SAN DIEGO (KGTV) — San Diego County's Board of Supervisors passed a policy on Wednesday in an effort to prevent hate speech and inappropriate conduct during county board meetings.
The policy comes after a speaker used racist and threatening language during the public comment portion of last week's meeting.
The board voted 3-1, with Supervisor Joel Anderson the sole "no" vote, to pass the policy. In a statement, Chairman Nathan Fletcher said the measure is meant to support a healthy environment in board meetings moving forward.
"Today we took action to reform our rules and procedures to ensure we can have a safe and healthy environment to conduct the people’s business while allowing full public participation. San Diegans want to see progress on the challenges our region faces--affordable housing, homelessness, and ensuring safe and healthy communities. It is now time for us to get back to work on the real issues our region faces," Fletcher's statement read.
In a statement, Anderson said he believes the policy "hinders people from participating in government."
"We shouldn't allow the heckler's veto to limit rural, unincorporated communities from participating in government. These people live or die by this board's actions— they rely on us for public safety and roads. I condemn the racist and outrageous comments that have been made at past board meetings. I also fear excluding people who rely on us from having a seat at the table. The policy enacted today hinders people from participating in government, and that is wrong," Anderson's statement read.
Anderson, instead, introduced a policy to require board letters to be in print for at least 30 days before the Supervisors can vote on the item, which was rejected.
While Board of Supervisors meetings have seen their share of contentious and heated debate over the last year surrounding COVID-19 regulations, business rules, and vaccine and mask policies, that came to a head last week after a speaker, who identified himself as Jason Robo, hurled threatening language and said he wanted several supervisors dead. He followed those remarks with racist speech directed toward county Public Health Director Dr. Wilma Wooten, who is Black.
Robo's disrespectful remarks prompted Supervisor Nora Vargas to respond quickly with her own heated response.
The policy will allow for the adoption of a code of civil discourse developed by the National Conflict Resolution Center, take more stringent positions against harassment and abuse, give the board more discretion on the amount of time allotted to public speakers and enact other procedural changes intended to allow public participation.
In a statement following the passage, Shane Harris, President of the People's Association of Justice Advocates, said:
"I thank Supervisor Nora Vargas for leading this effort at the county & understanding the racial assault that our county's Public Health Officer Dr. Wooten faced last week when being called an 'Aunt Jemima' as well as her understanding of the trauma she and other Black people must feel after that moment. I appreciate the foresight by county supervisors by implementing the National Conflict Resolution Center's 'Civil Code of Conduct' in today's policy which will help to improve our public meetings at the county and ensure the values of civil discourse stay consistent with our public government meetings. Today marks a long-awaited start but more must be done to protect county staff and attendees. I believe there are things left out of the emergency proposal being brought forth today such as recommendations my office of the People's Association of Justice Advocates made to county supervisors last week which requested that the Board direct county counsel to conduct a review of the Nov. 2nd statements made to see if the comments made potentially overstepped 'freedom of speech.' Requesting a review of the statements made could uncover potential additional updates to the county's 'Rules of Order' that the Board may not be aware of today. Racial incitements put county employees and attendees in harm's way. Ensuring that it is clear that racial incitements are actually violent in nature and therefore put the chambers in danger should bring about consequences for the people who do these acts. My office is calling on county supervisors to dig deeper into understanding where racial incitements fall on the scales of safety in the chambers. I believe today's policy proposal is only a start but ensuring the safety of county employees and attendees at meetings matter too."
The policies go into effect immediately, starting at the Nov. 16 board meeting.