CALIFORNIA CITY — A California City councilmember’s call to address his concerns over Planning Commission Chair Jim Creighton was pulled from the agenda Tuesday night, Aug. 25.
Mayor Pro Tem Don Parris initially called for the item to be placed on the agenda at the end of the Aug. 11 council meeting.
Parris, at the Aug. 11 meeting, stated that Creighton had called the council “liars and thieves” regarding the city’s special tax and “made disparaging comments against this council while sitting in the audience before COVID-19,” as well as submitting a letter requesting information on a fellow planning commissioner, who was not named.
In addition, Parris added that Creighton felt the need to “scold the council on its ordinances.”
At Tuesday’s council meeting, Councilman Ron Smith requested that the item be pulled because Creighton was not able to attend to provide counter testimony.
Councilman Nick Lessenevitch agreed, citing his concern over a poorly written, two-sentence report submitted by Parris for the agenda.
The recommendation Parris submitted stated “To Discuss Jim Creightons negative remarks about Council. Including Face book posts. Also investigation on Planning Commisioner (sic).”
“This is not a report and there is no staff contribution to it,” Lessenevitch said. He added he had been given information by a complainant that hinted at a threatened lawsuit, and should be relegated to a closed session item.
“I don’t know how I can participate (in a discussion) after receiving that information and not have a report and our legal counsel contributing to this item,” Lessenvitch said. “I don’t think it’s appropriate to have it on this agenda tonight.”
Parris isn’t the only city official to voice complaints about Creighton. At a July 13 planning commission meeting, Commissioner Carla Conry read a complaint against Creighton during commissioner comments.
She alleged that Creighton had targeted her and said the letter emailed to councilmembers had solicited information about her private life and activities outside official city business. She later stated that she did not appreciate tactics to solicit information that “maligned me and undermined my position as a planning commissioner.”
Despite being pulled, the agenda item garnered a largely negative response from a few residents who eCommented or called in.
Resident and developer DJ Twowig advised the council against discouraging public comment such as Creighton’s, as well as citing government code regulating attempts to prohibit citizens’ comments or criticisms.
“It’s not allowed and so you need to understand government code as it’s related to how you attempt to censor the public, even if they’re appointed on the planning commission,” Twowig said.
He added there were times “when councilmembers have made comments, probably with good intentions, but they were foolish comments ... and might even have glaring bias.”
“The equivalent would be if you attempt to censor someone for their free speech, you will also have to do that with those councilmember comments that are glaring, biased and might be incompoent,” Twowig said.
Resident and former councilmember Tami Marie Johnson stated via eComment that the agenda item was “wholly inappropriate without Mr. Creighton’s presence.”
Johnson echoed Lessenevitch’s concerns about the lack of material and that “the only information provided is that Mr. Creighton has upset Ms. Conry and Mr. Parris.”
“This has the appearance of a witch hunt against a candidate for the mayoral position Mr. Parris hopes to attain,” Johnson said, stressing it was inappropriate for the council to make recommendations without Creighton’s presence. Creighton is running for a full-term city council position, not mayor.
Parris said he had sent a message to the city attorney regarding the matter and had no objection to pulling the item.
City Attorney Baron Bettenhausen said the Ralph M. Brown Act, California’s open meeting law, doesn’t have guidelines regarding planning commissioner appointments in closed session. Related litigation concerns, however, would fall under closed session guidelines.
“As of right now, I’m not aware of any threats of litigation,” Bettenhausen said.
Parris said he had raised the concern of a possible defamation lawsuit if the topic he presented were discussed in open session, something the city attorney said he would have to look into.
As the item was pulled from the agenda, Parris requested it be rescheduled for the Sept. 8 council meeting during closed session. He added that he thought it should have been a closed session item to begin with.
Lessenevitch stressed that the item must have a lot more information.
“We’ve already postponed meeting items for more than this,” Lessenevitch said, referring to Parris’s report.
Smith, toward the end of the meeting, asked the city attorney if he should recuse himself from the future discussion as both he and Creighton are running for a city council seat in November. Bettenhausen said it wouldn’t be necessary since there was no financial conflict of interest involved.