Insurance carrier claims hostility in Arroyo Grande

January 6, 2016
Arroyo Grande City Council

Arroyo Grande City Council

By KAREN VELIE

The California Joint Powers Insurance Authority (JPIA) is claiming that comments critical of the Arroyo Grande city manager could be deemed hostile and lead to financial risks for the city, according to a Dec. 21 letter to the Arroyo Grande City Council from the JPIA. The comments by two public officials were regarding Manager Dianne Thompson’s refusal to place extending the closure of the Brisco Road ramps on a regular meeting agenda.

The JPIA is one of the largest municipal self-insurance pools in the state, with nearly 120 participating members. It provides liability protection for its members from losses and lawsuits.

Several residents are now questioning if the JPIA’s letter was a political move to help pave the path for a run for the mayor seat by former San Luis Obispo County Supervisor Caren Ray. JPIA Assistant Executive Officer Norman Lefmann said the letter was not political on the part of the JPIA.

“Without checking the veracity of the charge, you wrote a letter to the mayor, which could be used as an issue in an upcoming election,” wrote Patrick Dempsey, a resident of Arroyo Grande, in a letter to the JPIA. “The fact that it is unfounded, and that you took no action to investigate the charge, could be considered as an attempt to interfere in an election.”

For the past year, since former mayor Tony Ferrara lost the election, City Council meetings have been contentious with former constituents of Ferrara and Ray at odds with Mayor Jim Hill. Thompson spends about 8 percent of her work week meeting with council members Jim Guthrie and Kristen Barneich while regularly canceling meetings with Hill, according to Thompson’s calendar.

Dianne Thompson

Dianne Thompson

In December, Thompson refused to allow Hill to put an extension of the Brisco Road closure on the agenda before the permit was set to expire in January. An action that could have cost the taxpayers about $100,000 to open and then close the ramps.

Hill responded by calling a special meeting and the council voted unanimously to keep the ramps closed until they determine which of several options to move forward on.

On Dec. 15, Councilman Tim Brown questioned Thompson’s lack of an open door policy on Dave Congalton’s KVEC radio show.

During the special meeting on Dec. 17, Hill said he called for a special meeting at a cost to residents because he couldn’t get the item placed on a regular meeting agenda.

On Dec. 21, the JPIA sent a letter to the City Council saying the city’s insurance carrier can help “return members to good governance” through implementation of an action plan.

“We have recently learned of and observed derogatory comments made by council members towards the city manager and members of staff,” Lefmann said in the letter. “Our concern is such comments made in a public setting could lead to allegations of harassment and a hostile workplace at your city. We consider these practices, if continued, to be serious in nature and inconsistent with good governance.”

Lefmann was not aware of who brought the issue to a local JPIA representative who then brought his concerns to Lefmann. Lefmann said the concerns were based both on comments made on the radio and at the council meeting. Lefmann is seeking a meeting with city officials to discuss putting together a team building workshop.

Hill said his comments were appropriate for a council meeting.

“My comments in that forum were absolutely appropriate,” Hill said. “They were not intended to be and in fact were not derogatory toward anyone. I think people have a right to know why they have to pay for special meetings and endure the attendant inconvenience when a regular meeting could have addressed the issue in a more timely fashion.”

When asked what comments were deemed hostile, Lefmann said he could not comment until he has a chance to meet with city staff and officials to look into the allegations.

“We need to look at what is going on,” Lefmann said. “We do not want to overstep our bounds.”

Congalton also challenges the JPIA’s evaluation of his show.

“I recall my interview with Councilmember Brown as being an open and candid discussion about the issues facing the city of Arroyo Grande,” Congalton said. “I am not aware of any statement made by either one of us that might be misconstrued as harassment of the city manager. It is the right of the media to engage in conversation about public officials and certainly any city hall employee is welcome on my show to provide a different point of view.”


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39 Comments

  1. adustum says:

    Arroyo Grande city hall has a history of a hostile working conditions and sexual harassment, retaliation and discrimination. JPIA should have vocal years ago.

    (7) 19 Total Votes - 13 up - 6 down
  2. swampfrogge says:

    In all honesty I think Caren Ray is behind some of this, she wants to run again, and not to help the city. She has to hold a political seat in order to go for Supervisor and that is what she wants.

