UPDATE (10/16): Adam Hill issued a response to Los Osos resident Bo Cooper, which read, “Certainly Linde can make her comments without resorting to ugly personal statements about staff and their personal lives. Mostly she is able to avoid that sort of thing, as are most of her fellow speakers. I don’t think this a matter of legalistic retreat; I think it’s a matter of decency and civility. Of course so many vile things can be defended under the hazy banner of what’s democratic. To each his or her own.” Naturally, this earned a response from Cooper. Read it here (PDF).
SLO County Board of Supervisors chairman Adam Hill cut Los Osos resident Linde Owen‘s microphone during her public comment at last Tuesday’s meeting, creating an uproar in the community that has led to investigations against Hill for constitutional violations. Following the outcry, the New Times’ “Shredder” took the opportunity to tell residents to “shut up.”
After criticizing the results of the Ogren-Kelly conflict of interest investigation, Owen was about to mention an article written by CalCoastNews when Hill promptly cut her microphone, citing in advance that Owen’s comments were a “personal attack.” The sheriff deputy, who has been assigned to supervise only Los Osos residents during public comment, escorted Owen out of the chambers. Hill continued to chide Owen, telling her, “I know you think that behaving rudely is advancing your causes; it is not.”
This prompted Los Osos residents, both active and inactive from the podium, to comment on Hill’s actions.
When asked to comment about Hill, Owen told Razor Online, “Behaving rudely is not what I do to advance my cause. Speaking out on injustice and corruption is. Rudeness is in the eye of the beholder, Mr. Hill.”
“This is a very serious threat to our rights and our ability to make our voices heard,” said Los Osos resident Bo Cooper. Cooper went on to call Hill’s actions an “illegal and undemocratic silencing of our voice.”
It is reported that the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and Executive Director of CalAware Terry Francke is currently investigating the matter. CalAware is a statewide First Amendment advisory group that has weighed in on Los Osos/Brown Act violations in the past, most notably prior to the 2005 recall. Since then, Los Osos residents have been subjected to numerous Brown Act violations administered by local agencies presiding over the wastewater project.
Residents were quick to point to Baca v. Moreno Valley Unified School District (1996), a California case involving the prohibition of criticism of employees during open meeting sessions. Judge Timlin wrote in his opinion that the provider of open meetings “cannot prohibit speech on the ground that it is, or may be, false or defamatory, let alone on the ground that it is negatively critical of District’s employees.” The opinion also goes on to say that the open meeting provider cannot “regulate the use of defamatory speech based on ‘hostility–or favoritism–towards the underlying message expressed.’”
As their primary authority, Timlin cited the California Constitution (Article I, Section 2), which relevantly provides, in part: “Every person may freely speak, write and publish his or her sentiments on all subjects, being responsible for the abuse of this right. A law may not restrain or abridge liberty of speech or press.”
This is not the first time that Owen was targeted for her comments. The Tribune’s Bob Cuddy wrote in his July 17 Opinion column that Owen “crossed the line” of acceptable criticism when she criticized Paavo Ogren and Maria Kelly, saying that she was “sorry that their children’s (alleged) drug use … (was) a bit of a problem.” In the instance that Cuddy cited, Owen was referring to an article on the subject published by CalCoastNews, but not cited in Cuddy’s piece. This created the appearance that it was Owen who invented these supposedly hateful comments on a whim without any relevance to the wastewater project. Cuddy has decried similar rhetoric as being “violent,” and has compared project opposition to the likes of the Westboro Baptist Church and the 2011 Tuscon tragedy.
The Tribune is not the only media outlet to take aim at opposition to the County’s $200 million project. The New Times’ fired a scathing editorial as the “Shredder” in their October 12 issue. It reads as follows:
I think I’m having a problem communicating. Every week I go to the Board of Supervisors and say the exact same thing and nobody seems to listen. Also, my application to lynch Paavo Ogren and Maria Kelly was rejected, AGAIN. What am I doing wrong?
