Conner: ‘I am not guilty’ (opinion)
Tribune guest columnist
Councilwoman JoAnn Conner was censured Monday, Oct. 19, at a special city council meeting for behavior. Read the story here. The Tribune asked several relevant parties to write guest opinion columns about the issue. All perspectives expressed are unique to the authors and are not the opinions of Tahoe Daily Tribune. The intent of publishing all columns on the same day is to give our readers an opportunity to hear directly from those involved to better understand the complexity of this issue. Letters to the editor are welcome in response to these columns. Email letters to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Read Hal Cole and Wendy David’s guest column here.
Read John Cefalu’s guest column here.
Read Nancy Kerry’s guest column here.
Our town is definitely at a crossroads. I have never seen such an effort to divide our town. Tahoe is unique, and we have embraced that quality for decades, appreciating the eclectic, passionate, grumpy, old and new. Until now, we looked at progress through different eyes, and we believed every voice should be heard, because that is what made Tahoe the town that pulled together when there was a tragedy or emergency. Until now, we didn’t all have to be the same; we challenged ideas and still remained friends. Past councils have included a number of representatives that were viewed as “difficult,” yet even when one was arrested, there was no move to censure. Why now?
A rougher voice has emerged that seeks to make people fit into the “new Tahoe,” by way of forcing others to be like those who want control. This voice, whether in self-righteous community leaders or online blogs, relies on hate to succeed. They cry that someone is a bully, make up statements about a person being “volatile,” or exploit recent shootings by falsely accusing someone of carrying a loaded gun. No proof is needed — just start the rumors and, sadly, people who don’t even know the accused will begin to tear that person apart. The “Lord of the Flies” mentality does not help our community.
I do not scream or swear at our employees or citizens. I am passionate, and apparently that can be perceived as harsh. I own that, and am working to be more cognisant of how others may view my passion. Mr. Goodman made an insightful statement, that what one person sees as harsh, another sees as straightforward. I do not double-talk our citizens, and I do not deliberately hurt people.
Some say I should resign and let others rule our town. This is the United States of America, and here every single citizen is entitled to be believed innocent until proven guilty and has a First Amendment right to free speech.
The word “proven” is important. There has been no proof presented that I have done anything wrong. I have asked repeatedly for the proof so I can explain, defend, or change, and no credible evidence has been provided. Some say people do not like me or the way I express the opinions of my constituents. I have been told there are no notes or dates recorded of “the wrongdoing.” The council has failed to vet the accusations. Can people just say you did something awful, and you can be publicly flogged, and suffer harm with no evidence? As Mr. Cefalu stated at the meeting, “Who will be next?” When I studied the McCarthy Era in high school history, I thought “that will never happen again in the United States.” And yet, here we are.
Our council and our town is now “fractured.” Four council members made up their minds in advance; two even came with written statements that they read into the record. Obviously to these council members, David and Sass, what the speakers at the actual hearing had to say was of no consequence.
As to the very limited allegations that were leveled against me, did I call anyone derogatory names? I did not. Did I accost Councilwoman David? I did not. I would be happy to tell my side if the city could identify the actual instances upon which they relied. Will the community suffer if I leave? The thousands of voters that elected me feel that their voices will be silenced. Many city employees are my firm supporters. More than one citizen gave examples where four council members had ignored requests for help. They were then scolded by a council member who told them all council was available to all citizens, but did not say why he did not respond to the original request.
I see faults in all of the council members, but I do not feel a need to constantly criticize them. We all have our strengths and weaknesses; and frankly, my colleagues do the very things they accuse me of doing.
As for other agencies refusing to work with me, I take issue with the stance. Did Mr. Teshara speak for a specific agency and grievance? Dr. Murillo and I have worked well since the instance she cited, and I believe I am on good terms with the majority of the college board. Did she speak for the college? Supervisor Novasel’s letter speaks to her own sensitivity regarding citizen complaints regarding her effectiveness.
All those citizens, who took over three hours out of their work day to attend the censure hearing, were categorically denigrated. The mayor stood up to emphasize his rules, at one point swore as he spoke, and chastised citizens, against council protocol, for speaking up. Are the voices of the citizens to be silenced now, too, if they disagree with council? That is a dangerous precedent.
I did not open this dialogue, and I will not quit working for the citizens who voted for me. I am not guilty.
JoAnn Conner is a South Lake Tahoe City Council member.
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