Arroyo Grande council adopts contested letter writing rules

May 25, 2016

AG City Council 6

On a 3-2 vote, the Arroyo Grande City Council adopted a resolution requiring council members to inform one another when they author letters using city resources. Critics have said the rule violates the First Amendment.

Council members must now copy all of their colleagues, as well as the city manager, city attorney and city clerk when they send correspondence using city resources. Correspondence includes letters or emails to citizens, businesses or public agencies.

Additionally, the resolution requires council members to clearly articulate the council’s adopted policy position when fulfilling a public speaking engagement. Council members are allowed, though, to indicate that their individual position differs from the stance adopted by the council, the resolution states.

There are no penalties for violating the rules contained in the resolution.

On Tuesday night, council members Kristen Barneich, Jim Guthrie and Barbara Harmon voted in favor of the resolution. Mayor Jim Hill and council member Tim Brown cast the dissenting votes.

“We are supposed to work as a team, believe it or not. It is a best practice,” Harmon said.

Guthrie said the council communication discussion was an issue of transparency.

Both Hill and Brown voiced concerns about sharing all communication with every member of the council. They said it could be problematic because it could be used to influence decisions without public scrutiny.

Brown also said he does not plan to make any changes in the way he communicates.

“This is much to do about nothing in a political year,” Brown said.

Hill said the issue was a distraction that was taking staff resources away from more pressing issues like medical marijuana.

A dispute over council communications arose when Harmon chastised Hill for a letter he sent to the Federal Trade Commission. In the letter, Hill outlined concerns about the lengthy closure of the city’s only full-service grocery store. Harmon complained that Hill’s letter conveyed an official city position.

Barneich then asked that the issue be agendized to allow a discussion on implementing council policy on letters written by city council members. In response, City Manager Dianne Thompson drafted an actual resolution for the council to vote on.

Several supporters of Barneich and former Arroyo Grande mayor Tony Ferrara spoke during public comment Tuesday. They criticized Hill for sending the letter to the Federal Trade Commission and argued he sent it on behalf of the whole council.

Supporters of Hill have argued the resolution is unconstitutional. In 2009, the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that U.S. Supreme Court decisions have demonstrated the First Amendment protection for elected officials’s speech is no less strenuous than that afforded to the speech of other citizens.



  1. LeAnn says:

    Thank you Shredder for understanding the situation in Arroyo Grande!!!!!!!!!! If you have not read the article from SLO Times, here is the link: i/

    Arroyo Grande is in trouble with our current city council members continuing to vote in a 3:2 pattern. This pattern is holding up progress and is holding the council, Mayor Hill, and our city hostage.

    If you want to help change this, please email me at

    (7) 9 Total Votes - 8 up - 1 down
  2. LeAnn says:

    We need people to run for city council…plain and simple…people who have the best interests of the city at heart, people who will do what is right, people who will keep special interests at bay and push issues that are important—once the culture of the council changes, the culture at city hall will have to change. Email me at to help get involved in changing the way the business of the City of Arroyo Grande is done!

    (4) 8 Total Votes - 6 up - 2 down
  3. doglover says:









    (6) 12 Total Votes - 9 up - 3 down
  4. Pelican1 says:

    Obviously, the current council believes that no GOOD DEED should go unpunished. Sad.

    (7) 17 Total Votes - 12 up - 5 down
  5. LeAnn says:

    Transparency is still missing in the City of Arroyo Grande because as Mr. Guthrie stated at the meeting last night, he requested that a draft resolution be written… interesting…when did that happen? I do not recall that being part of the minutes from the meeting on May 10th—can a coucil member act solo with regards to a request like this, outside of public venue and direct staff to take on a task such as this? I continue to maintain, the resolution was handled improperly and should have been removed from the agenda. I reviewed the minutes from the March 8th meeting and while conducting council business was on that agenda, there is no mention of a communication policy or a resolution. If the direction was given to staff at the March 8th meeting by Mr. Guthrie to write a resolution, there is no record of that in the minutes. Again, this is sloppy work by the council and city staff. Council adopted the minutes from the May 10th meeting with a specific request to adgendize an item—however, there was no mention in those minutes of staff being directed to write a resolution. Where is the transparency there? The resolution will not fix this.

    Transparency is still missing in the City of Arroyo Grande because it just isn’t present and no amount of resolutions will change that, because the transparency that is missing goes much deeper than this resolution can reach.

    (20) 32 Total Votes - 26 up - 6 down
  6. Kevin Rice says:

    No one needs to abide by these rules. Brown and Hill are free to ignore it. I recommend they do. A council majority has no authority to restrain the speech of any elected official.

    (27) 47 Total Votes - 37 up - 10 down
  7. joseywales says:

    people who cite “team” are group thinkers lacking creativity and leadership. using “team” as an argument means that misery loves company and the lowest rungs of the ladder try to drag everyone to their level. this is why independent thinkers and doers are societies most valueable members.

    Group think award goes to KFB, BH, and TG!

    (16) 34 Total Votes - 25 up - 9 down
  8. Otis says:

    The term “team” and “team work” were used in describing the Council’s function in the hearing by certain members of the Council and in comments by citizens supporting the proposed communication policy. They suggested the Council is a “team”, alleging each Council member has the same power as that of the Mayor.

    This is a fallacy! If the Council is a team then all votes should be unanimous and not split 3/2 opposing the Mayor as determined on the Communications matter and the debacle involving Planning Commissioner Mack.

    Imagine a basketball team – such as the Lakers – proceeding on a 3/2 basis to win basketball games – where a majority opposed the star of the team — or any team that proceeds divisively in its endeavors to win.

    This all brings into focus the real political issue facing the citizens of Arroyo Grande. And that is the control by a troika of Guthrie, Harmon and Barneich to control the management of the city’s business as administered by City Manager.

    It seems to appear as a focus to undermine the Mayor, harboring overtures of hangover from the past Ferrara dominated Council – that was thoroughly manifested in the surprising election of Mayor Hill.

    This frames the issue for the citizens in this political season – in the reelection of the Mayor and the election of two members of the Council – assuming both Guthrie and the Barneich wish to run again.

    The citizens must decide for something is wrong here. What is the power of the Mayor? If the Council is a team should all votes be determines on a unanimous basis and not controlled by a troika that obviously wishes to control, and embarrass the Mayor? Should Harmon be recalled? What is the real role of the Council and that of the City manager?

    The City is being over developed and traffic is becoming hostile to a once great standard of living. Something is wrong here. We need new faces on the Council, and the Mayor’s role that has been traditionally extolled in the past should be emphasized and not controlled by administrative procedures that makes the Mayor a symbolized eunuch in function and purpose.

    Teamwork? The AG Council is not a team – to allege so is a lie – as proven by the 3/2 votes contradicting the Mayor.

    (24) 44 Total Votes - 34 up - 10 down
  9. Pelican1 says:

    Shame on you Jim for simply doing the job that you were elected to do.

    (24) 44 Total Votes - 34 up - 10 down

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