    Harmon wants to be mayor, so she is all for Ray being it first, then in a few years Harmon will run for mayor. Harmon is mad because Mr. Hill is mayor and it screwed up her big political plans.

    Guthrie and Barniech are so faithful to Ferrara they just don’t like Jim Hill. Guthrie I think will take a run at the mayor’s seat also.

    Dianne Thompson knows as long as she keeps 3 council members liking her, she can’t be removed. So I think those are the players working together for their own agendas and they don’t give a rat’s ass about this town or its citizens.

    And let’s not forget Guthrie already took a run at being a supervisor, but didn’t make it. So if he becomes mayor that might help him in the long run get a supervisors seat.

    I can say at least Jim Hill is being transparent and trying to do the peoples work. He is just being treated poorly because of the LEGAL write in campaign he won. Hill has no political desire for supervisor or anything else.

    Hostile is what Hill endures as Barniech won’t even speak to him to even say hello, and Guthrie and Harmon will say hello but that is about it.

    This whole JPIA thing reeks of politics in the worse way. This is not for what is best for the city, this is some people trying very hard to get what they want and use this city as a stepping stone to get there.

    (0) 32 Total Votes - 16 up - 16 down
    • kayaknut says:

      Last election was not as much a vote for Ms. Harmon but more a vote for anybody other than Costello. Hopefully we won’t make the same mistake in the next election and get rid of Guthrie and Barniech, and have someone who won’t lie to us like Ms. Harmon.

      (8) 26 Total Votes - 17 up - 9 down
    • Pelican1 says:

      Of course she is…along with the “good ol’ boys”

      (3) 13 Total Votes - 8 up - 5 down
    • StakeHolder says:

      Geez, it plays out like a Jr. High Student Council election!

      (11) 19 Total Votes - 15 up - 4 down
  3. PismoPat says:

    Why would Lefmann write such a letter when he does not know the source or motivation. He needs to find out.

    You can see the letter posted at http://www.OurArroyoGrande.com and also my two page reply to Mr. Lefmann. I also have posted videos of Council Member Brown’s Council Comments and Mayor Jim Hill’s Council Comments.

    Mr. Lefmann has been duped into injecting the JPIA into our local election by his JPIA stooge. He owes it to Arroyo Grande and Mayor Hill to to find out who is behind this.

    (13) 25 Total Votes - 19 up - 6 down
  4. surferdude says:

    Where is Sad Insider?

    What is going on??

    (11) 13 Total Votes - 12 up - 1 down
  5. SLOBodan says:

    The California Joint Powers Insurance Authority is the same agency that granted Steve Adams 6 months severance pay due to “involuntary separation”. Can we trust their judgment or capabilities, unable to read the RESIGNATION LETTER from Mr. Adams?

    If they are so worried about payouts, then made a huge mistake here. Maybe the members should be suing them for wrongful payouts!

    Although we are unaware of who is responsible for bringing this current issue forward, Ms. Thompson has dug her own grave now. I really don’t see things improving. She should cut her ties and get out of Dodge ASAP.

    She will soon find out that having the backing of the Community Development Director is no guarantee of job security. She made a big mistake taking any “side” of past politics in the city. Her job performance so far has not been impressive. She should be working on getting to know the constituents, ALL of the City Council members and her staff. So far I don’t feel she has handled this part of her job very well.

    On another note, I fully back Mr. Brown and Mr. Hill for their honest comments. I have viewed them, and agree that no hostility was presented, although you can hear frustration. If she can’t handle the honesty, then maybe she needs to find a new job.

    (10) 22 Total Votes - 16 up - 6 down
    • justbeware says:

      Let us NOT forget!
      The ONLY reason Adams even got the opportunity for that severance is because proper protocol wasn’t followed! The blame falls squarely on Carmel for his crappy legal advice–it’s a sad day when Guthrie can’t even clue the others in as to how to terminate an employee without letting them do a money grab on the way out the damn door.
      So much for watching out for the voters’ best interest.
      What a screw up.

      (14) 18 Total Votes - 16 up - 2 down

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