San Diego County Board of Supervisors

After Racism and Threats, San Diego Board of Supervisors Changes Meeting Rules

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The San Diego County Board of Supervisors voted 3 to 1 Wednesday in favor of changing procedural rules for public meetings in an effort to curtail hate speech and inappropriate conduct during county meetings.

The vote followed months of vitriolic comments from members of the public that came to a head last week when a speaker wished death on two supervisors and death by suicide on another, and directed a racial slur at Dr. Wilma Wooten, the county's public health director, who is Black.

Disruptive actions, including loud or threatening language, whistling, clapping, stomping, interrupting speakers are now barred at county meetings. The board also agreed to adopt a "code of civil discourse,' guidelines developed by the National Conflict Resolution Center aimed at fostering peaceful and meaningful conversation at public hearings.

Supervisor Joel Anderson was the lone dissenting vote and Supervisor Jim Desmond was absent.

Board Chairman Nathan Fletcher said the rule change allows the board to conduct the people's business in a safe and healthy environment while allowing full public participation.

"We at the county of San Diego, we value public participation. We value first amendment rights, we value criticism; people coming down and dissenting and disagreeing, but we got a find a way we can treat each other decently," Fletcher told NBC 7.

Fletcher said he hopes the rule change helps "lower the temperature."

NBC 7's Dana Griffin sat down with Supervisor Nora Vargas and talked about her reaction to a speaker's about the hateful and racist outburst at Wednesday's meeting.

Supervisor Nora Vargas was one of the county leaders on the receiving end of threatening comments made by Jason Robo.

“You should resign,” Robo said. “Vargas, I can’t wait for your arteries to clog. They’re not doing it fast enough. And [Supervisor Nathan Fletcher] you should kill yourself.”

For months, there have been similar vile statements during public comment periods on vaccine mandates that have gone viral. But Robo's following racist comments directed at Dr. Wooten crossed the line for Vargas, who interrupted Robo and told him to apologize.

“I’m sorry excuse me, you’re not allowed to say that to her,” Vargas said. “Absolutely not, not under my f---ing watch.”

NBC 7's Artie Ojeda shares some of the rebuttals from medical experts who fact check Tuesday's county meeting.

Fletcher said constituent criticism comes with the territory, but comments like those breed hostility and violence.

“You sign up for the job and you know you’re going to get criticism. What really bothers me is the hostile work environment created for county staff." Fletcher said. "And when they’re going after the staff and they’re saying these hateful things, they’re inciting violence, they are saying things that are blatantly racist. We can’t allow an environment like that for county workers.”

Fletcher said there will be levels of punishment for speakers who break the rules. They might have their time cut short and could be removed from the meeting for the day.

"We welcome you coming down and criticizing us but we’ve got a find a way to treat each other decently. We’ve got a find a way that we can air legitimate grievances, differences of opinion, ideological, and value space differences and have that be heard and discussed and not get all of that lost and some of this really, really unhealthy environment," Fletcher said.

The next county meeting is scheduled for Nov. 16.

Comparing county supervisors to the Taliban, saying local leaders are “about to open up a pit of hell,” and describing public health officials as Nazis. To say last night’s Board of Supervisors meeting was contentious would be an understatement. The meeting lasted six hours and was filled with rants from community members on the county's response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
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