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 just got caught up on here after not visiting this site for a while.

First, I think it is great that the citizens of AG took a stand and basically removed Ferrara from power. We’ll see what Jim Hill is able to do and we will hope for the best.

However, after reading all these comments on all these articles, a few things are becoming clear.

1. There are a select few posters throughout the comments that find this whole affair humorous, and feel the need to make jokes and pile on with petty accusations and name-calling. This isn’t a high school election, or a sporting event.

2, There are also some posters that seem to be invigorated with the “power” of “winning” an election. There is a call to remove everyone that doesn’t fit their mold as politician. Be careful not to fall into the same “power” trip that Ferrara did. Remember that thousands of people voted for Ferrara and that the city’s government should be an attempt to represent all of the views throughout the city, not just yours.

We’ve elected a new mayor, and that is a major victory. Now, we need to let him sort through the mess that was left behind. If we don’t trust him to do that, then we shouldn’t have elected him.


There is nothing funny about the fact that two city employees

were able to continue an inappropriate,workplace, longtime affair

right under the noses of those at City Hall.

Adams, Ferrara, Carmel, and whoever else was involved

in the intentional mishandling of an HR matter should be replaced, either at the ballot box,

as was the case with Ferrara, or by the City Council.

The citizens of AG have a right to expect honest, trustworthy officials.

That is the mold they need “to fit”.

If they don’t, as this story seems to indicate about Mrs Barneich,

then it is time for her to go as well.

The power belongs to the people, we need to make sure our city officials keep that in mind. They work for all of us. Jim. Hill is one vote–assuming that he’s going to be able to go in and fix everything alone is not going to happen.

Thank goodness CCN is shining the light on what is going on in AG. If there’s more to the story we need to know that as well, we need to know what’s under the rug. The public has make it be known that we will not tolerate these bad players remaining.


To pull up the rug, the citizens of Arroyo Grande are going to need help with the cleaning by the District Attorney. Let’s hope newly elected Dan Dow is willing to get a little dirty to clean it up.

I swear small towns are worse than large ones for corruption.

Electing Jim Hill was part of the solution, Barbara Harmon also; however, the misdeeds that Adams, Ferrara and Carmel cannot be swept away. Tony managed with a stiff one and who knows what damage he did not clean up as he was SHOCKED with the loss.

BTW the Sintra interviews must become property of the City.

Where is the private written report for $17K?


I don’t think people who are happy with the new mayor are invigorated with power and only want their views represented on the council—I think we want leadership who will not lie, cheat, steal, misuse positions, and deflect issues by blaming other people for the chaos they have either caused directly or indirectly. I think, if given a true choice in leadership, people in AG will choose to make some fundamental changes–that isn’t a power trip, that is democracy in action.

Ferrara did have his voters and his supporters, no doubt, but I ask you these questions: 1)how many of those voters do you think voted early, prior to this situation truly unfolding, wished they had voted differently, 2) how many people once facts about the original cover-up were shared wished they had voted differently, 3) how many people who didn’t vote wished they had?

Yes, our new mayor needs to sort through some things, and we definitely need to support his efforts in doing that. I would maintain however, that other changes are necessary, ones that Mr. Hill cannot make alone. That is my opinion, and I am not forcing that opinion on anyone else. I do however strongly believe that our leadership in AG is suffering from an ego trip and a level of entitlement I have not witnessed before. Arrogance has no place in politics. Having the heat of a servant does have a place in politics and we are short on leaders who possess that characteristic.


I meant to say “having the heart of a servant…” I hate it when that happens!


LeAnn, I’ll answer your questions:

1) I don’t know, and neither do you.

2) I don’t know, and neither do you.

3) I don’t know, and neither do you

So what if 100 or 500 voters would have voted differently? There are still differing opinions in this city and both sides should be getting representation on our city council.

Also, in the normal election process, a candidate like Jim Hill would have been scrutinized to a much higher degree, and would have been required to answer to real debatable issues. It is not a given that he would have garnered more votes than he received simply by getting in the game earlier. And its not a given that Jim Hill will actually get things done in his new position, even if he is an honest and transparent mayor. Mayor Ferrara’s actions have me convinced that Hill will be a better mayor. Hill’s actions up until this point are not a factor in my opinion.

“Arrogance has no place in politics”

Politicians, by nature, are generally arrogant and they will lie, steal, cheat, misuse positions and blame others. Unfortunately, that is what it takes for someone to run for such a thankless job and that is what it takes to win an election. It is much worse on the national and state level. At least in local politics, we can see direct results from our actions, as we have with this election.


“now watch this drive!”


You are right. Arrogance has no place in politics and yet our leaders are full of it. And the thing is, politicians do not have to lie, steal, cheat, misuse positions, and blame others—they can be ethical, truthful, be honest, treat their positions with respect and be responsible for their actions. I trust that AG will continue to be vigilant in their efforts to affect change and that local leadership will be forced to make some changes or they will be replaced.

I am sorry if you feel that the process of the election did not scrutinize the candidates enough—I happen to feel differently. Jim put his ideas out there for people to read, respond to, and ask for further information on. They either took him up that offer or did not. Ferrara ran no campaign and did not seek a debate nor did he respond to any of Mayor Hill’s positions.

