June 12, 2024

Whole Community News

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As partisan rift widens, Commissioner Trieger says public comment periods are optional

17 min read
Ten years ago, Mike McFadden volunteered to get arrested while challenging the emergency closure order for the Wayne Morse Free Speech Plaza. On April 16, 2024, he offered public comment that he again felt uncomfortable with nebulous insinuations and with 'security theater' used like a cudgel so that people couldn't attend the meeting in person to provide public comment.

Lane County Commissioners Laurie Trieger and Heather Buch leveled serious accusations against a fellow commissioner April 2, suggesting that David Loveall was encouraging an individual to target and endanger Lane County staff members.

In his response on April 17, Commissioner Loveall asked whether the chair’s actions were vindictive. He pointed out that Americans have a constitutional right to petition for redress of grievances. Commissioners failing to honor their oath to the Constitution, he suggested, would be committing treason.

The conflict started when Commissioner Trieger, in her role as chair, decided to convene a virtual meeting.

Commissioner Laurie Trieger (April 2, 2024): So again, I want to just acknowledge we’re in an all-virtual format. This is unusual for us now, although it’s certainly something we became adept at during the height of the pandemic. So it’s not a format we’re unfamiliar with. However, a last-minute scramble to be in a virtual format is unusual. And so I first want to offer my great appreciation to the staff across many departments, including the Sheriff’s Office, for the pivoting and the support that you’ve provided.

[00:01:08] It’s been a lot of extra work and stress for many, many folks up and down the organization to move us into this format on very little notice. This was a precautionary measure that we are taking due to there being a person with a long history of making threats of violence against elected officials, not only at our organization, but other municipalities, as well as members of our staff.  And because that person was recently encouraged by a sitting commissioner to attend our meeting in person, and because we have a responsibility and an obligation to ensure that our policies around a workplace free of violence and harassment, intimidation are upheld, I opted as chair to move us to an all-virtual format in order to ensure the safety of everyone in our building as well as us as commissioners and any staff who maybe will be presenting to us today.

[00:02:04] We will still be allowing for public comment as we always do. And just a reminder that it is optional for public bodies to offer a public comment session. That is only a requirement when there is an item that has a public hearing attached to it; ordinances and so on. But it is really a courtesy that we provide the community. And I think I speak for all of my colleagues when I say we benefit greatly from hearing from the public, hearing what’s on their mind, hearing their perspective. It’s enlightening and helps us do our jobs better. But that said, before we do begin public comment, I will be adding an extra note to ensure folks understand the protocols around public comment, always, but even in this virtual format. So, again, thank you everyone for your patience and your support in working with us in this format.

[00:02:54] Commissioner Heather Buch (April 2, 2024): I wanted to first address why we’re virtual. As the Chair mentioned, unfortunately, it’s a public safety concern, and I’ve received correspondence that indicates that a sitting commissioner has encouraged an individual with a public safety back—threat background to come in and target some of our staff and put others in danger.

[00:03:24] And for me, this is absolutely unbecoming of a commissioner. It deserves an additional conversation with us as a whole. Today is already pretty full, but I would encourage us as a board to have an additional conversation about what that means and the repercussions and what we are actually having to deal with since that occurred.

[00:03:49] Protecting our staff is one of our most important duties, if not one of the most important duties that we have as a board, and this situation is untenable for me as a commissioner. We have to have some boundaries and some decorum amongst our board members, in and out of session. And I would encourage us later in the afternoon to put together some kind of work session or meeting in order to thoroughly discuss the issue before us.

[00:04:24] John Q: During public comment at the next public meeting, held April 16:

[00:04:29] Mike McFadden (April 16, 2024): I wanted to come this morning to talk about and share some of my concerns about how last meeting was handled. I’m hoping to maybe hear later on some further details and explanation about the threat that apparently existed. And I heard a few comments that made me feel a little bit uncomfortable from a few of the commissioners last meeting. So I wanted to talk about that.

