A presentation Aug. 15 at the evening board meeting of the Cameron Park Community Services District came with a mixed message.
Provided by General Manager Mary Cahill, the presentation was on the topic of free speech, meeting conduct, permissible signage, preparation of board agendas, and district policies on all these subjects. She said she was bringing it up because the topics had been raised many times by different people.
What followed was a no-holds-barred interchange between the board and Cahill and their critics in the community in regards to what is and isn’t allowed in the way of speech and conduct at meetings.
However, a low-level threat pervaded the proceedings with the presence of a sheriff’s deputy who said he was there to “keep the peace.” It was later revealed that the deputy had been hired by Cahill to attend the meeting.
Resident Gerald Lillpop pointed at the deputy and asked, “What is that gentleman doing here? That is the most chilling thing I’ve ever seen. Who ordered this? Who requested his presence?”
Board President Shiva Frentzen said she wasn’t aware of who had asked for the sheriff’s deputy.
Board member Alan Clarke volunteered that he had previously felt threatened at some of their meetings. “It’s domestic terrorism,” he said.
Lillpop then read from the Brown Act and said parts of CPCSD’s policy were in violation of the act. “Viewpoint discrimination is not allowed,” he said.
He accused the board of trying to curtail his speech. “All you priests and priestesses are subject to the law. I’m infuriated by that man (the deputy) being here and that she (Cahill) ordered it. All you need to do is follow the law but this is an act of intimidation using our tax dollars. She is trying to intimidate the public.”
CPCSD’s legal counsel responded by saying that Cahill did have the authority to have a deputy at the meeting if she felt there was a threat.
Resident Barbara Rogers noted, “This is really a sad night. Mary, you made a mistake. This is intimidating.”
She went on to accuse board member Scott McNeil of being aggressive and told him, “You think we’re a bunch of idiots. I’ve given six years of my life to this. Is this the way other agencies treat the public?”
Saying the discussion had been turned into a sideshow, she said she wasn’t going to be intimidated by the threat of either herself or her colleagues being arrested.
McNeil responded by saying he never found Rogers threatening — “emotional perhaps, but not threatening.” He reminded her that he has to represent the entire community and not just those who show up and criticize the board.
Rogers asked if what triggered the presence of the deputy was a private conversation she had had with Bill Carey at a previous committee meeting in which Carey used the word “a**hole.” “Is that the reason for the deputy?” she asked.
The discussion then turned to signs as Board member Greg Stanton commented that in the past the board had overreacted to signs from the audience. This was in reference to a previous meeting when the board got up and walked out after Carey put up a sign that McNeil found offensive.
“We’re supposed to have a thick skin but we’re human and react when we’re called names,” said Stanton.
Resident David Gelber reminded the board that board meetings were an adult venue. “This is not where you drop the kids off for an evening of entertainment,” he said.
Gelber also asked the board why the public was limited in the amount of time it was given but anyone else coming in with a PowerPoint presentation was given as much time as they wanted. He accused McNeil of trying to strip them of their right to free speech by labeling their comments as disruptive.
“If you can’t recognize the right to free speech, you’re not qualified to hold public office,” he said.
In response, McNeil suggested that their critics needed to “unlearn” certain behaviors.
That suggestion drew angry remarks from members of the audience.
Clarke then went on to say that at certain meetings people had used profanity or had been disruptive. “Other people have said their rights have been trampled on,” he claimed.
Cahill commented that as the general manager it was often difficult to weigh the input from community members and she had put the topic on the agenda to bring it to the forefront. She promised to examine the topics raised and to look at the district’s policies.
Resident Bill Carey then commented that “the board has reached the lowest level I have ever seen in six years. Having a sheriff’s deputy here? Maybe instead we need a psychiatrist or a psychologist here to care for people who are afraid to come.”
He then asked if there would be a deputy at every meeting.
Frentzen said that decision was up to Cahill.
Clarke closed the discussion by suggesting that public comments be limited to three minutes per person, that all profanity be prohibited, and that signs be controlled or eliminated.
These topics will be taken up at the September board meeting.
Contact Dawn Hodson at 530-344-5071 or email@example.com. Follow @DHodsonMtDemo on Twitter.