There were some tense moments at the Feb. 19 Hollister City Council meeting as arguments conducted on social media were revisited during public and council comments.
In recent months local officials have taken to Facebook to voice their concerns and frustrations, at times getting into disputes with constituents. Some of these have revolved around the planned development of the 400 block of San Benito Street.
The first salvo came from Salvador Mora, who ran against Vice Mayor Marty Richman in November for the District 4 seat. Mora repeated his Facebook rebuke of Mayor Ignacio Velazquez, who in recent years has accused fellow councilmembers of colluding with developers (notably online) as part of his unsuccessful bid to stop the city from selling and developing the 400 block. During public comment, Mora said he wanted to speak about how public officials acted on social media.
“Mr. Mayor, I asked [on Facebook] you to provide proof on your allegation that our elected officials were taking money from developers,” Mora said. “You failed to answer my questions. It’s very easy to make an allegation, but I’ve never seen you provide proof. It’s disturbing our leaders are acting this way.”
Mora also criticized Richman. Though he said he respected Richman’s knowledge, Mora accused him of being condescending, arrogant and rude in his responses to others on Facebook.
“Not everybody understands the legal terminology, so you should have some patience, and instead of criticizing and making fun of people you should show some respect to community members,” Mora said.
BenitoLink asked Richman if he expected the negative reactions and accusations of corruption he had seen on Facebook. He said he will no longer respond to people on social media.
Councilwoman Honor Spencer told meeting attendees to call her if they ever wanted to know why she voted a certain way. She then gave out her phone number and email, and said she would never answer anyone on social media.
“It saddens me there are those who knowingly put false or half-truth information out on social media just to stir up controversy,” Spencer said. “I’m appalled about the bullying, threats and name-calling. This has to stop on both sides. We need to communicate we will not tolerate bullying, but how can we when we are the bullies? This council is bound by ethics, but I’m seeing no ethical behavior coming from some.”
She said it is time to tackle the problems in the community and to quit dwelling on issues that have already been decided.
“The behavior of late is tearing our community apart and with such uncertainty in our country it is imperative that our community stands together,” Spencer said. “It has been said to me this council is a joke and that hurts. I’m honored for having been elected and I care about the people in this community.”
Richman simply said “ditto” to her comments. He later addressed the city code of ethics that he wants updated, especially to address false accusations. He admitted he might even be guilty of unethical comments and apologized, and referred to Mora’s comment about him.
“Being arrogant may be distasteful, but it’s not unethical,” Richman said. “I do think accusing people falsely of being on the payroll of somebody else is unethical.”
City Manager Bill Avera, who recently announced he plans to retire in November, told BenitoLink on Feb. 20 that he looked at what was happening on social media from the perspective of his successor. He said it’s important for council members to put aside their differences, especially on social media, because it will be difficult to find someone willing to take the job.
“Most aspiring city managers don’t want to go to a job where there’s constant discord,” Avera said. “You don’t want the negativity floating around because most professionals do their research to make sure they’re not ending up in a bad spot.”