Anaheim insider here.
Mayor Tom Tait will certainly save on campaign consultant expenses for his re-election campaign, since the Voice of OC is practically serving as his communications shop.
The Voice is coming to the defense of Tait’s tepid handling of William Fitzgerald’s anti-Semitics, homophobic episode at lat week’s council meeting. Fitzgerald called Jordan Brandman a “scheming, evil Jew” like the ones who “run Disney,” blamed the Holocaust on Jews like Brandman, and then called him a homophobic slur.
After two-and-a-half minutes of this, the Mayor interrupted Fitzgerald with messaging advice, saying he’d get his point across better without being so “mean.” Strange advice since Fitzgerald didn’t have a point other than he thinks Brandman is an “evil jew,” that Disney is run by “evil Jews” and that such “evil Jews” caused the Holocaust.
Now the Voice is trying to deflect attention away from Tait and make it into yet another council-majority-beating-up-on-the-mayor story.
Adam Elmahrek’s article rationalizes Tait’s tepid reaction because he was “stunned” by Fitzgerald’s remarks. Elmahrek must have been stunned, too, since he omitted it from his story on last week’s meeting. The “too stunned to act” argument doesn’t wash, because Fitzgerald always says something vicious.
Elmahrek also writes, “No other council member said a word for the record.” That is false. Anyone who was there or has watched the video knows the rest of the councilmembers voiced their outrage, and one urged Brandman to sue.
PSB SoCal CEO Mel Roger’s told talk show host John Phillips:
“I’m concerned that viewers get fair, solid investigative journalism. Up to this point, we’ve never found an instance where Voice of OC has not given us that. And the day they do, we won’t have a relationship with them.”
Roger’s now has at least one instance.
Fitzgerald’s free speech right doesn’t mean the Mayor, as the presiding officer, has to sit mute in the face of such hate. He is free to speak up forcefully. He could turn off the microphone.
Mayor Tait and his defenders have used the excuse that Fitzgerald (represented by the ACLU) sued the county when the Board pushed back against his calling the South Vietnamese “cowards” who deserved to be enslaved by the Communists. What they don’t mention is Fitzgerald and the ACLU lost:
A federal judge ruled Tuesday after a three-day trial that an Anaheim man doesn’t have legal standing to challenge a county rule governing how members of the public speak to the Board of Supervisors.
The decision by U.S. District Judge James V. Selna handed a victory to the county without considering plaintiff William D. Fitzgerald’s argument that the rule barring “personal, impertinent, slanderous or profane remarks” at board meetings is unconstitutional.
Selna found that Fitzgerald, who was represented in the case by three American Civil Liberties Union attorneys, failed to show that the rule was enforced against him, or that he had a credible fear that it would be enforced against him in the future.
“The judge refused to hear a case, a First Amendment case, that really affects all Orange County residents,” said Belinda Escobosa Helzer, lead attorney for the ACLU.
The case stemmed from two incidents in which Fitzgerald addressed the board in what he testified was an intentionally “abrasive” manner. He said he did so because he believed the supervisors would be more likely to respond to his concerns if he were abrasive than if he were polite.
At a July 27, 2010, meeting, supervisors Janet Nguyen and John Moorlach tried to interrupt Fitzgerald after he compared the clerk of the board to the commander of a concentration camp.
At an Aug. 23, 2011, board meeting, Nguyen and Supervisor Bill Campbell interrupted Fitzgerald after he referred to “cowardly Vietnamese” who he said were supporting a proposal to add a portion of Fountain Valley to Nguyen’s district.
While supervisors interrupted Fitzgerald on both occasions, they did not tell him to leave, threaten him with arrest, or prevent him from using his full three-minute allotment to address the board, video of the meetings shows. Fitzgerald’s behavior was disruptive of the meetings in that he continued to speak over the supervisors who were trying to interrupt him, Selna said.
Fitzgerald testified that a sheriff’s deputy who serves as sergeant-at-arms at board meetings told him to leave the July 27, 2010 meeting, but Deputy James Pena, in his own testimony, contradicted Fitzgerald’s account.
Fitzgerald testified that while he once was a regular speaker at board meetings, he has not attended a meeting since being interrupted on Aug. 23, 2011, because he fears being arrested if he does so. But three supervisors and two county clerks –who between them have attended board meetings since 1996 – testified that no member of the public had been stopped from speaking, let alone threatened with arrest, in that time.
Selna said he didn’t find “credible” Fitzgerald’s claim that he was told to leave by Pena. He found that Fitzgerald’s fear of arrest wasn’t reasonable.
“I think we do treat people very respectfully, and that’s what he found,” said Campbell, who was present in the courtroom as the judge read his decision.
Escobosa Helzer said “it’s a sad day for Orange County residents” because the judge found that a county resident who frequently attends board meetings and speaks to the board “was not the proper person to bring this case.”
“The point is,” said ACLU attorney Bardis Vakili, “people don’t have to be polite. They made a rule that says you have to be polite.”
Campbell said Fitzgerald is welcome to attend board meetings and speak to the board. Fitzgerald said he would wait to see whether the ACLU decides to appeal Selna’s ruling.
The county has a rule about public comments: “Each person who addresses the Board shall refrain from making personal, impertinent, slanderous or profane remarks to any member of the Board, staff or the general public.”
Granted, the court didn’t rule on the rule per se. If the Mayor is really serious about his kindness campaign, why not start with adopting the same rule?
The Mayor screwed up his handling of Fitzgerald last week. There’s no shame in learning from mistakes, and hopefully he’ll be more proactive and vocal about fostering a climate of kindness in the council chambers. That would earn him greater respect since it would involve reining in his supporters.