Sanitation district violates Brown Act amid Brown Act violation investigation

May 7, 2017

Sanitation district board members Jim Hill, John Shoals and Linda Austin


The South San Luis Obispo County Sanitation District may have violated the Brown Act while conducting an investigation into an alleged Brown Act violation.

On April 19, during a closed session meeting, sanitation district board member and Arroyo Grande Mayor Jim Hill was ordered to leave the room so that legal counsel Gilbert Trujillo, Administrator Gerhardt Hubner and board members John Shoals and Linda Austin could discuss an investigation into allegations of Brown Act violations lodged against Hill.

Nevertheless, ordering Hill to leave the district board appears to have violated the Brown Act because the issue was not on the agenda. The sanitation district board also failed to allow Hill the option of having the discussion in open session as required by the Brown Act.

Kevin Rice

On May 2, San Luis Obispo activist Kevin P. Rice sent the district a cure and correct demand regarding the board’s alleged April 19 Brown Act violations.

“It is truly mind-boggling that while conducting an investigation into alleged Brown Act violations, the SSLOCSD Board committed a Brown Act violation. Yet, that is exactly what occurred on April 19,” Rice wrote in his cure and correct letter.

The district has 30 days from its receipt of Rice’s letter to respond to his demands to place the Hill investigation discussion on a future agenda during open session.

The investigation into Hill’s alleged Brown Act violation was started after a controversial figure with a history of disrupting meetings levied an allegation of a Brown Act violation during a public meeting.

During a Jan. 24 council meeting, Arroyo Grande resident Patty Welsh claimed that Hill had shared his email password with his wife and distributed an employment contract that had yet to be approved by the sanitation district board.

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. A claim Hill disputes on the grounds the contract was a public document.

The Brown Act exempts agencies from discussing several issues in open session, such as litigation, employee reviews and labor negotiations. However, proposed management contracts and other agency business are not exempted.

Nevertheless, political adversaries of Hill on both the Arroyo Grande City Council and the sanitation district board voted to pay $15,000 to have an outside firm conduct an investigation into Welsh’s allegations.

The Hill investigation, which is expected to take between four to six weeks, is being conducted by Liebert Cassidy Whitmore, a law firm specializing in human resource matters.

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Mitch, I don’t know who you are, but it sounds like you haven’t been to SSLOCSD meetings. Characterizing the 50 or so people who give up countless hours as “busy bodies” flies in the face of democracy and in the face of decency. Get off your high horse and fulfill your role in this unique burden the constitution puts on us to hold our institutions accountable. Then, when you have also invested weeks and hours and taken time to listen and understand the issues and their concerns, speak to your own, rather than name-calling.

“Mitch C” is Francis Mitch Cooney.

The administrative concept of “due process” is a Constitutional right and universally recognized to serve “the rights and equality of all citizens” by all legal entities in the United States. It provides for the fair handling on matters where charges are made.

Jim Hill has been deprived of a “fair hearing” on this matter. He has been denied an administrative due process on the charges made against him. He has been never informed as to the charges made..

In this example, “they” appear to use a “closed session” on Hill without an arraignment or a formal indictment. That is an insult against those who voted for and support Hill now.

The tactic of making false charges – as is the matter here – is exploited politically. It is used to establish a “cloud” to disparage an individual while the matter is being considered – a matter in this circumstance that is belabored to disparage Hill.

Creating a disparaging cloud is a classic transparent tactic to impugn an individual’s reputation – and those whose oppose Hill exploit it while he patiently and with dignity suffers the negative implications of the cloud.

All who have been party to this – including the AG City Council – and now prominently by Joan Shoals – and certain citizens exploiting the matter – should be held to account.

It is an exercise that camouflages the greater issue of the Sanitation District’s mismanagement now being mangled by the two members of the present Sanitation District Board and the history of legal conflicts being considered in the indictment by the District Attorney.

This situation is getting way out-of-hand; let’s all grow up. Realize that all of this is precluding the sanitation district board from conducting business that would benefit the rate payers.

From my reading of the issues, the grievances are minor mistakes which can be administratively corrected. Too much is being made of nothing.

Mitch C,

“Administratively corrected” assumes the district has an administrator worth his salt. This administrator’s disdain for Hill, the public, and any staff that knows more about wastewater than he does, has clouded judgement. He’s culpable for what’s transpired over the last year sending this district down the rabbit hole.

