“I know we make exception in our sign ordinance for fundraising efforts, however, I don’t recall extending that exception to human signage of a political nature,” Ferrara wrote. “I am requesting that our officers exercise consistent enforcement to the extent that enforcement actions are permitted within the scope of the ordinance.”

Annibali responded in an email to Ferrara explaining that political, protest and labor issue signs are permitted under freedom of speech laws.

Byrd, who worked on the Hill campaign, said Ferrara knows that people have a right to demonstrate and carry political signs.

“After a career in law enforcement Mr. Ferrara knew perfectly well that I have the right to stand on a street corner and share my political views,” Byrd said. “And after so many years on the city council he also knew that it is a violation for him to personally issue instructions to any city employee. That he would feel so entitled to simply ignore laws for his own political benefit is just one more reason why he had to go.”

City Attorney Tim Carmel initially refused to comply with several public records requests for the emails from Barniech and Ferrara to Annibali terming the exchanges privileged attorney-client communication or police investigation reports.

However, there have been no police investigations as the result of the emails, and the city attorney was not involved in the exchanges that appear to show elected officials violating the law. City council members and mayors are specifically prohibited by state and city laws from directing city employees to do their bidding. That prerogative is the city manager’s under Arroyo Grande municipal law.

Under a second records request, Carmel released the emails.


Kristen Barneich explains her reason for voting against an independent investigation into the alleged Steve Adams Teresa McClish tryst:

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The Dude ,Abides !!!!!!

Merry Christmas!!!

The recall is a waste of time! One vote out of five and which issues are you worried about her impacting on her own? If there are accusations regarding her behavior during the election, bring them to the authorities. Enough with the mob mentality already!

Mob mentality?

What’s wrong with expecting our city officials to obey the law?

If she cant follow the rules, she should go.

KFB is a waste of time.

which is why she needs to go

I’m betting she will be ayes to a project on the agenda tonight, even tho she would never have a friend live there.

Talk about hard scape. Wow! Nothing like a 25 foot cinder block wall to greet you”

I agree. Let the system run it’s course. She is entitled to complete her term, and we should give her a fair chance to start making her own decisions.

We will have our turn when her term comes due and IF she decides to run. Honestly, I don’t think she has it in her to actually campaign for the seat. It was too easy for her the first time.

When is her term completed?

Oops, I agree with Snooky156. Drop the mob mentality and let’s begin healing.

She is “entitled to complete her turn”? Good god, how programmed are you?

Elected officials serve at the will of the people. If the elected official fails to satisfy what the voters want in a representative, then the people can recall them.

“We will have our turn when her term comes due…” No. We have our turn whenever we danged well want.

KB, Guthrie and Brown all need to get off their high horse. I am tired of them looking down their noses at the people who appear before them, and summarily dismissed with a snide remark.

KB, Brown and AG’s legal counsel, at the very least, need to be removed form their positions. It is the only way to finally get rid of the filthy stench of Ferrara which still permeates the City of AG.

Mary Malone

Did you pick up the Recall paperwork with the City Clerk?

It looks easier than we thought since the voter registration numbers were lower.

I’d prefer to wait after New Years, but I am willing to go with whatever the group decides.


Sign me up!

I’m in—100% in. Tell me what I need to do.

I think the voters would appreciate a break for the holidays, and the signs would not be well received at this time either.

I’m in.

How many signatures do we need?

Who pays for the election? Us or the City of A.G.?

Kinda weird since Barneich was never elected.

That will keep Tony busy too. He owes her one.

You don’t suppose she’ll want the police to go around

and verify all the signatures, do you?

I am sure of it :)

I agree, but we must not lose our momentum. The theme of the recall should be… “Recall, A Christmas Gift For All”

Very Dr. Suess, but I like it!

Not yet. I, too, was waiting until after New Year.

I think if we even end up recalling one of the high-handed fools left on the city council from the Ferrara cabal it will send a message to the others and, perhaps convince them of the obvious: THEY serve at the will of the people, and we are not THEIR servants.






What began as a simple date on July 3, has turned into a fiasco for Arroyo Grande City Hall.

These folks should be embarrassed to be included on the list of shame.

How long ago did they lose sight of the fact that they work for US?

Wow! And I’m betting within the year they all will no longer work for A.G.

How many years had they all known about Steve’s secret relationship?

When you got something like that over on your top dog,

he starts acting like the little pussy he was.

I do have to correct you, you say “What began as a simple date”, by Councilmember Brown’s own admission this did not begin on July 3rd there were previous complaints about their relationship, we also do no know that it even ended on July 3rd. July 3rd was just the date brought to the light of day by CCN.

Agreed, the not-so-secret dirty little affair had been ongoing for years.

The unraveling of the cover-up began one CCN caught wind of the July 3 Adams/McClish date at Roberts.

Let’s face it, people at City Hall had been covering up for Steve and Teresa for years.

Still wondering why Ferrara wasn’t willing to cut his anchor buddy Steve loose…

How much longer is Barneich going to cling to her Ferrara lifeboat?

Who’s Guthrie gonna swim with?

enquiring minds want to know

AG citizens deserve to know.

Guthrie is a big unknown here.

I have a feeling that Jim Guthrie had absolutely no idea how many people had strong feelings against our former mayor.

He was reluctant to call out Ed Arnold when he tried to kill a city staffer, so he might hug long and hard onto Tony.

Joe was asleep at the dais years ago and only ran because Big Tony begged him.

He will sail away to retirement.

Appears Guthrie is as out of touch with his constituents

as Ferrara and Costello were.

Sooner or later though, Jim’s going to have to get in the game

and act like he gives a damn about what’s been going on in town.

I don’t see that from him thus far.

At least Brown takes a whack at it now and again.

Maybe he isn’t sure how to respond to this whole situation, especially after some of the skeletons/facts were revealed on the 19th, Ferrara resigning, the results of the campaign, and now, this article being published which sheds even more light on how our council has behaved. He seems very uncomfortable up there.

Yeah, but Brown has that same nose-in-the-air false air of I’m-better-than-you attitude he had when loser Ferrara was in office, and he has been Ferrara’s lackey all along.

The Ferrara lifeboat is the only option she has. She would never have been in office without Ferrara, and she certainly will continue to do Ferrara’s bidding…it is the only recourse she has.

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