Insurance carrier claims hostility in Arroyo Grande

January 6, 2016
Arroyo Grande City Council

Arroyo Grande City Council


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.”


Wow! I am really getting an education from CCN. Keep ’em comin’ Karen.

Mike Byrd

After having read both this article and the one on New Times I’m at a complete loss trying to understand what words, phrases or sentences might be considered hostile. The writer of the letter refuses to say. He also refuses to say who requested that this letter be written.

I’m not particularly thick skinned and my feelings do get hurt by the words of others occasionally, but I see nothing in what was said that was particularly hurtful of hostile.

On another related, topic, is it known why the city manager refused to agendize the Brisco item? I’m not sure I’ve ever heard of such a thing.


A year or so ago, before the election and shortly after a number of us expressed our concerns that old guard wouldn’t go quietly i to the night. And not to our surprise…they haven’t. The puppet masters are busy at work doing everything in their power to disrupt, delay, and destroy any semblance of responsible, sustainable governance.

Enough is enough. It’s time to stop the insanity.


It’s obvious the housekeeping wasn’t thorough enough.

One election was not enough to rid AG of the Ferrara puppets.

Barneich was born and bred under Tony’s influence.

Look how patiently Guthrie waited for his turn at mayor, can he possible be happy watching Hill as he steadily chips away at the walls meant to keep residents from getting too good a look at what was really going on in city hall?

From favors and special deals for NKT, Mary Verdin and who knows how many others, Barneich and Guthrie went along with everything Big Tony wanted. They were also part of the group who didn’t want The Adams/McClish affair to see the light of day, and willingly went along with that POS ‘internal investigation’ (thanks Carmel). Only when things got too far out of control did they relent and let Adams ride off with his fat severance and that final parting gift made possible by their incompetence!

They continue to be an extension of Ferrara—watch Barneich whine about Brisco, it’s Tony’s plan she and McClish attempt to keep alive. Screw the public and what they want, neither of those two care. Ditching the plan the city can NOT afford is not part of their plan, nor it appears is it Thompson’s.

Thompson has joined the team hell bent on making things difficult for Hill.

Once Caren Ray throws her hat in the ring, KB and Guthrie will be on that like white on rice.


So public criticism of a public official is considered sexual harassment? There is no such thing as a hostile work environment unless the person is in a protected class, meaning that Ms. Thompson is asserting there is harassment because she is a woman.

If this insurance agency actually believes what they wrote (doubtful), they should look at tapes of Peg Pinard at the County Board of Supervisors, where for 8 years she belittled her staff. Better yet, they should look at the treatment the women on the BOS get from certain men!

I think Ms. Thompson is over her head and grasping at straws.

Kaiser Bill

Caren Ray and her left wing politics are not a good fit for the City of AG.


I agree that Caren Ray is not a good fit for the City of Arroyo grande, but not because of “her left wing politics.”

I believe the voters in the last election voted strongly for real change in AG, and it seems Thompson believes it is her job to thwart the will of the people.


Does she rent a room from Adam Hill?


When people can’t win a public debate they always try censorship. I think any court would rule that free open public debate is far more important than the hurt feelings of one employee.

When a city employee is not acting to try to ensure that the elected leaders of the community can properly represent the citizens, they are not doing their job and they are doing a disservice to the entire city.


For only having been on the job a few short months, Thompson is quickly making her mark on the city…a big, black mark.

There was that big stink with the FPPC complaint that amounted to nothing, but made Barneich, Harmon and Guthrie look like fools.

Not putting Brisco on the agenda resulted in a special meeting, was that REALLY necessary?

Now, comments critical of her ‘could be deemed hostile’.

How convenient.

Bring back Mr. McFall. The council worked well together while he was in town.

Thompson is lackluster, underwhelming and not worth her paycheck.


She does however, meet the criteria to be sitting at the staff desk….

FEMALE, over 40, long hair in the same style since high school.

With these high paid City salaries why cant McClish, Hefernon, the city attorney and now Thompson get a stylist?

Wetmore is a pleasant alternative to these greying employees.


Another good reason to bring back McFall, break up the hens.


Ms. Thompson is up to her old tricks. The FPPC complaint is right out of her playbook she used in Cotati to try to silence her critics and those who disagreed with her.

If you search the FPPC site for no action results for Cotati, you will find a few of those letters saying that there was no violation by the citizen, but those poor Cotati citizens had to put up with her politics.

I thought the city staff was the servant of the people through their representatives, the City Council. Evidently, Ms. Thompson feels it’s her job to “shape” the Council to her own ends.

Our Arroyo Grande won’t stand for that.






An easy mistake to make since both veracity and voracity are both in the dictionary. In a draft of my letter to Mr. Lefmann, posted on I had it spelled with the “o” and it was only the 3rd proof reader who caught it, and they were not sure.

I think 9 out of 10 readers got the point. :-)

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