Tribune editorial exposes writer’s ignorance

August 13, 2017

Julie Tacker


In addition to being factually inaccurate, the Tribune’s recent editorial, “Arroyo Grande mayor claims he did nothing wrong. So why is he so quiet?” takes a poorly aimed pot-shot at Mayor Jim Hill.

The Tribune editorial staff suggests an email that was blind copied to Jeff Edwards, intended for me (we share an email account), was sent to the district’s attorney, and “other officials.”  This is factually inaccurate.

The email in question was sent only to the sanitation district’s legal counselors, former administrator Gerhardt Hubner, Superintendent John Clemons and me – no “officials” were copied.  This is just part of what’s wrong with the investigations mash-up of several email strings that were the subject of a complaint filed against Clemons by Nancy MacNeil, Oceano resident and wife of former sanitation district board member Mary Lucey.

In fact, the mash-up of emails are put in chronological order, but are incongruent and disjointed as they are sent to and from different people and have differing subject lines. I had never seen any of these emails until the report became public and until now had not seen anything confidential or that was “attorney work product privileges.”

The email in question was blind copied to me because I was one of several meeting attendees who witnessed the Dec. 21 incident at a sanitation district meeting. Those inside the board room could hear the noisy dust up in the parking lot where Lucey and MacNeil threatened Clemons; saying “watch your back” after a disagreement ensued over a $600 washer/dryer purchase.

The intent of the purchase was to wash sewage spills from employee’s personal garments and dry jackets and coats that had been soaked while working in heavy rain events.  Hubner disagreed with the purchase, the unit was returned and no cost was incurred by the district.  The wisdom surrounding the return is still a question in my mind.

I was interviewed in the Hill investigation by Scott Nelson who showed me a redacted copy of the subject email, and asked why I thought I was copied.

The redactions by the sanitation district were such that neither Nelson or I had the full context of the subject.  I answered by looking at the date, it has to be related to the Nancy MacNeil complaint.  I also told Nelson, I was at the meeting where the incident took place and was probably copied because I would likely be questioned.

That email is still in my inbox, my copy is not redacted, I have gone back and read it and know exactly what it says and am no longer guessing, as the investigator was, at what it said.  I would be happy to share it with him today, if I thought it would change his report.

The only thing confidential in the email is the word; “confidential” in the subject line, the email itself did not contain MacNeil’s complaint or any other “personal” information about any “personnel matter.”

The editorial takes a pot-shot at me too, repeating the investigators statement, “This person is not a ratepayer or associated with the district in any tangible way…” I may not be a ratepayer in that district, but I am informed and involved, and have been for nearly a decade.

I am a county-wide board watcher. The sanitation district under John Wallace went unchecked by citizens; sewage treatment is not a subject that interests of most people.

I also was called a “supporter” of Mayor Hill; my observations of Hill are that he is the most thorough government official I have ever watched at a dais. The voters of Arroyo Grande are fortunate to have someone as detail oriented and intelligent looking over the matters of their community. These observations are not necessarily “support.” Hill and I differ greatly on some important topics at the sanitation district and national politics.

The editorial fails to delve into much of the meat in the report, another topic suggests Hill acted unilaterally and interfered in a contract extension. Hill did nothing of the sort. I know, because I requested the contract at issue prior to its extension.

A quick perusal of the contract revealed it had expired and it needed revision. I brought it to Hill’s attention, he contacted legal counsel and legal telephoned Hubner.

Hubner apparently had also noticed the error and had begun the process of extending the contract, likely because the request had brought it to his attention. Hill’s alerting legal counsel was in no way “unilateral” or “interfering,” it was notifying legal counsel of a mistake and taking it through the proper channels to see it was fixed.

Contracts are in place to protect both parties, the district was at risk as long as it was operating under an expired contract.

This, along with countless other documents, was thrown like mud on a wall to see if anything would stick.

As the report contends, most of these documents were irrelevant to the original accusations. When investigator Nelson told me he had nine three inch binders of material, mostly from the accusers in Oceano, and proceeded to ask me about former Oceano CSD general manager’s, Tom Geaslen and Lonnie Curtis (the two were found either stealing red handed or stealing by incompetence and were hired and fired long after Hill left Oceano), I knew the investigation was a ‘witch hunt’ and I said so at the time.

No one that was interviewed was under oath. No one that was interviewed was under penalty of perjury. There are no national secrets in Arroyo Grande or at the Sanitation District, and as it turns out nothing “confidential” was shared.

Investigator Nelson assured me he had 31-years of experience in these types of investigations and would stake his reputation on it. Some investigator. He conducted his investigation without questioning the principal party involved — Mayor Hill.

Nelson’s report plays politics instead of being impartial; in my opinion Nelson’s reputation is mud.

An irony in all of this is that at the time the investigation began; only sanitation board members and Patty Welsh had Hubner’s contract with his Ventura address on it. Now, as part of the report, that unredacted address is now available on the internet – for all to see. Wasn’t this the “threat of litigation” that started the whole investigation?