Hill and the public are holding Hubner accountable, catching him in his unprofessionalism (button your shirt/wear a tie like all other GM’s, CM’s and Administrators), incompetence and lies. (Hell, the guy doesn’t know the difference between “disposition” and “deposition” — as posted on his April 19 agenda, packet and verbal presentation wherein he blames staff (writes a libelous staff report to “immortalize” (his word for “memorialize”) into the public record) for the loss of the Wallace audio tapes. (BTW, on that topic, he reported to the board that the IT technician would charge about $200.00 to search the computers at the district).

In May of 2011, the Ventura County Grand Jury released a report entitled “Bullying in the Workplace”. Hubner comes from a culture of oppression punctuated by intimidation, harassment, criticism and demeaning remarks. This behavior is not acceptable here. Go back where you came from, retire or quit.

There are two key employees on paid leave for no comprehensible reaseon. Total cost to the rate payers- $13,000 per month. Legal cost are at $20, 000 per month. There is currently an investigation of the Administrators behavoir towards staff – estimated cost $20,000. There is currently an investigation of Mayor Hill for Brown Act Violation – Just plain ironic. There is currently an investigation of the Plant Superintendent. There is currently an investigation of the District Bookkeeper/Secretary for “undisclosed” reasons. There are anumber of “volunteers” handling District financial and record keeping documents. These “volunteers” have no written agreement or contract with the District Obvious liabilities there. Plant operations is taking a turn for the worse. Administrator is unable to complete the 2016-17 Audit. 2017-18 Budget hasn’t been brought to the Board. 30 year Redundancy project only permitted for ten years. And we are payiny a full-time administrator $200, 000 a year.

Mitch, my reading of the issues are very different from yours. Try to compare what is going on now at the District, to how the District was being run through April of 2016,

Good point and your review of the entire situation is excellent; however, the article addresses some small errors in the Brown Act implementation. My comments addressed the interdiction of some self-important individuals into the process which only complicates arriving at a solution to the entirety of the situation you so aptly point out.

Please excuse the typos. I hit “post comment” too quickly.

Mitch, I fail to see how locking an elected board member out of a meeting, which also happens to be illicit, is a minor grievance. The Board and administration need to be replaced. That’s the only fix.

If Mr. Hill felt that he was removed without cause it was he that should speak up not a group of self appointed busybodies. This abuse of the Brown Act by those who use the law to block, prevent district business or abuse staff with unreasonable requests are not promoting the public’s business. Reasonable objections to Brown Act miscues that directly affect an individual are reasonable, objections that carry out a personal agenda are not.

Mitch, if you are really concerned about staff being abused, and about district business being obstructed, why aren’t you questioning the fact that two District staff members (who have sparkling histories with this District) have been relieved of duty for no apparent reason? There is the posibility that the administrator is just carrying out is own personal agenda to the detriment of the District.

My point is that there is more to this picture than an isolated Brown Act violation charge. There have been a series of questioable action by the District adminstration lately (i.e violation of purchasing policy, violation of By-Laws, bullying of faithful staff, unreliable financial data). Do you believe that citizens should remain silent in the face of government ineptitude and dishonesty?

In fact, woild you call the individual who initiated the Brown Act violation charges against Mayor Hill a busybody also?

The big picture for the District is currently bleak, and that has nothing to do with the concernrd public. It has everything to do with poor decision making within the District itself.



Let the hilarious ironies continue.

Patty Welsh leads the charges against Mayor Hill, but look back at 24:30 into this April 6, 2016 meeting tape:

Before Hubner was hired she was waiving monopoly money and US currency at the board emphasizing the “real money” was “my money” paying Hubner. She legitimately cried foul on his contract that had no probationary period and it included numerous perks.

Once hired, Hubner fought to keep his resume a secret, Welsh actually suggested she would pay to sue the district for if it wasn’t made available saying, “There is only one reason to fight this hard to keep the information from us, he is hiding something.”

Hubner is now fighting to keep his payroll data a secret. Is he hiding something there too? $12,500 and $350 car allowance each month is not monopoly money.

That $15,000 investigation is on you Patty Welsh. That’s not Monopoly money either.