Clean Up Your Act, Mayor Hill

Arroyo Grande mayor Jim Hill

Instead of calling the results of an independent investigation a political witchhunt, Arroyo Grande mayor Jim Hill needs to stop repeating history his political campaign helped set into motion.

At their Sept. 12 meeting, the Arroyo Grande City Council voted 3-2 to request that Hill voluntarily resign from the South San Luis Obispo County Sanitation District among other recommendations that would help him govern better. The vote came after the council reviewed the findings made by Liebert Cassidy Whitmore (LCW) law firm, which examined several allegations made against the mayor. Some of the allegations were substantiated, others were not.

The substantiated allegations reveal that Hill disclosed confidential personnel matters, interfering with personnel matters, disclosing privileged attorney-client information to third parties, and overstepping his boundaries as mayor when he tried to influence a business deal involving one of his biggest supporters by writing a letter to the Federal Trade Commission. The facts behind the substantiated allegations are clear.

But Hill hasn’t issued any sort of statement taking responsibility. He voted against the recommendations when he could have abstained. His attorney Stew Jenkins decried the results of the investigation as political and claimed his client was deprived of due process, yet Hill refused to cooperate with the investigation when the firm reached out to him. Jenkins said there was “absolutely no impropriety” with Hill’s actions when the facts state otherwise.

If former mayor Tony Ferrara was in the same hotseat, his opponents would have called for his ouster.

Actually, they did.

In 2014, amid a scandal involving a former city manager and his subordinate, Ferrara was accused of misconduct and not taking enough responsibility for what his staff did under his watch. Under pressure, the mayor and council commissioned two investigations into the allegations and accepted the results. Still, Ferrara’s detractors — including write-in mayoral candidate Hill — didn’t buy it. They persisted. Hill won based on the pledge that he would be more ethical and transparent than his predecessor.

Yet here we are.

Now Hill’s supporters are defending his actions, stating in part that the investigation is a conspiracy to impugn his reputation as a witness in former SSLOCSD Administrator John Wallace’s criminal case. The same supporters accused Ferrara of being in a conspiracy to not only support Wallace, but impede his criminal investigation. One of the people echoing the conspiracy charge was none other than Hill, who accused his colleagues on the Sanitation District of doing just that.

The conspiracy theorists are now facing their biggest nemesis yet, and it’s not Wallace, Ferrara, the Sanitation District or the AG council majority: it’s credibility.

Hill and his rabid supporters have plunged back into the swamp they swore to drain in 2014, which never seemed to dissipate. If anything, it only got bigger — and instead of calling it a swamp, they’re now branding it as a luxurious hot tub.

Of course the price tag for a hot tub pales in comparison to the costs of pushing these conspiracy theories. In the 2014 case, the conspirators managed to get taxpayers to foot the bill for two investigations, a myriad of public records requests, $71,073 in severance pay to the city manager (because the council didn’t have enough evidence to fire him with cause), and a diminished reputation countywide.

With Hill, the potential costs for financial and legal liability are unknown. The investigation Hill wants to ignore cost the city and the Sanitation District approximately $15,000, which is a bargain compared to what he and his supporters cost the city under similar circumstances. Should Hill not take responsibility, the city’s standing in the county continues to crumble.

It’s actually a lot cheaper to say, “I’m sorry. I’ll do better, I promise.”

Otherwise, Hill and his supporters’ quixiotic push against the inevitable truth makes no sense. It certainly makes no sense for Hill’s stiff upper lip to not quiver over his failure to observe the same ethical standards that he likes to apply for others. After all, he resigned from his post on the Oceano Community Services District when those same standards weren’t met by his subordinates.

If he stepped down now, at least he would be consistent. He probably won’t.

What a costly shame.

Author: Aaron Ochs

Aaron Ochs is a local columnist, entrepreneur and founder of SLO Truth. Ochs is also a member of the SLO Progressives club.