Arroyo Grande sees a week of discord over impropriety investigation



After days of emotional council meetings, dueling letters, and passionate disagreements in Arroyo Grande, two things are clear: The investigation into a July 3 incident involving two city employees will continue, and residents across the board are upset.

The week kicked off with a caustic Sept. 18 letter from the Arroyo Grande Police Officers’ Association (AGPOA) alleging a city cover-up and expressing a vote of no confidence in City Manager Steve Adams and Mayor Tony Ferrara.

Subsequently, the Arroyo Grande City Council held an emergency meeting on Sept. 20 in which council members decided to authorize an additional, independent investigation of the July 3 incident.

Later that day, Ferrara issued a two-page letter in response to the AGPOA missive that emphatically denied any cover-up on the city’s behalf.

Finally, the regularly scheduled Sept. 23 City Council meeting drew roughly 75 attendees, further commentary from disappointed residents, and six comments from AGPOA members responding to Ferrara’s letter.

The week’s action noticeably notched up the intensity of the month-long, back-and-forth volleying between the city and concerned residents over how to properly respond to the incident.

To recap, City Manager Adams and Community Development Director Teresa McClish were discovered late that night by five Arroyo Grande police officers at City Hall.

In mid-August, local website CalCoastNews alleged that the two were having a “tryst,” but Adams has denied that there was any inappropriate sexual conduct or violations of city policy.

Essentially, one side believes that there was nothing illegal or inappropriate that happened on July 3 and wants to move on from the incident before wasting more city time and money.

The other side has expressed concerns about the incident, alleged that the city’s investigatory efforts have been insufficient, and wants to see a further, independent investigation.

“Despite the emotional statements by some in the community, I firmly believe the integrity of the council remains intact,” Ferrara wrote in his Sept. 20 letter. “There was and is no cover-up.”

“This is far bigger than the incident at City Hall. The actions of the City Council by publicly dismissing this issue far exceed the act by the city manager,” AGPOA President Shawn Cosgrove said in a Sept. 23 public comment that was also released as a letter.

The council’s Sept. 20 decision to kick-start a new, independent investigation is a major change in the dynamic of the conflict. The council had resisted public pressure to conduct an additional investigation as recently as its Sept. 9 meeting.

Coming out of closed session on Sept. 20, Ferrara said that the council had made a determination to put together a list of potential investigators. He added that the anticipated investigation cost is between $5,000 and $25,000, the investigator will be out-of-county, and council members Tim Brown and Jim Guthrie—as well as City Attorney Timothy J. Carmel—will choose the investigator.

Council member Joe Costello, however, said he doesn’t “expect to have any different outcome” following the new investigation, and added he’s “very confident” the initial investigation by Deputy City Attorney Michael McMahon was thorough and sufficient.

In a Sept. 23 statement emailed to New Times, Adams said he’s focusing on his work as city manager and letting the situation sort itself out.

“As throughout this ordeal, I trust that our council will handle it correctly,” Adams wrote. “Therefore, I support whatever they decide is the best course of action at this time.”

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