[00:04:50] I guess I’ll start with, (former) Chair (Pat) Farr, you mentioned that maybe in looking at how to handle this incident, or, whatever was decided, that you look to the protests that happened on (Sen.) Wayne Morse Free Speech Plaza about 10 years ago. And as you’ll remember, 10 years ago, I was one of the people who volunteered to get arrested and challenge County Administrator Liane Richardson’s decision-making and behavior at that time.

[00:05:13] So I’ll pause here to just make a point that Steve Mokrohisky has really done an amazing job to pull Lane County back from the brink that previous administrator brought us to.

[00:05:22] But 10 years ago, I was working at King Estate as a tractor driver and equipment operator and wasn’t participating in the event that was going on on the plaza, but was so disturbed by the emergency closure order and what I perceived to be the security theater that was going on there, that I stepped in, chose to be arrested and got involved.

[00:05:40] And as you know, you testified against me in my trial. We didn’t prevail on that one. And there’s still a curfew on the plaza, even 10 years now to this day, up to the present. Like, I really am a little bit uncomfortable with nebulous sort of insinuations about some potential risk. And again, to be depriving the public access to the meeting based on those, perhaps real risks—

[00:06:01] And I certainly don’t condone people making threats or public officials or private citizens. And I think that, if someone did, there’s certainly a legal process, a due process for someone to, be prosecuted for that. And if someone did engage in that behavior, certainly then maybe their attendance at public meetings should be precluded or restricted.

[00:06:20] But I think that there needs to be a due process involved with that. And I also think that now this has all happened, you really do owe the public an explanation about more of these details.

[00:06:29] And I really do feel uncomfortable that this perhaps was like, again, an active security theater that was then used to like a cudgel to, maybe, insinuate that another commissioner invited this dangerous person to the meeting and therefore, the public couldn’t come to the meeting.

[00:06:43] And even though Zoom access was provided, I also wanted to bring up this morning that I’m a little bit uncomfortable, even though it served us so well during the pandemic period, only providing public access to meetings via Zoom. I don’t feel like it is sufficient, especially since people may live in areas where they don’t have reception, access to television, cell phones, et cetera.

[00:07:00] John Q: Mike McFadden offering public comment April 16, recalling the use of nebulous insinuations and security theater to suppress free speech. He asked for an explanation. To provide that explanation, the commissioners met April 17.

[00:07:16] Commissioner Heather Buch (April 17, 2024): Out of transparency to the public, we can start off with the incident that created the situation of a virtual meeting last week. It came to my attention and the rest of the board’s attention that there was a case of a virtual meeting between Commissioner Loveall and a person of the public that is known to be a public safety threat and risk to individuals within not only our organization but other agencies in the county and encouraging them to attend one of our meetings where the content was to specifically target our county counsel. And this communication was sent without notifying the employee, without considering a safety plan for the employee, other staff, residents that may be coming to do public comment or fellow commissioners’ safety.

[00:08:21] This is not an isolated context. I want to create the context here that this isn’t just in and of itself, one incident. This is surrounded by a context of Commissioner Loveall having a great deal of animosity toward our county counsel, also known to (or suspected to) carry a firearm in the county, against county policy, creating not only a psychological threat to our staff but ourselves as commissioners, including myself, and residents in the public, and creating a space where staff doesn’t feel safe personally as well, their physical safety. And it also puts me on edge as a commissioner as well, knowing that I’m not sure what I’m walking into when I come to a meeting or I come into the hallway to my office. And it creates an air of a toxic culture.

[00:09:25] And this is the antithesis of what I think us as a Board of County Commissioners want to create as values within our organization and what we want to present to the public in a professional workplace environment. A commissioner’s duty is to encourage a safe environment for all and this particular correspondence, with the overlaying context, tore that down very easily and creating a space where some people don’t feel comfortable coming into the workplace anymore.