Perhaps the most ironic thing in all of this is the report itself; and it’s there, plain as the nose on one’s face, on the front page, posted on both the City of Arroyo Grande and South San Luis Obispo County Sanitation District’s websites, reported by several media outlets and linked on their websites for all the world to access:

“Report of Investigation regarding the joint investigation by the City of Arroyo Grande, California and the South San Luis Obispo County Sanitation District” (wait for it) “Confidentiality Notice — This report is subject to the attorney-client communication privilege and the attorney work product doctrine. Unauthorized viewing of this document is strictly prohibited.” Just because it says “confidential” on it doesn’t necessarily mean it’s confidential.


I still don’t know why Hill would BCC Julie anyway. It does seem as if Hill overstepped his role. Plus I am uneasy with Hill sharing his email with his wife. Is he on the board or is it his wife. If I was Hill I would wash my hands of being on the SLOSCSD and let someone else from AG represent.


As I understand it, Jim Hill requested that his wife get his password from AG City Staff because he was away and forgot it. I don’t know if his wife actually used it to read any of his emails, just got his password to him so he could use it. Should he have done it better? Maybe so, but I don’t think this qualifies him for anything more than a mild reprimand.


Given what other have done, for one what Caren Ray did with her house designation to avoid paying her fair share, what Hill did was very very minor.


No one else on the AG Council is fit to serve.

Caren Ray poohoo’d the grand jury report when it suggested all was not right with Wallace at the helm.

Barneich is a Ray wanna be.

Barbara Harmon is desperately trying to make a name for herself by joining forces with the all against Hill gang.

Brown has shown some interest but defers to Hill because of his long history with the District and unparalleled knowledge of District matters.

There is no one better suited to represent Arroyo Grande than Mr Hill. Period.


I can understand being uneasy with this, and that is exactly what was intended by the report. Anyone close to Lin Hill, including the accusers who very well know the truth, but chose to pretend otherwise, knows that Lin Hill does not use a computer and has to ask friends to read reports and newspaper articles to her because she has severe eye problems. It’s a shame that this personal health issue has to come out to expose the truth. Even if she could have read the password on the post-it, she wouldn’t have been able to use it because she can’t use a computer.


Health & Safety Code mandates that the board of the sewer district is comprised of the mayors of Grover Beach and Arroyo Grande and the president of the OCSD. Should they be unable or unwilling to serve, their alternate is chosen by the respective council or board. Mayor Hill could choose to step down but no one can relieve him of his position as a director of the SSLOCSD, nor should they. Jim Hill has been the voice in the wilderness calling for reform and standing up to corruption that runs deep and wide beyond just the sewer district.


The only time I even hear of this tribune is from reading about it on CCN…

The last house on my street cancelled their subscription a while ago, and we are (as far as I can see) a trib-free neighborhood. I guess their going down swinging? Or at least flailing about…


*sorry: they’re going down swinging… two thoughts, one sentence.


Before we cancelled our subscription years ago I stockpiled The Trib for lining the birdcage. When the supply runs out I will simply pick up the garbage they so kindly leave in the neighborhood every week, wrapped nicely in a pretty pink plastic bag and dumped by the community mailboxes and at random corners so they can claim they have some distribution numbers.


The Tribune editorial (The Tribune August 11 edition: If A.G. Mayor did nothing wrong, why is he so quiet?), should be “If A.G. Mayor did nothing wrong”, why the Tribune’s editor’s indictment? The answer clearly is the Tribune’s past endorsement of Ferrara and then Waller for Mayor of AG and the election if Hill contradicting the Tribune’s endorsements.

The Tribune’s editors are clearly wrong. The Tribune comes with “unclean hands” in it is editorial! The majority of citizens in AG who know the facts on the matter are offended by the Tribune’s bias. The call “to replace him on the sanitary district board” by the Tribune will be answered with a possible recall if the Council decided on that option. Hill has been a rightful witness against the travails in the Sanitation District – a fact of record.


Thanks again Julie for caring about what is going on in our local government. It takes time and energy to attend meetings for as many years as you have, and that is what is necessary to see how interconnected the agencies are.

After monitoring So San meetings for nearly six years now, I would find it laughable to call Jim Hill a bully if it wasn’t such a serious charge in this context. The man is one of the most diplomatic people I have ever met.

The investigation was a sham! The investigator, after six months and multiple interviews, found it acceptable to submit a report without ever interviewing the subject!!! $15,000 and a report that is a sham!

The investigation into the Brown Act Violation was a political ploy and was costly to ratepayers.

The rest was a witch hunt, cut and pasted and incomplete.

The investigation into the Lucey- McNeil debacle was unnecessary and costly. Who’s idea was that? Seriously!! Who?

At least now I know what one of the many investigations was about, it was confidential till this report came out.


The “witch hunt” seems to be stemming from three of the five AG council members. Their lack of professionalism and gossip behavior is shameful. When will this team grow up and start focusing on the future of Arroyo Grande? Their shenanigans continue to cost thousands to the City.


The same applies to the Board of the SSLOCSD who voted to share the cost of this witch hunt.


The same John Shoals and Linda Austin that approved Hubner’s lifetime benefits after his short time at the district.

They have no regard for the ratepayer’s wallets and pocketbooks.