The Lassen Municipal Utility District should recognize public comment is the time for its board of directors, staff and legal counsel to listen to what the public has to say. It is not the time for them to respond to members of the public.
Chris Cole rose to speak during public comment at the LMUD board’s Tuesday, March 28 meeting, and he said he was there “to express some concerns about your general manager that are long overdue.”
Almost as soon as Cole began his remarks, Gene Chittock, LMUD’s general counsel, interrupted and advised Cole his comments should not include any personal attacks.
“I’m going to caution you, Mr. Cole, to make sure it’s not a personal attack,” Chittock said. “You can make any comment you want that is addressed at specific policy and procedure, but what we won’t have is any personal attack.”
“Counsel Chittock, then I will be very frank,” Cole responded. “This will be the catalyst for me doing a documentary … called ‘No Way Forward,’ which is about hate in our community. Quite frankly, Mr. Chittock, that will articulate some issues with Mr. Holley … I won ‘t use my five minutes (the time allowed for public comment). I will use that outlet to express my concern.”
Cole continued by alleging Holley was the most political general manager in LMUD history, and that he doesn’t have a lot of fans in city and county government. Cole also alleged his family members have been threatened by Holley’s supporters.
“This is my point,” Cole said. “Mr. Holley’s continued employment after he’s angered almost every single major city and county official which unquestionably affects your credibility and your ability to work with those officials. His paycheck comes from money you make from ratepayers, and there are not a lot who share his political views, but yet they pay for his continued employment.”
Cole pledged to examine and scour every single LMUD project through Freedom of Information requests, but he added, “I think the incredible work done by your employees should not be sullied by Mr. Holley’s outrageous political comments to this community.”
Board chair Fred Nagel said thank you — the correct response to public comment. But after a few other speakers and at the apparent end of public comment, Holley asked if he could respond to Cole’s comments. And Nagel said yes.
“You may say anything you like, sir, and you often do at meetings, but that doesn’t make it so,” Holley said. “From what I’ve heard around town, you make a lot of meetings, and you assault and demean people continuously. You can attempt that here, but … I will continue doing my job in a very effective way to the benefit of this district and the customers of the LMUD utility. Your insulting and intimidating comments at meetings around this county are not welcome.”
“Mr. Chairman, can I respond to that?” Cole asked.
“No, you can’t, thank you,” Chittock said.
While I freely grant Holley the right, as an American citizen, to hold and act in each and every political endeavor as he chooses, he should not respond to public comments made at an LMUD board meeting, regardless of how aggravating and infuriating they may be. It’s easy for me to understand his desire to respond to Cole’s comments, but a public meeting is neither the time nor the place because such a response is both inappropriate and improper under the traditional understanding of the Brown Act, California’s Open Meeting Law.
LMUD’s leaders need to recognize public comment is the people’s turn to speak and their turn to listen.