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Arroyo Grande seeks sanitation district's help in Hill investigation 

Arroyo Grande wants to partner with another local agency as it moves forward with an investigation into allegations of misconduct made against the city’s mayor.

In addition to voting 4-0 in favor of an independent inquiry into the allegations against Mayor Jim Hill, the Arroyo Grande City Council is also asking that the South SLO County Sanitation District participate in the investigation and share in its cost, which could run as high as $15,000.

According to Arroyo Grande Interim City Manager Bob McFall, the move to get the sanitation district on board with the investigation was due to the fact that several of the allegations against Hill involved the sanitation district. Hill is one of three sanitation district board members along with Grover Beach Mayor John Shoals and Oceano Community Services District board member Linda Austin.

At a Jan. 24 City Council meeting, Hill was accused by an Arroyo Grande resident of leaking an unsigned, unapproved employee contract, discussing confidential matters in public, and giving his wife access to his city email account, which contained confidential information and documents. Both the resident and the city declined to elaborate on how the accusations are tied to the sanitation district.

The decision to participate in the investigation will be up to the sanitation district’s board, which meets twice a month. The board’s next meeting is scheduled for March 1. Speaking with New Times, Shoals said he believed that the item would be included on the agenda for the meeting.

At a Feb. 15 sanitation district meeting, Arroyo Grande resident Shirley Gibson encouraged the district’s board to vote in favor of joining the investigation.

“I think the sanitation district [would] likewise have exposure to litigation,” she said.

If the sanitation board agrees to join the investigation, an ongoing scandal isn’t the only thing it will be sharing with Arroyo Grande. The law firm the city wants to head up the investigation, California-based Liebert Cassidy Whitmore, appears to already be working with the sanitation district on other matters. The district has paid the firm more than $40,000 for outside legal services since October, according to district documents.

Shoals said he couldn’t comment on specifically what work the firm was doing, but said that it had been retained to assist the sanitation district’s staff with “personnel matters.” Liebert Cassidy Whitmore, a firm that’s investigated several high-profile government scandals, including sexual misconduct allegations within the Oakland Police Department, did not return request for comment from New Times.

McFall suggested that if the sanitation district declines to join with Arroyo Grande in the investigation, the city should seek the services of another law firm to avoid conflicts of interest. Still, he advocated for using the firm and insisted that an independent third party conducted the investigation.

“This simply is the best approach to taking on a matter of such significance as this,” McFall said.

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