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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I believe the fact that Mr Carmel is not complying with public record requests

until a second request has been filed amounts to double billing.

Half of his fees for the past few months should be refunded to the city.

No doubt he billed us for looking at, and ignoring the first request.

Then again when he determined he couldn’t weasel out if it,

and turned them over on the second request.


Two quotes from this article raise new questions, and concerns.

“City Clerk Kelly Wetmore initially said she had talked to McBride and he said he had deleted all emails…

“McBride later told CalCoastNews he had not been asked by city staff about the email, which he had not deleted.”

Why are city employees instructed to delete emails shortly after reading them when it is a violation of public record laws?

Why is Ms Wetmore stating McBride deleted emails when he clearly had not?

McBride states he was not contacted by city staff, so why is Ms Wetmore claiming she did?

Is Ms Wetmore acting on her own, or is someone instructing her on this?


I do not understand how they do their work if they have no inbox. They must transfer everything to a doc and save in a folder.

Sounds like a lot of work to me.

If the City wants to eliminate public records requests then hold meetings in public and have your officials be honest and open with nothing to hide.


Great questions. Fascinating how many will lie at the behest of others. Seeing how Ferrara bullies others I have to have just a bit of compassion for the clerk as I can see how being threatened under x-mayor Napoleon would be daunting. The threat of losing a good job when you don’t fall in line with the devil? This whole mess is a great way to dissect policy and make changes that protect employees. The inner circle at city hall were aware of the office romance between McClish and Adams before they publicly exposed. It is obvious who the key players are / were and they need to go away.This sexcapade was really a blessing in disguise. Arroyo has a chance to have a fresh slate once the dust settles. Good luck Mayor Hill, Bring a big broom!


Whenever I ask anyone why it took so long for the tryst to be revealed, everyone says the same thing…. Fear of losing their jobs.

And they think Adams was so great???

All those clerical people everyday waiting for someone to blow the lid on the story. Now that sounds like a tension filled work environment!


I think a recall is a waste of time. If Barneich broke election laws then take the evidence to the authorities. It’s politics… She was re-paying the council members who helped her get appointed. How was Steve Adams expected to re-pay the council members who stood up for him after the “incident”? I think it’s ok for politicians to act “politically”, but I draw the line when Staff (especially the City Manager) compromises themselves and their position to the same diminished ethics.


Here lies the biggest question of all….


Those skeletons must be mighty heavy.


If a write-in candidate can beat out a longtime Mayor,

I’m betting a recall can take out a new Mayor Pro-Tem.


Way to go Mike.

Great quote.

All the good that Adams and Ferrara have done that Brown extolled tonight DOES not justify the LYING to EVERYONE!

This is your legacy Tony. You allowed Steve to lie to everyone and then you also lied to your own Council, the police and your employees. This is NOT. Out weighed by any positives at all.


I’m not Mike…so I’m assuming he created the FB page??


AG City Council will always present as “Rubes” with power. They lack sophistication and a sense of what is happening outside of Arroyo Grande. I can only hope that my kid’s generation will lead more effectively than previous council members.

Study other successful cities and how they are run. Bottom line – – Politics and Power CORRUPT.

–New Order (80’s) band “Power, Corruption & Lies”


Mike Byrd the sign holder in the article.

Mike was quoted to say that Mr. Ferrara knew full well he was overstepping his bounds and did it anyways….


“Experience hath shown, that even under the best forms of government those entrusted with power have, in time, and by slow operations, perverted it into tyranny.”

–Thomas Jefferson

I have watched COUNTLESS city council meetings and seen firsthand the abuse of power by “former” Mayor Ferrara ( yes !! ). Rude, grumpy, impatient – – he represents cronyism and corruption at it’s highest levels. Hopefully someone will look into his “dealings” with a greater lense in the near future I wonder what he has been given over the years by developers and investors in our community, as he picks and chooses who our city does business with. I wonder how many timeshares he has access to from former developers on his payroll.

Kristin Barneich – – no comment. Just check Facebook: Recall Kristen Fellows Barneich – Arroyo Grande CA City Council

Hopefully Ferrara resigns as President from the League of California Cities as well.

“Power is always dangerous. Power attracts the worst and corrupts the best.”

–Edward Abbey


Ferrara was replaced around Nov 13 as the CA League President. He is done with government offices at this time…


Better yet, government offices are done with Ferrara.