[00:10:00] Personally, I felt like that communication was unbecoming of a commissioner, certainly unbecoming of one that’s within a leadership role within our board. That’s not what leadership is about. Leadership is an activity and part of that activity is creating safe spaces for us to come together, our staff to do their work, and the public to be able to come in and give us their testimony in a safe environment.

[00:10:32] John Q: Forty minutes into the meeting:

[00:10:35] Commissioner Ryan Ceniga (April 17, 2024): Let’s talk it out, Commissioner Loveall. Do you have that email you sent?…

[00:10:41] Commissioner David Loveall (April 17, 2024): Yeah, I’ve got it. Do you want me to read email first?…

[00:10:45] It says, ‘Dear Michael, I’ve read with muse and interest your emails for the past 14 months I’ve been in office after upsetting Commissioner Joe Berney’s seat. Our next scheduled board meeting is Tuesday, April 2 in Harris Hall. All you need to do is come at 8:45 a.m. and sign the sheet next to the entry door. The meeting commences at 9 a.m. and public comments are early in the meeting but limited to three minutes. It’s most effective when you are factual and don’t emotionally rant. I believe you have a lot to say and can do so very well. It is your right as a citizen of our county to be able to voice your opinion. Warmly, Commissioner Loveall.’

[00:11:17] Commissioner Laurie Trieger (April 17, 2024): Would you like to add what that email was in response to, the subject line that initiated his communication?

[00:11:29] Commissioner David Loveall (April 17, 2024): Well, the subject line, Chair, is immaterial, because—

[00:11:30] Commissioner Laurie Trieger (April 17, 2024): I don’t think it is.

[00:11:31] Commissioner David Loveall (April 17, 2024): Well, are you going to interrupt me, or I am going to be able to say what I want to say? Do I drive the floor now or do you?

[00:11:36] Commissioner Laurie Trieger (April 17, 2024): You had the floor and I asked the question.

[00:11:38] Commissioner David Loveall (April 17, 2024): All right, then, I have the floor, so I’ll take the floor. Thank you, Chair. The email, this is no different than any subject matter email that I did in the last two months, which is emails I sent these people with probably the same wording that I sent his.

[00:11:51] This one here says, ‘I’d love for you to come to the board meeting and give a public testimony to bring this to our attention. Your voice matters. If you would like a personal meeting with Commissioner Ceniga and I, let’s look at our schedules and get something on the books.’

[00:12:01] I can go on. These emails are the same. ‘I might as well suggest you come and give a three-minute testimony to other commissioners, the reason not to vote against this.’

[00:12:10] ‘My suggestion, if people feel strongly about it, is to give a three-minute public testimony to the City Council about your objections and the County Commission. Free speech is your constitutional right. Far too often, policies, which are not law, prevail because the only ones who show up to complain are the whiners without reason.’

[00:12:25] I can go on. These are the same words I’ve used over and over again. The subject matter doesn’t matter. What matters to your Chair mostly is a citizen wanting to a air grievance about somebody or some form of government in front of their government.

[00:12:36] That is their constitutional right. All of us swore an oath to that. It’s written on my office wall and anyone who doesn’t keep the oaths of what they promised in the Constitution is committing treason. Now, if this person wanted to come and make a comment in public, there’s ways he could do that.

[00:12:52] Further, this person that you’re talking about has been given access to the building, the law library specifically, which is a mere 30 feet from the hallway of where all of us go to our cars to the office. So if this person was a public threat, why was he given access for the whole time I’ve been in office to the law library?

[00:13:10] Further, as of Monday, I confirmed this with the Sheriff’s Department, he was not considered a public threat to the building as of Monday. He was not labeled.

[00:13:20] Further, I’ve never been briefed about this person in a meeting. And I think what really is– I’m sorry, Commissioner Ceniga, if you have more to say, I didn’t need to go off here.

