Down South County way, folks are suggesting we begin the new year by putting the odious Arroyo Grande city election of 2014 behind us. Those who prevailed in the disgraceful episode are the principal parties urging us to take this rosy road to forgiveness and renewal.
That’s very Buddhist of them, but, sorry, but I’m not climbing aboard that train.
For those who engineered this scurrilous election to suggest that we forget all about it is equivalent to a mugger sneaking out of an alley, clubbing a guy over the head from behind, stealing his watch and wallet, and then extending a hand to help him up while cooing, “Let’s put this unpleasantness behind us.”
Because that’s what the Arroyo Grande city election was: a mugging, a steel pipe across the noggin to our sense of fair play, our electoral system, and to families ground up in the wood shredder of the special interests behind the election.
For those who have already forgotten, some guy named Jim Hill was elected mayor, defeating longtime incumbent Tony Ferrara.
Hill was not on the ballot. He never debated Ferrara or set forth a platform. He had lived in Arroyo Grande only three years and most likely needed to go on MapQuest to find his way to City Hall. Nobody knew the first thing about him.
His only previous public service was with the Oceano Community Services District, an obscure agency known mostly for political infighting and routinely changing general managers. Hill’s tenure with the OCSD went unexamined by local media.
How did this guy get elected? Let us harken back to last summer.
In July, Arroyo Grande City Manager Steve Adams and Community Development Director Teresa McClish attended an official public function in AG’s Village. As the evening waned, instead of heading straight home, they decided they had had too much of a snootful to drive safely—McClish lives in Morro Bay—and decided to sober up at nearby City Hall, their place of employment.
However, McClish had called her husband at 10 p.m. to say she was coming home. When she hadn’t shown up an hour later, he called the cops.
Five police officers in the 35-member force burst into City Hall and found Adams and McClish, drinking green tea.
A scandal was born.
Were McClish and Adams fooling around? Beats me. They said no. The city investigated and said no. Frankly, I don’t give a rat’s patootie. As far as I’m concerned the question is best handled by Mr. and Mrs. Adams and Mr. and Mrs. McClish.
But that’s just me. Adams’ enemies rode this rancid horse all the way to the ousting of Ferrara and the resignation of Adams.
In this they were abetted by SLO County’s threadbare version of Fox News: Cal Coast News—and I apologize to Glenn Beck, Sean Hannity, and their fellow ideologues for the comparison.
It depresses me to mention this so-called “news” outfit, because CCN pants for the attention. But really, someone needs to call them out and hold them accountable, once and for all. The Tribune won’t. Believe me, I tried when I worked there.
Their offenses are many and include publishing photos of children and writing about them; making themselves the news; and trying to intimidate those who challenge them, instead of just taking the heat like actual journalists do.
Their journalistic atrocities are greater yet: innuendo, questionable sourcing, and others that only a trained journalist would notice.
But that’s a different column. For present purposes, it suffices to say that CCN jumped on this story like Bill O’Reilly pummeling Benghazi. Their prurient interest aroused, CCN’s writers and editors drooled stuff like the following:
Adams and McClish had a “rendezvous”; they were “partially dressed”; it was a “sex scandal”; they were in “an intimate situation” and had to get dressed. And so on and so forth, all written in a way to make this sleaze seem like straight-up fact, with scarcely an “alleged” to be found, and written in a way that is a dictionary definition of innuendo.
CCN’s long-time enabler, local radio host Dave Congalton, took up the fetid cause.
Congalton, who calls himself a former newsman (next time he says that, ask him what beat he’s covered—cops? government? schools?—and for whom), is great when he’s peddling tours at Hearst Castle or interviewing local artists. But when he gets into local politics, his avuncular side disappears and he gets on board the CCN slime train, sometimes at the controls.
Ferrara fingered these people in his post-election statements, but his words were easy to dismiss as sour grapes. Well, yes, these grapes—stomped on by CCN, Congalton, and others—are hardly fresh and juicy.
Sigh. Well, anyway, as can be expected, people love a scandal, real or imagined, and the thing caught fire.
Enter Jim Hill. Ferrara, who kept an open mind about Adams and McClish, was wounded, and the people behind Hill smelled blood. He ran and won, not because he is the second coming of JFK, but because to a sufficient number of people, a vote for Hill was a vote against married people fooling around. He fooled enough of the people enough of the time. It really is that simple.
Ferrara, who spent years guiding the city, is still in shock at being steamrollered by people who falsely accused him of covering up what he believed to be a private matter.
A word here about the police: I live in Arroyo Grande, and I respect the cops, who are professional, efficient, and courteous. But their union got dragged into the politics of this.
My own view is that this was inadvertent. Cal Coast News took the language in police reports out of context and ran with it. They made it seem as though the police were accusing Adams and McClish of moral turpitude and were judging them for it. The police were not doing that: They were merely writing police reports.
But people took umbrage (and sides). Ferrara pushed back. Officers who felt their professionalism was being questioned got defensive, the thing snowballed, and we all saw the sorry result.
As we enter the new year, are there conclusions to be drawn from all this? Yep.
The first is that Hill has a lot to prove. He won a dirty election, and he has to demonstrate to me and other residents of Arroyo Grande that he is not an unprincipled man.
The second is that the citizens of Arroyo Grande need to be watchful, especially when it comes to negotiating contracts with police officers. Sad to say, Hill now has to prove that he is not a stooge of the police union.
The third—and this does not apply only to Arroyo Grande—is that people looking forward need to pay close attention at election time, especially to the way campaigns are run, and to the reporting. Your government—and the political system, and the truth—can be hijacked.
It can’t happen here? The hell you say.
Bob Cuddy lives in Arroyo Grande. Send comments to the executive editor at firstname.lastname@example.org.