Allegations of misconduct ignite Arroyo Grande Council
February 12, 2017
By KAREN VELIE
The Arroyo Grande City Council will consider hiring an outside investigator to look into allegations of misconduct brought by a member of the public against Mayor Jim Hill. Three members of the bitterly divided council opposed Hill’s November reelection.
During a Jan. 24 board meeting, Arroyo Grande resident Patty Welsh claimed that Mayor Hill had shared his email password with his wife and distributed an employment contract that had yet to be approved by the South San Luis Obispo County Sanitation District Board. Welsh is a controversial figure who has disrupted city meetings in the past.
On two recent occasions, attendees at city meetings, who did not agree with Welsh, accused her of assault. In both cases, the incidents were reported to the police.
Welsh’s evidence that Hill shared confidential records is an email Hill sent her on April 6 with an unsigned contract for sanitation district Administrator Gerhardt Hubner. Welsh claims the contract was confidential at the time Hill sent it to her, and that his sharing of the contract is a violation the Brown Act.
The Brown Act exempts agencies from discussing several issues in open session, such as litigation, employee reviews and real estate and labor negotiations. However, proposed management contracts and other agency business are not exempted.
On Feb. 1, Welsh repeated her allegations at a sanitation district board meeting where she handed in a copy of the April 2016 email string showing Hill shared the contract with her on April 6.
And while Welsh claims the email string is proof of wrongdoing, the unsigned contract was available to the public on April 3, when it was published in an agenda packet.
In addition, while the Arroyo Grande City Council will be voting on whether or not to spend up to $15,000 looking into Welsh’s allegations, it may not be under the council’s purview. Even though the three member sanitation district board is comprised of one representative each from the Grover Beach City Council, the Arroyo Grande City Council and the Oceano Community Services District, the city of Arroyo Grande has no jurisdiction over sanitation district matters.
Nevertheless, Mary Lucey and Matt Guerrero, who during their respective tenures represented the Oceano Community Services District, encouraged the city to look into Welsh’s allegations. Arroyo Grande City Councilwomen Caren Ray then asked city staff to look into the Welsh’s allegations. In the November election, Ray, Lucey and Guerrero openly supported Hill’s opponent Richard Waller.
On Tuesday at 4 p.m., the Arroyo Grande City Council will hold a special meeting to discuss the alleged Brown Act violations. At 6 p.m., the council will consider spending $15,000 on an investigation into Welsh’s allegations of Brown Act violations at the sanitation district.
The company under consideration for the $15,000 contract, Liebert Cassidy Whitmore, was asked by the city to determine if the allegations should be independently investigated. After reviewing the tape of the Jan. 24 meeting, Liebert Cassidy Whitmore said Welsh’s allegations “warrant an independent investigation.”