And with 900 votes remaining which did not have a bubble, I think you can expect that those were not votes for Ferrara…just saying.


This was the official song of the past administration…

This is the song of the NEW administration….


DA, Grand Jury, Department of Justice?? Someone needs to do a thorough investigation. Is there any word of this?


…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…

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

So this city clerk, Kelly Wetmore, LIED or did McBride LIE?

Lovely people we have working in our government. Lovely, indeed.


If there’s anyone who’s still not convinced that Barneich is part of the problem

and unable to become part of the solution,

this article should dispel any hopes of her becoming a team player under a Hill led council.

She is 100% team Ferrara ALL the way, to the point of breaking the law

with her desperate attempts to save her puppet master.

Consider for a moment—who would even entertain the thought of directing the police

to verify with each homeowner who had Hill sign in their yard whether permission had been granted for the sign? She seems to be under the impression the police work for her, just like she “worked” for Tony.

This woman has NO clue the police have better things to do

than help her feeble attempt to prop up Ferrara.

Then there is that pesky little sticking point of her request being against the law.

Barneich has absolutely no business being on the council, being Mayor Pro-Tem,

or even being appointed in the first place.

Kristen AND Carmel both need to go.


what a kook……


The warden threw a party in the county jail.

The prison band was there and they began to wail.

The band was jumpin’ and the joint began to swing.

You should’ve heard those knocked out jailbirds sing.

Let’s rock, everybody, let’s rock.

Everybody in the whole cell block

was dancin’ to the Jailhouse Rock.

City Hall Steve played the tenor saxophone,

Little Terry was blowin’ on the slide trombone.

The council member Kristen went crash, boom, bang,

the whole rhythm section was Tony’s Gang.

Let’s rock, everybody, let’s rock.

Everybody in the whole cell block

was dancin’ to the Jailhouse Rock.

Stevie said to Terry:

“You’re the cutest jailbird I ever did see.

I sure would be delighted with your company,

come on and do the Jailhouse Rock with me.”

Let’s rock, everybody, let’s rock.

Everybody in the whole cell block

was dancin’ to the Jailhouse Rock.

The sad sack Tim was a sittin’ on a block of stone

way over in the corner weepin’ all alone.

Tony said to him, “Hey, buddy, don’t you be no square.

If you can’t find a partner use a council chair.”

Let’s rock, everybody, let’s rock.

Everybody in the whole cell block

was dancin’ to the Jailhouse Rock.

Shifty Tony said to Steve, “For Heaven’s sake,

no one’s lookin’, now’s our chance to make a break.”

Steve turned to Tony and he said, “Nix nix,

I wanna stick around a while and get my kicks.”

Let’s rock, everybody, let’s rock.

Everybody in the whole cell block

was dancin’ to the Jailhouse Rock.



I wish I could see you file of music favs for the AG tryst. You bust me up ,


Attention Arroyo Grande residents, those of you holding Trifecta tickets, please hang on to them until the Totalisator displays the results….





Kevin Rice



The E & D lights are burned out on the Totalisator

Mr. Holly

Time for a 3 pointer. Ferrara and Adams are gone and now it’s time for Barneich.

What an abuse of power by all three.

This should be a lesson to many of our local politicians that there is payback for all of the abuses that take place.


Councilmember Brown keeps talking about healing wounds, perhaps Mr. Brown and especially those councilmembers from the past regime need to be reminded that for a wound to heal first it must be scrubbed clean, and all dirt exposed and removed. Then any infection must be eradicated. Any infection left will prevent the wound from healing properly and if left will fester and a wound will never heal. So if the council truly wants wounds to heal they need to remove the dirt and infections. As soon as they do this we can talk about healing but until then.


In my book, healing requires the DA, the Grand Jury and even more.


At the close of the special meeting of Council on November 19, Council member Tim Brown gave a summary of stunning facts that had not been disclosed before.

Brown stated, words to the effect, that when he first leaned of the incident he was appraised by City Attorney Tim Carmel that Ferrara did not wish to inform the Council. He wished to keep the matter quiet. While denying there was a cover up, Brown confirms by this fact that it was Ferrara’s immediate intent to cover up the incident.

Brown insisted that the Council be notified in closed session, and the matter was disclosed on July 8, whence the cover up was formerly and unambiguously confirmed.

Brown admits this was a mistake and that the Council should have acted on July 8 on the Adams matter. The cover up continued until it was conclusively disclosed by CalCoastNews one and a half months later on August 19.

Further, in an extraordinary confession, Brown confirmed the Adams/McClish affair was an issue before the incident occurred on July 3rd. With the best of intentions of praising McClish Brown inadvertently suggests she is conflicted by the evidence of other prior sojourns with Adams.

In a closed session in special meeting of the Council on November 19. Adams was immediately placed on “administrative leave”, meaning in plain terms, Adams was fired.


You may be forgetting Mr. Page that Mr. Guthrie confirmed the first event right after the November 19th meeting came to a close. He walked away from the dais toward the press and admitted the prior reprimand of Adams occurred a month prior to the July 8th reprimand.

So quit thinking it was Brown that ONLY spilled the beans about the prior event.

Brown brought it up and Guthrie confirmed it!

Brown did the right thing. They must come clean on July 3rd.


And every day since.