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'I have decided to pursue new opportunities elsewhere' 

Arroyo Grande City Manager Steve Adams reveals and explains his decision to leave the position

It is with regret that I announce my plans to step down as city manager with the city of Arroyo Grande. After much deliberation, I have determined that the current events have created too much distraction for me to lead the future of our organization as effectively as I would like. To be involved in something divisive to the community would be the ultimate contradiction of everything I have tried to stand for in bringing the community together during these past 14 years. As a result, my family and I have decided to pursue new opportunities elsewhere. I cannot begin to express how much I appreciate the support I have received from so many kind people in our community.

My resignation will become effective once my replacement has been hired and starts work. Therefore, I intend to remain in my position throughout the recruitment process in order to ensure a smooth transition and enable me to complete a number of important efforts underway. I will continue to cooperate fully with the investigation. My primary motivation is to serve the best interests of this community that I cherish so much.

I want to emphasize to the community how fortunate it is to have such an amazing mayor and City Council. I have had the distinct honor to work with each of them on a day-to-day basis for many years. I never cease to be amazed at their level of dedication to the entire community. The effort they take to respond to the concerns of every individual that contacts them is extraordinary.

They took the July 3 incident very seriously, responded quickly, and handled it in the best way possible based on the information they had. Everything was handled consistently with how similar incidents are dealt with involving other staff. An initial review is first completed to identify if any policies are violated and to determine whether a formal investigation is warranted. There seems to be some confusion from people unfamiliar with government procedures who are comparing the situation to an incident involving a potential criminal action or when a formal personnel complaint is filed, neither of which apply in this case.

There was no so-called “cover-up.” I actually called a meeting of my executive team the first work day following the incident to inform them of what had happened. Personnel matters are not publicized, which is not the same as a cover-up.

It is reprehensible that negative criticism has been made toward the city attorney’s office. Their level of expertise, hard work, and dedication to effectively protect the city’s and community’s interests day in and day out is something unparalleled to anything I have witnessed anywhere in my career. They handled this incident in that same consistent and professional manner.

I have also witnessed the city clerk and her staff work tirelessly and with the utmost professionalism to respond to a barrage of public records requests, only to have wild, unfounded insinuations made about altering records and tapes. Our citizens would agree what a travesty this is if they had the opportunity as I do to witness the seriousness with which they take their integrity as it relates to their professional responsibilities. The so-called “missing 80 minutes” of tape resulted because the representative of the website that requested the tape submitted a flash drive that was too small to hold the entire file. Once they submitted a new flash drive, they received the remainder of the tape. However, these background facts were never reported.

The impact on Ms. McClish’s reputation is an even greater travesty. She has consistently treated everyone she comes in contact with in a kind, professional, and responsive manner. She has served this community with great distinction and does not deserve the meanness that has been directed toward her.

I have consistently expressed my deepest respect for the important work our officers do in protecting our community. I also fully support the officers that responded to the July 3 incident and early on issued a public apology to them for the uncomfortable position my actions put them in, as well as to the rest of the organization and community. I have never accused any of them of lying, and it has never been my belief that they said anything with the intent of harming me.

I have tried to focus on my job, stay out of the press, and let the investigation process take its course. However, given the amount of accusations that have been made publicly, I believe I must now speak out to provide clarification regarding some of the statements.

First, I never lied about Ms. McClish being in the building. When I asked why the officers were there, I was twice told they were looking for someone with the name of an employee that until recently worked in City Hall. When one of the officers used Ms. McClish’s correct name, I responded that she was there. Later reports on a website that they were using her nickname are false, although I acknowledge that they may have thought that was the case.

Second, the building was reported as being dark, which is an accurate statement given that most the lights were off. However, it is also important to clarify for the public that there are lights at each end of the building that automatically remain on at all times. Therefore, there would be no reason to turn on additional lights in other portions of the building.

Third, due to the extent of the activity by the officers in the building, our belief was that they could be responding to a serious threat. Therefore, Ms. McClish was standing out of view in response to her fear for her safety.

Lastly, I continue to confirm my earlier statements that nobody was at any time unclothed or partially clothed.

With regard to the actions of the Arroyo Grande Police Officers’ Association, I continue to provide them the benefit of the doubt that their motivations are sincere. However, given that they are still not satisfied now that the City Council complied with their request for an outside investigation, I believe it is important that the public be provided pertinent background information regarding the city’s labor relations.

I will be the first to recognize that I have failed to maintain a positive relationship with the POA. I acknowledge that there were things I could have done and/or communicated better to improve this relationship. However, it is important to also acknowledge that we have been through the worst economic period since the Great Depression. We are proud of the fact that during this period, we actually increased reserves, maintained important capital projects to improve our streets and other infrastructure, and maintained key service levels despite skyrocketing pension costs and plummeting revenues. This could not have been accomplished without some tough decisions and tough labor negotiations.

During this time, the POA hired an attorney to represent them who was a partner with a law firm that posted on its website a “playbook” for negotiations. Among other questionable tactics, it advocated “public ridicule” of blunders by the city manager, mayor, and City Council. It also recommended to “focus on a city manager, councilperson, mayor or police chief and keep the pressure up until that person assures you his loyalty and then move on to the next victim.” They have since gone out of business amongst a variety of their own legal problems, but the POA has continued the services from the same attorney, now with a new firm.

I am confident that our extraordinary and dedicated staff will carry on to do more great things for this wonderful community that I love so much. I believe my greatest legacy is the effective team we have assembled over the years and am extremely proud of all that they have accomplished. The state of the city’s infrastructure, finances, and economic vitality are at their highest level ever due to their hard work, the council’s leadership, and the community’s support and involvement. My wish is that my departure will remove this distraction and allow them to return their full focus to these important efforts. I cherish all my time serving the city of Arroyo Grande, I bear no ill will to anyone who has opposed me in this matter, and I hope everyone can now seek a new level of cooperation in addressing some major challenges ahead for our community. Meanwhile, I look forward to spending more time with my incredible family who has been so supportive of me throughout this ordeal and my life.

Steven Adams is currently the city manager of Arroyo Grande. Send comments to the executive editor at rmiller@newtimesslo.com.

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