[00:13:32] I think what we’re really talking about here is there’s two main issues here, assumptions and feelings being expressed as facts. I think the assumption is that all of us new commissioners, Commissioner Ceniga, are on the same page as the three of you that have been here for a number of years. We weren’t given a briefing on threats, people, past instances—we were not given a meeting about people we should watch out for, email threads that are particularly violating people’s rights or instilling fear. We were not given any of this kind of briefing. So the feeling that we should have known, how should we have known, this thing?

[00:14:12] The second thing is that I asked part of the Sheriff’s staff, is when does a ‘keyboard warrior’ pose an actual threat risk? I mean, I get social media comments all the time that are, if I want to, I could consider threatening. But they’re just keyboard warrior things, right?

[00:14:29] Here’s the other thing, does the Sheriff’s Office have a list of people actively on a threat list? Have I ever seen one? I’ve never seen one. Has any one of my colleagues seen one? Okay, so how would we know if someone was a threat? At the time Mr. Hejazi was invited to address this government in a three-minute testimony, was he on that list? He wasn’t.

[00:14:49] Okay, that’s fact. I’m not leaving feeling, that’s just fact. And I’m not trying to discount anyone’s feelings of how they felt. I’m just kind of operating on facts. Okay? Because you’re trying to accuse me of operating in an environment where I didn’t give credence to people’s emotions. And all I’m doing is giving you facts.

[00:15:05] And isn’t the oath of which each one of us elected officials swore to, was to support the Constitution of the United States? Let me just review that just so everybody knows it. In the United States, the right to petition is enumerated in the First Amendment to the United States Constitution. It essentially means that citizens have the right to seek remedies or solutions for their grievances from government without fear of retribution.

[00:15:25] One of the risks present in democracy is that elected officials may favor the narrow partisan interests of the most powerful supporters or choose to advance their own personal interests instead of viewing themselves as faithful agents of their constituents.

[00:15:39] I’m a faithful agent of constituents, not just of Springfield, but the constituents of Lane County. A robust right to petition is designed to minimize such risks. By being forced to acknowledge and respond to petitions from ordinary persons, officials become better informed and must openly defend their positions, enabling voters to pass more informed judgment.

[00:16:01] So that’s my opinion. The reason I’m asking this is Mr. Mokrohisky, thank you for bringing Simon Sinek‘s book to the table, his reason is ‘Why?’ And I think we need to express that. Why are we here? What is the ‘why’ of today? And Commissioner Buch said, ‘I have no particular ideas of where to go.’ Then why are we here?

[00:16:20] We’re here to create a process of everyone having the same information. That’s what I want to be here for, and I believe that’s what you want to have, Chair. Let me just also remind the Chair of what her position is as chair, so we’re being honest here.

[00:16:33] The chair, according to the Leading Governance website, is to ensure the board as a whole considers issues and reaches decisions. The chair does not make unilateral decisions, impose their will, or unduly influence the opinions of other board members. A good chair has excellent listening skills and is able to bring people together constructively.

[00:16:54] The process of which this meeting happened, I think was encapsulated really well yesterday by the public testimony of Mike McFadden, when he said he was very uncomfortable about the nebulous accusations of perceived risk. If someone did, there’s a legal process to handle this, but there needs to be due process. And what you’re asking here I think is worthy. In this meeting we’re asking for due process.

[00:17:17] We’re not looking for blame. We’re not looking at some sort of blame to where some person did something in your opinion that he should have known or not should have known. We’re looking for a process. We owe the public an explanation. And that’s what Mike (McFadden) wanted us to do, was, owe the public an explanation.

[00:17:33] You said yesterday, Chair, in the meeting, you said we want to ‘gently hold one another accountable.’ And then one more comment, (Consultant) Mariann (Hyland) said yesterday, part of the continuing process is mending and repair.

