Let’s skip the formalities. Today is Super Bowl Sunday. The Denver Broncos faced off against the Seattle Seahawks. The best offense in the league will be playing against the best defensive team. 80,000 football fans attended the concussion festival at New Jersey’s Met Life Stadium, and millions of people at home tuned in to witness sports history in the making. But it was the Seahawks that took home the Vince Lombardi trophy after a stunning 43-8 win against a team that many believed would keep the score close and competitive.
But there are some in San Luis Obispo County who are more interested in other things, namely District 2 Supervisor Bruce Gibson and District 3 Supervisor Adam Hill. Yet somehow, the Super Bowl managed to find its way into the right-wing obsession with County Board of Supervisors meetings.
I’ll explain. The board met on January 28 for several hours, touching on subjects from the Paso Robles groundwater basin management plan to the Los Osos wastewater project. The meeting lasted until 7:40 p.m. that evening, and it featured several people approaching the lectern to give public comment. Public comment has always been a subject of local controversy because residents are sensitive with regards to their free speech rights. Some have felt that the supervisors have been adamant in quashing their First Amendment rights by limiting speaking time or occasionally trying to distinguish between acceptable and unacceptable public comment. The concern often undermines or outweighs the concern over key issues that are discussed at meetings.
At the meeting, some residents spoke about Supervisor Hill’s recent letter to the editor that was published in the New Times. The supervisor satirized people who are susceptible to conspiracy theories. Suffice to say, the letter was greeted with mixed reviews and visceral overreactions from local right-wing ideologues, who believed that Hill was personally targeting them. The letter eventually caught the ire of Forbes columnist Steven Hayward, who published an except of the letter as a full-fledged defense of taxpayer-funded, excessive local bureaucracies. Hayward believed that Supervisor Hill’s letter was a representation of the unmovable liberal elite that would stop at nothing to diminish and undermine individual liberties and property rights.
Like clockwork, some residents shared the same concern with the board — and they were met with resistance by Supervisor Gibson, who urged speakers to temper their comments, refrain from personal attacks, and speak on items that are within the purview of the board. Yet he never said that they weren’t allowed to express concerns about Hill’s letter. Despite Gibson’s request for people to keep their comments within a reasonable realm of civility, the onslaught continued. Public comment speaker Edward Veek referred to Hill as a demented “bully,” without referring to him by name. Veek also accused Hill of being part of the United Nations-led Agenda 21 conspiracy theory, which doesn’t have a lot of mileage in the world of facts. Then there was Laura Mordaunt, who struck a combative tone with Supervisor Gibson over his “interpretation” of what public comment is used for.
Local resident and North County Tea Party officer Lydia Thompson thought that Gibson was preventing people from talking about Hill’s letter. Thompson said she did not understand the logic behind people — who Hill allegedly referred to as people susceptible to conspiracy theory thinking — being “censored” while Hill is left uncensored.
“[Hill] needs psychiatric help,” said Thompson. Obviously not a personal attack.
Thompson went on to say, “Now you have the right to say whatever you want — and that’s okay — as a person. But when you hold positions that you’re elected to, then you lose that right.”
Wait. That’s not in the First Amendment. So was she saying that elected officials are no longer people? Or was she saying that elected officials are constitutionally prohibited from exercising free speech?
Los Osos resident Linde Owen later suggested that Hill “needs to have a drug test.” Definitely not a personal attack.
This comes from the same Linde Owen who, at the July 12, 2011 Board of Supervisors meeting, said she was “sorry that [Public Works Director Paavo Ogren‘s] children’s drug use… [was] a bit of a problem.” She was, of course, referring to a bombshell CalCoastNews about Ogren and former Los Osos Community Services Director Maria Kelly being in a relationship between two consenting adults, and the unfortunate car accident that involved their kids. What a scandal!
At one point in the meeting, resident Dane Senser, who was dressed in a Seattle Seahawks jersey. He talked about church and spirituality. He ended his remarks by suggesting that people should unwind, get away from all the stress, and watch the Super Bowl. His comments were a little nonsensical, but not at all harmful or incendiary. Gibson chuckled after Senser spoke and said, “Go Seahawks!” What a mistake he made.
“I live in San Gibson Obispo County, where the Super Bowl is in your purview, but the conduct of a colleague is not,” said Los Osos resident and former LOCSD director Julie Tacker.
And when Julie Tacker gets angry, a CalCoastNews article magically appears. And when a CalCoastNews article magically appears, videos by the “Knights Templar” are circulated in the comments section and on YouTube. Coincidence?
Oh, and this happened:
That is Los Osos resident and former LOCSD President Chuck Cesena ripping an “Adam Hill for Supervisor” bumper sticker with his teeth out of protest. Awkward.
I’ve read several comments, Facebook messages and e-mails from people who have diagnosed Supervisor Hill’s “apparent” mental illness and substance abuse problems — but when these people exhibit the same behavior that they accuse Supervisor Hill of having, that’s not exactly a vote of confidence in their persuasiveness.
There’s something very disturbing about the fact that people are treating public comment like a circus without boundaries. It’s disturbing because people — who approach public comment with constructive and intellectually thorough assessments of issues within the purview of the board — are being undermined by the erratic, provocative actions of others. A lot of the comments made were insulting and rather slanderous, but the provocateurs never admit to being provocative or insulting. There’s no introspection, and there’s certainly no integrity in failing to hold yourself accountable.
Though I’ve criticized Supervisor Gibson in the past regarding his handling of public comment, I fully support his approach to educate speakers on the effectiveness of public comment and the necessity of being civil. Public servants need to hear the issue and the solution without the invective. Leaving invective in the message cheapens the message. Personal attacks diminish the integrity of the speaker who solely utilizes invective as a way to make a point.
This is ridiculous. Pathetic, really.