—Los Osos Sewer Nut
It’s been said that the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results. I consider what I am about to say the most important piece of advice I have ever given: SHUT UP. For years I’ve listened to you rant about your sewer. You hate it. You really hate it. You want more funding. You’re not happy about the funding you got. I’m not sure what you want, and I don’t think you are either. You’ve had years to formulate a cohesive statement, argument, manifesto, anything. Instead, all anyone’s heard for years is incoherent rambling against anyone and everyone even remotely connected to Los Osos. And if they’re not on your side—whatever the hell side that happens to be—they’re against you. There are two ways to go about this. One way is to sit down privately and try to reach a resolution. The other way is to grandstand on TV and the radio every week clearly getting nowhere. You’ve fallen in love with the sound of your own ramblings, and probably driven away people who might have something important to contribute to the subject. You have managed to accomplish nothing, really. Might I suggest a hobby? Perhaps crocheting unicorns onto pillowcases; believe it or not, that’s actually a more substantial contribution to society. I’m a cheapskate, but I’ll happily chip in for yarn if you’ll cork it.
This echoes similar sentiments from the publication in October 2009, when the Shredder compared project opposition to his bowel movement. Writers for the New Times commented on Razor Online, calling “the vast majority of Los Ososites are completely insane” [former writer Patrick Klemz], including some personal attacks and harassing e-mails to Razor Online. It appears as though history is repeating itself, but at the cost of the reputations of Los Osos residents who have something meaningful to say, and have been barred from having an open discussion with the local media — and the push by local media for Los Osos to “shut up” has been graced by Hill’s conduct.
To my friends at the New Times:
The First Amendment of both the California and the U.S. Constitution gives you every right to tell Los Osos residents to “shut up,” “put a cork in it,” and call them every name that grown adults don’t normally use. Under that same constitutional premise, Los Osos residents are free to criticize the project whether or not you agree with their positions. But to advocate a position that strongly encourages concerned people to be silent — on any political issue that affects lots of people — is absolutely reprehensible. There is always a reason to be concerned, and residents have made many coherent arguments to support their point of view. If you don’t see that — which is as obvious as the sky being blue — open your eyes.
When you wrote that the definition of insanity is “doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results,” you got that part right. Unfortunately, that was the only part you got right. Los Osos residents have been repetitive with their concerns, and they have been consistent and have showed steadfast loyalty to their positions, which is an undeniable fact. Sometimes, to an outsider, that repetition may seem unwarranted or half-baked, but Los Osos is entitled to exposing themselves to the risk of being ineffective. Sometimes the repetition has resulted in successful challenges and appeals, which changed the project dynamics for the better — and that is a testament to why public comment matters. Ironically, the definition of insanity can be applied to you. You wrote the same editorial twice, expecting the people to “shut up.” Turns out, in both instances, you failed to accomplish your extremely juvenile goal.
Sure, you’ve provided articles that support the people’s plight, but then you turn around and write scathing editorials about the same people you’ve “supported.” That’s very schizophrenic, and that doesn’t instill confidence from readers who are looking for journalistic standards.
… and to Napoleon Hill:
Instead of posing in photo ops with authors, you should read their books instead. “The Power of Civility” sounds like a good read. The book jacket claims the book is “packed with thought-provoking perspectives on what civility really means, as well as practical solutions for incorporating civility best practices into your work and life. In this comprehensive book, 18 top civility and etiquette professionals go beyond the typical ‘please and thank you’ conversations about civility and challenge you to think about your personal standards, accountability, values, and what it means to be committed to choosing civility, whether at home, at work, in your community, or in public—at home and abroad.”
At home, you filed for divorce and your ex-wife claims you abused her. As board chairman, you threatened to stop people if they exhibited “boorish behavior” as you abused them. You assigned a deputy to the back of the chambers only for Los Osos residents. You’ve sent harassing and threatening e-mails to people who disagree with you, and you’ve gone as far as to threaten a respected labor organization with blackmail when they disputed your staff’s budgetary numbers. You create an account on The Tribune site for the sole purpose of endorsing incoherent, violent rants directed at Los Osos residents — but if one person dares to question the results of a questionable investigation, the microphone is cut because they made a “personal attack”?
Bravo sir, bravo! You’ve proven your leadership in one area alone — serial abuse.
– Aaron Ochs