Ferrara, a long time law enforcement officer deleted the threatening phone calls to his home. Right? I believe that as much as Inbelieve the lame tea party story. NOT

No one would waste their time calling you Tony. We do not care about you.

It is not Jim Hill’s fault that you did not run a campaign and his was a “well organised attack campaign”

Give me a break.

Voters in Arroyo Grande just needed someone else and Jim was willing.


Tony is threatened, Kristen feels unsafe, IF that were really true (I doubt it is)–what’s the big deal?

This is exactly the way business owners who posted Hill campaign signs

described their dealings with either Ferrara, Rob Strong, McClish, or Adams, etc.

Try operating a business with people like this “in your business”.

These behind the scenes tactics are EXACTLY what small operators are subject to—sheer madness!! Worst part is, some city officials feel entitled to treat people in this manner,

as this story clearly exposes.

It really is no wonder more and more small business owners pass on AG,

who can blame them?

As for Tony and Kristen, they are well deserving of a little dose of their own medicine, (even if it is only in their heads) serves them right.


Email to Otis by Barneich 12/1/2014 Represents Ferrara on the Council:

“I will not resign. I have talked to many, many people (Tony received only 95 votes less than Hill) that are adamant I remain on the Council to support them. I always study the issues, do my homework, meet the parties affected and come to the dais with an open mind. Just because I supported Mayor Ferrara does not mean I can’t continue to do this.”

Thank you- Kristen Barneich, Council Member


Apparently Kristen is forgetting,

or chooses not to acknowledge the 900+ votes that have not been counted,

but almost certainly contain some votes for our new Mayor, Jim Hill.

So, I hate to burst your bubble Kristen,

but Jim won by more than 95 votes, or to rephrase,

Tony lost by more than 95 votes,

we just don’t know the exact number.


how many votes did Jim win by if you remove all the votes cast when there was only one candidate? Landslide?


doubt Kristen knows what she is allowed to do as a council member she was following Tony’s lead. She does seem to do research on some of the issues that come before the council which is more than I can say about the rest of the council and frankly did more research on as least one subject than the city manager. And yes I am sure she was appointed by Tony due the fact he could control her. Can’t speak to all the meeting as I don’t typically attend them. Just my observation on the one I did attend this year before the %^*& hit the fan


I believe Kristen will not resign for the following reasons:

1. she is determined to prove herself right

2. she is unaware of how truly arrogant she presents to the public while on the dias

3. she feels entitled to her seat on the council regardless of what people say or think about her service

4. she thinks that removing one item from a consent agenda will right all wrongs

5. she does not think she has done anything wrong

6. she does not think that people in AG have enough sense to see her for what she truly is (a liar, crony of Tony, and a willing participant in misusing or attempting to misuse her position on the council to get what she wants).

7. she insists she has the best interest of AG in mind by staying on the council and doesn’t see that her time is up as well.

On another note…Mr. Borwn, you are incorrect in saying that we can heal with people in positions of authority who have no intention of changing how they run our city. It continues to be clarlified for all in AG that the current council (minus Mr. Hill and Mrs. Harmon), that self-serving and self-indulegance is the way business has been conducted. You are not there to serve each other on the council, or the city manager, or the city attorney. You are there to serve us, the citizens. I truly do not believe that you can say that the prior council has given the recent disclosures of information you shared and the actions of Mrs. Barniech as described in this article. Our city can heal when you stop leading the way you collectively have been leading. While you may want AG to heal, just saying “heal” doesn’t do it. You have to act in order for that to happen and I am afraid that you, Mr. Guthrie, Mr. Carmel, and Mrs. Barniech are not able to do that. You may disagree, but as I watch this circus unfold, and as each new piece of information comes out, you have to know that very few poeple trust you and the small group mentioned above.


Barniech apparently has many many many supporters from the gym, many many many many grocery friends and perhaps many many many more at the Botox salon. Did your homework? Me thinks not. We can only hope many many many folks will see through your Crooked web and corrupt conduct. Hold on to your seat while you can. The truth is going to catch up with you. Until then your only homework seems to be lessons from the school of Terrorist Tony.


This is the reason that Sheriff Parkinson and his deputies have been attending the meetings instead of the city police; to get the police officers out of the line of fire and to prevent the council from using them against their critics.