[00:17:43] So I’m asking you to consider the process by which this last week’s events unfolded and how you handled it. Was your process to mend and repair, or was your process a vindictive process over one commissioner? So I want to ask you that.

[00:17:57] Commissioner Buch, you said that leadership is an activity of safe spaces for us to come together, for the public to come into and give us their testimony in a safe environment. You just said what I believe. The public needs to come into and give us their testimony in a safe environment.

[00:18:15] There is a vehicle of which Mr. Jehazi, given whatever threat level you’ve perceived him to be, can come in and give us their testimony in a safe environment. He was given the option to go down and do that in the law library. There’s ways of which people whom we are fearful of can come and give their testimony. But it’s imperative constitutionally that they give their testimony. That is an oath we swore to. And I will give that oath and that right to anyone who asks me how to do that. And that’s all I answered.

[00:18:44] Your feelings about how I may feel about someone or not are not based on fact. They’re based on your feelings and your perceptions.

[00:18:52] I want to also say, Mr. Mokrohisky, you said that different department directors identify thematic goals every six months. First I ever heard about that. Never heard about that. First I’ve ever heard that the current employee thematic goal is employee safety. First I’ve heard about that. And I was thinking, if you knew that back in September, why wasn’t that given to us as some sort of concern to be on my mind? That’s six months ago. I would think that would be important information to share with the board. If there’s a perceived public safety issue, then perhaps I might have gone to the chair and said, ‘Hey, this guy’s emailing us. What do you think we should do?’

[00:19:28] And further, I’m a little put off, Chair, that my job as vice chair is to make you look good. That’s my job. My job as vice chair is to help you in any way I can to do your job the best way possible. I am committed to that 100%. And what I would like in return is communication between the two of us so the two of us can lead the board in the direction that we believe the board is capable of going. And we can’t do that if one of us is at angst with the other.

[00:20:02] I understand you and I have differences of opinions. We come from a different perspective. But we can work together. And I’m committed to working with you. I’m not committed to doing this end-around stuff and calling out someone who was doing their job to the best of their ability with the information they had at the moment.

[00:20:22] Those are the facts.

[00:20:24] Now, I’m here to create a process. I believe we do need a process for this. I believe we need a public safety briefing on an ongoing basis. I believe we have to have people who have been known suspects and perpetrators of safety and concerns within the employee base who they’re concerned with, we should know about that. And you and I need to have a dialogue, a constant dialogue of those temperatures of what’s going on, for us to better serve the board and for us to be better leaders. That’s what I’d like to see.

[00:20:59] Commissioner Laurie Trieger (April 17, 2024): Clearly there’s quite a bit of energy around this topic and we do need to have more conversation…

[00:21:04] John Q: Later in the meeting:

[00:21:07] Commissioner Pat Farr (April 17, 2024): You know, if I may, Chair, we can’t afford to be a mirror of what’s happening in national politics in our organization. We cannot afford to be that. We have to be way above that. We’re nonpartisan in nature, and there’s a reason that our charter states that we’re nonpartisan in nature, that erases party as a natural conflict.

[00:21:27] I’m looking at today’s Register-Guard. It’s full of conflict. It’s full of political conflict where people are calling people names and their supporters are calling other supporters names and it’s on the verge, in some cases, of stone-throwing. I use that metaphorically. So we can’t afford to do that in our small world that we have right here and we are able to, we should be able to step well above that and focus on the faces of the people who we are trying to serve. And let those faces predicate how we serve.

[00:21:58] John Q: As the Chair suggests that public comment is optional and commissioners participate only as a courtesy, a member of the public speaks out. Mike McFadden recalls previous County Administrator Liane Richardson and the suppression of free speech in the Wayne Morse Free Speech Plaza.

And as partisan tensions split the county commission, its longest-serving member, Pat Farr, reminds them: They represent the people of Lane County and not a political party; the county charter designates the office as nonpartisan. Commissioners will continue to meet with consultant Mariann Hyland.

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