South Lake Tahoe Councilwoman JoAnn Conner takes city to court over censure
SOUTH LAKE TAHOE — South Lake Tahoe City Councilwoman JoAnn Conner has taken the fight over her recent censure to court.
On Wednesday, Dec. 9, Conner filed two lawsuits in El Dorado County Superior Court challenging the city council’s Oct. 19 vote to censure her.
One of the suits challenges how the city applied its censure protocol to Conner, while the second challenges the protocol itself.
The council issued the formal disapproval of Conner because of her alleged bullying of city staff and members of partner agencies, allegations Conner denies.
“Council member Conner believes that the city’s decision to censure her, and decision to prohibit her from speaking with city staff were not based on substantial evidence, were not supported by the findings were contrary to law, and were arbitrary and capricious abuses of discretion,” according to one of the lawsuits.
As of Thursday morning, the city had not been formally served with the suits, but city manager Nancy Kerry, who is named along with the City of South Lake Tahoe in the actions, said she has seen one of the filings.
“This is clearly retaliatory in nature for my actions taken to protect the employees from any unnecessary or undo harassment by council member Conner,” Kerry said Thursday.
The city manager has previously used Conner’s alleged threat to defund code enforcement officers as one example of the behavior leading to the censure.
The lawsuits filed Wednesday contend the city attributed inaccurate statements to Conner during the censure process, violated California’s open-meeting laws by not providing proper notice of the proceedings, did not properly respond to a public records request seeking information about complaints against Conner and improperly blocked access to Conner’s council email address and city buildings. The lawsuits seek to have the decision to censure Conner and a decision preventing Conner from speaking with city staff set aside, have Conner’s city identification badge reinstated, compel the city to provide requested public records, prevent the city from enforcing the existing censure protocol and reimburse Conner’s attorney’s fees.
“This is about honoring the vote of the citizens and protecting the voice(s) of the minority on the Council,” Conner said in an email. “You don’t have to like everyone on the council and they don’t have to agree all the time, but for the majority opinion to silence the minority voice(s) and restrict their service sets a very dangerous precedent. It will also influence future elections as those who are in the minority will not want to face this type of persecution and therefore will not run. It is unfortunate that this council chose to ignore their own protocols and have refused all requests for evidence of wrong doing. I am not guilty, and they are not above the law.”
The censure doesn’t affect Conner’s role as a council member and only serves as a formal admonishment of her behavior, city attorney Tom Watson has previously said.
Kerry said she will address the council in regard to the lawsuits, likely during a Friday special meeting.