CALIFORNIA CITY — Discussion and action against the City’s planning commission chair turned the California City City Council meeting on Tuesday into a forum on free speech.
Mayor Pro Tem Donald Parris brought before the Council an agenda item to discuss and take action against Planning Commission Chair Jim Creighton regarding negative remarks about the Council, including Facebook posts. There was also a formal complaint made against Creighton from fellow planning commissioner Carla Conry.
Before discussions began on the agenda item, Councilmember Nick Lessenevich recused himself because he had prejudiced himself on the discussion after receiving “evidence” before the meeting with the potential to lead to a lawsuit.
In Parris’ report to the Council, he noted that Creighton called the City Council “liars and thieves” regarding the special tax and made disparaging comments about the Council while sitting in the audience before COVID-19. Claims were also made that Creighton did not have a Facebook account and was using his wife’s page to go after the Council.
Various members of the community defended Creighton but more importantly the First Amendment right of free speech during time allotted for public comment on the agenda item.
“You are entertaining another situation to squelching someone’s freedom of speech,” community member Ilona Eubank said.
Conry was called to testify in front of the Council regarding Creighton. She said Creighton told her “to watch your social media behavior.”
Conry runs multiple Facebook pages where she has made criticisms against the City while being a member of the planning commission.
“As a community activist, I will stand up and I will say what is on my mind,” Conry said.
Conry filed her complaint in early July and read it at the July 13 planning commission meeting. Creighton said he attempted to reach out via text to resolve the situation but received no response.
When it was time for Creighton to defend himself, he addressed all of Parris’ points in his report and addressed Parris directly for including his wife in the report.
“She has every right to post what she feels like,” Creighton said. “This is between you and me.”
Creighton claimed Parris would have preferred to be in a closed session so that Creighton could not defend himself.
“You say that I waste the Council’s time when I speak on matters,” Creighton said. “That kind of makes me wonder what other citizens waste the Council’s time when they exercise their First Amendment right because that’s what this all comes down to. I don’t think you want me exercising my First Amendment right.”
When it was time for the Council’s comments Mayor Charles McGuire opened with his statement.
“I feel this agenda item should have been pulled from the agenda permanently,” he said. “Looking at the staff report, it is quite obvious to me that this is dealing with citizens’ First Amendment right of free speech and the Council’s action coming to question.”
McGuire added that Conry making comments during her personal time could mix the City into a lawsuit. He said his decision to have Creighton conduct an inquiry on Conry’s Facebook activity was seen as a non-intrusive method.
Conry said that Creighton’s inquiry was intrusive to her and has driven a wedge between their professional relationship.
She also said McGuire should have handled the situation with the City Council and not through Creighton.
“The one thing that I agree with is that this issue should have been handled by the mayor,” Creighton said. “I am the planning commission chair, not the planning commission supervisor.”
When McGuire asked if action needed to be taken, Parris said the matter had been discussed and no action was necessary.
“We’re all citizens of this town and we need to work together,” Councilmember William Smith said. “We don’t always get along or agree, but we can agree to disagree, and that’s the attitude we need.”