This letter is in response to Bob Cuddy’s opinion piece “Leftover shoo goo” from the March 24 issue of New Times. While Cuddy correctly identified that there are issues presenting themselves within the city of Arroyo Grande and the City Council, he misidentified the reasons behind the issues. He points only to two people, Mayor Jim Hill and Councilmember Tim Brown and castigates them while doing so.
What people should know about Mayor Hill and Council Member Brown:
- • They are concerned about their city.
- • They invest in people, not in tactics that divide or limit a growth mindset.
- • They respect people because they take time to listen.
- • They ask questions that should be asked of staff because they expect excellence and transparency.
Mayor Hill and Councilmember Brown have worked tirelessly over the last year in asking tough questions of the Board of Directors at the South County Sanitation District. They have worked to rectify the Sanitation District’s dysfunction, which has plagued the district for years. The release of the long overdue independent audit completed by Carl Knudson in January 2016 revealed what was assumed regarding mismanagement and malfeasance over the course of two decades. Without their participation, and those of concerned and vocal community members, this audit would not have been completed, nor steps taken to remedy the past practices of the Sanitation District. Even district Director Matthew Guerrero spoke about the 180-degree turnaround at the plant. Mayor Hill and Councilmember Brown have insisted on transparency in the books and the daily operations of the plant.
Mayor Hill and Councilmember Brown asked important questions around who is responsible for setting a City Council agenda. These questions have been raised because items Mayor Hill requested be added to the agenda were left off the agenda. Two examples of this include the Brisco Road exit closure and the performance review of Dianne Thompson, our city manager. Both items were later discussed during special meetings, costing the taxpayers of Arroyo Grande money. Money, consequently, we do not have.
Public notices are required for any sort of public hearing. Questions were also raised about the notifications regarding the Brisco closure in particular. The question I have for Mr. Cuddy and others reading this is: What is wrong with civic leaders asking questions about processes and procedures, when the goal behind the question is to have the best outcome for the community? Should our elected officials turn a blind eye when processes and procedures meant to protect and inform the public are being circumvented, ignored, or at best loosely followed?
Mayor Hill and Councilmember Brown have also asked tough questions with regard to the budget of the city of Arroyo Grande. What people may not realize is that while we are meeting our expenses, we are doing so because we are dipping into our reserves. At one point, our reserves will run out; we cannot sustain our expenses with our current revenue or by using our reserves. Both have requested that reason prevail and for the city and council to work together to find areas that need to be cut back. Other members of the staff and council avoid this issue and ignore the reality of our budgetary gaps. I will remind readers that not many citizens were aware of the $17 million in unfunded PERS liability as well as no capital improvement funds set aside for the upkeep and maintenance of city-owned properties and equipment until Mayor Hill was seated in November 2014. Maybe readers are also unaware of the fact that Jeff English and his team at the city have created a detailed accounting of capital improvements needed within the city (this accounting is still in process). What is important to know is there is no money set aside for these improvements—this is goo left from many prior City Councils and does not belong on the doorstep of Mayor Hill as a problem he created.
Aside from attempting to set the record straight and share examples of why Mayor Hill and Councilmember Brown are examples of positive local leadership, I want to take an opportunity to state that we in Arroyo Grande have an opportunity to move forward—from November 2014 to today (and beyond).
Are we going to continue to live in the past, or are we going to make a conscious choice to embrace and recognize positive changes that are present and that are still possible? Our city has an opportunity to make needed changes in several areas and continue to embrace tradition that fosters community and Arroyo Grande as a small town. I hope we as a community choose not to miss the opportunity. We have many challenges to face, and we need to figure out how to face them together.
Finally, I would ask all readers to understand that while Mayor Hill has made changes that are positive, he has been able to accomplish these because others have backed his efforts. It takes more than one person to make a positive impact. Know that when passing judgements about decisions made at the council level, it takes three votes for anything to move forward. For any positive or negative action taken by the council, remember it is not an action taken by an individual, but by a group. Know that when viewing council actions both in the present and in the past.
LeAnn Akins is a resident of Arroyo Grande. Send comments through the editor at firstname.lastname@example.org.