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Man hurls racially charged comment at Dr. Wilma Wooten during county supervisors meeting

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Posted at 10:10 PM, Nov 02, 2021
and last updated 2021-11-03 19:31:29-04

SAN DIEGO (CNS) - A man hurled racially charged comments at County Public Health Director Dr. Wilma Wooten during public comment at a San Diego County Board of Supervisors meeting regarding vaccine mandates.

Tuesday's meeting included some often-vitriolic public testimony, including one speaker who made a racially charged comment directed at Dr. Wooten, who is Black.

The remark prompted an angry response from Supervisor Vargas, who peppered her retort with an expletive.

Fletcher, the board chairman, said that while dissent is a healthy part of a functioning democracy, it has been sad to watch vaccine-mandate opponents launch personal attacks on board members and county officials simply because they don't agree with their policies.

Fletcher also released the following statement Wednesday.

We should all be outraged by the comments made at yesterday’s meeting. It is unfortunate that some commenters at our Board of Supervisors meetings have taken an escalating low road in attacking county staff and members of the board and creating a hostile and unproductive environment to conduct the people’s business. As San Diegans, we are better than that.

We will be assessing our legal and procedural options to enact changes to best ensure a welcoming and productive environment for the public to attend and participate in our meetings while ensuring county staff are not subject to a hostile work environment. This includes reviewing current board meeting policies and procedures while ensuring we adhere to applicable open meeting laws and respecting the public’s first amendment rights.

We will always remain welcoming of dissent, disagreement and criticism but clearly things have to change in our long-standing rules and procedures around public comment. Any changes to be considered must be formally noticed, openly debated, and voted on by the board of supervisors before being implemented.

The county Board of Supervisors voted 3-2 to keep a vaccine mandate for new employees in place, following a lengthy and occasionally contentious public hearing.

The new vote was taken in response to a letter challenging the mandate, which was originally passed on Oct. 5, also by a 3-2 vote. Board Chairman Nathan Fletcher, Supervisor Terra Lawson-Remer and Vice Chairwoman Nora Vargas voted yes. Supervisors Joel Nelson and Jim Desmond were opposed.

The exact nature of the challenge to the mandate was not revealed, but it appeared to question the propriety of the original vote under the state's open meeting law. County staff indicated the new vote was taken "in an abundance of caution under government Code Section 54960.1," a reference to the Brown Act open meetings law.

In August, the county adopted a policy requiring existing employees to either be fully vaccinated or take weekly COVID-19 tests. The mandate for vaccines applies to new county hires.

Anderson and Desmond have both said they oppose a vaccine mandate.