City of South Lake Tahoe and JoAnn Conner again at odds over settlement
Though councilmember JoAnn Conner’s lawsuit against the City of South Lake Tahoe may be settled, tensions have not.
An email chain obtained by Tahoe Daily Tribune through a public records request revealed that Conner has once again been reprimanded for improper interactions with city staff.
On Sept. 30, Bill Chisum, the lawyer that represented the city in the lawsuit, emailed Conner’s attorney Jacqueline Mittelstadt telling her that Conner had violated the terms of the settlement agreement that was reached in August.
The violation stemmed from a series of emails that culminated in a “confrontation” between Conner and the city’s recreation manager Lauren Thomaselli on Sept. 27.
“It has come to our attention that Ms. Conner recently personally confronted Ms. Thomaselli after the City denied, as untimely, Ms. Conner’s request to use space at the City’s Recreation Facility,” wrote Chisum.
According to a detailed written account by Thomaselli, which was also submitted to Mittelstadt, Conner confronted her before a public meeting after her application for a special event permit was denied because it was not submitted 90 days prior to the event.
“JoAnn claimed again there is someone else behind this and the city is running interference,” wrote Thomaselli.
“She gave me a scowl and I excused myself for a drink of water feeling anxious and very uncomfortable trying to defend the special event policy and concerned about her final comments indicating some kind of protest at council or underlying motivation by someone in the city to stop her event.”
The event application was for a Winter Bazaar and Health Fair put on by Conner’s company Golden Bear Events, set for Nov. 12. The application was submitted on Sept. 22 — 52 days prior to the event.
Conner, however, insisted it was not a special event but a rental. Thomaselli explained that her event falls under the city’s definition of a “public” event and thus is subject to special event guidelines.
Per the terms of the settlement, Conner’s contact with city staff is limited to email except for in person and telephone calls “for day of event concerns, emergencies, matters requiring immediate attention or other situations dictated by common sense.”
In an email to Conner on the same day as the confrontation, city manager Nancy Kerry ordered her to not have any contact with recreation employees or other staff about the permit denial.
“Your cornering a staff member and challenging her decision in a public meeting, in front of others, especially given the censure motion and all decisions related to that were based on this very type of behavior, it is astonishing this behavior hasn’t changed and has become increasingly alarming,” wrote Kerry.
“The City will not be bullied into giving you special privileges; staff will not be bullied and they will be protected from you.”
Conner, in response, claimed Kerry was behind the permit denial.
“It is because you require it to go through you, who are either too busy, or for some other reason, do not or cannot give this the attention every other business owner and private citizen would get,” wrote Conner.
“Please do not keep interfering with my private business and livelihood and please do not blow this into something bigger than it is.”
Kerry said that she had no conversation with Thomaselli or her staff about the application.
“You are an employer and City Councilmember, therefore there is always an inherent risk that you are using authority to influence city employees and when you’re cc’ing their highest ranking supervisors, and the Mayor while criticizing them for failing to respond to you as fast as you would like, you do so at risk to the City,” wrote Kerry.
“You say ‘treat me the same as any other business,’ yet in the same breath you fail to accept that you might be getting the exact same service and therefore you DEMAND faster replies.”
Kerry shared the conversation thread between her, Conner and cc’d parties like Mayor Wendy David with the rest of council — a move Mittelstadt referred to as “inappropriate.”
In his letter alerting Mittelstadt to Conner’s violation of the settlement agreement, Chisum mentioned that this was not the first instance of Conner speaking with city staff in person rather than email.
“It is also my understanding that Ms. Conner has confronted other City staff personally rather than by email including a dispute over whether GBE’s Chili Cook-Off information should be included in the City’s newsletter,” he wrote.
Chisum concluded his letter to Mittelstadt with a warning:
“Please be advised that if future violations occur, the City’s only option will be to seek judicial enforcement of the Agreement including all available remedies, sanctions and fees.”
This widely publicized dispute between the City of South Lake Tahoe and Conner began when city council voted to censure Conner in October over alleged bullying and intolerant behavior.
Conner responded with two lawsuits in December challenging how the city applied its censure protocol and the protocol itself.
A settlement agreement, which was reached and signed in August, notes that all parties “deny all allegations of liability, or that they have acted in any way illegally or improperly, and have agreed to resolve the litigation solely for the purpose of compromising and settling matters in dispute.”
Conner is currently running for reelection to city council in November’s election.