There is zero doubt in my mind that the rant delivered by Anaheim gadfly William Fitzgerald at last Monday’s Special Meeting of the Anaheim City Council was anti-Semitic and anti-gay. It was a bigoted rant that deserves to be condemned by all who witness it. My colleague, Dan Chmielewski, took Anaheim Mayor Tom Tait and his Republican colleagues to task for failing to immediately condemn Fitzgerald’s comments. I have to disagree with Dan on his characterization of Mayor Tait’s response to Mr. Fitzgerald both during and after his comments.
Dan failed to recognize that Mayor Tait did interrupt Fitzgerald during his comments and requested that his commentary be modified to be “not so mean.” Mayor Tait was a bit tame in his criticism of Fitzgerald’s commentary up to that point. By the time Tait interrupted him, the comments had already crossed a line of civility and into the realm of anti-Semitic. I believe that he should have been more forceful in condemning the Fitzgerald’s comments. But Tait is limited by law, and the U.S. Constitution in what he could do about it, and it was clear from Fitzgerald’s response to Tait, that Fitzgerald was quite aware of those limitations.
But the public criticism of Tait by Councilwoman Kris Murray during her appearance on the SoCal Insider program with Rick Reiff, demonstrated her willingness to use Fitzgerald’s outrageous actions to distract from the discussion of the criticisms that Mayor Tait and his supporters have surrounding the decision by the Council majority to limit his ability to place items on the council agenda between meetings. Specifically, his desire to agendize and discuss the negotiations between the City and Angels owner Arte Moreno over the future of Anaheim Stadium and the land surrounding it.
Within the first few minutes of the segment Reiff asked Tait if he felt that the removal of his power to place items on the agenda was hardball? “Of course it’s hardball,” Tait responded. But Murray used the question as an opportunity to change the subject.
“I think what’s hardball is when we have the chambers filled with hate speech. and that’s what happened on Monday,” Murray said. “And that’s really what should be the story—is the presiding officer not taking action to stop what was some very clear horrific things that were anti-Semitic and a attack.” Murray continued explaining; “Clearly supporters [of the Mayor]—there were horribly anti-Semitic comments made, and until Lucille Kring and I asked the Mayor to intervene, there was nothing done to stop it, and the presiding officer is the only one with the gavel to try to correct that kind of behavior.”
Tait took issue with Murray’s claim that Fitzgerald is one of his supporters telling Reiff; “There is one gentleman who comes to our meetings, every meeting—ran against me for Mayor, I actually had to bring suit against him, so hardly a supporter, said some terrible things—but as you know at that meeting, at a council meeting, that mic is privileged and you can say slanderous terrible things, and there’s very little we can do about it. the same gentleman brought suit against the County of Orange for trying to stop him a few years ago—so there’s not a whole lot I can do about it.” Tait added; “It’s interesting that she [Murray] brings this up. Of course I’m abhorred by that. I’ve asked the city manager and city attorney to see what we can do, if there is anything, to stop terrible, racist things that were said, and of course I hate that.”
When Reiff asked Murray if she was suggesting that Tait was party to what was being said she responded; “Not a party to it, but he is the presiding officer and he does have privileges to control decorum in the meeting,” Murray said. “this has actually been escalating and going on for years, and largely driven by supporters unfortunately of the Mayor—and the character attacks on the council have been escalating, and it escalated against Jordan Brandman on Monday in a wery ugly and horrific way, and I think that all members of our Jewish community happen to be gay as well as members, who happen to be gay, of our community should be outraged at what was said and I wish that more had been done earlier, we’ve been asking for decorum policies for a number of years now.”
Tait countered. “To somehow try to blame me for what this fellow said, at a public meeting—all sorts of things are said at those public meetings—this one was outrageous—to somehow blame me—it’s kind of more of this hardball attack against me for something that someone said is kind of crazy.”
The timing of the call for a “Special Meeting” by Councilman Jordan Brandman to remove the power of the mayor to place items on the council agenda and require a second to place any item on the agenda, immediately following the discussion of an agenda item from the mayor regarding the negotiations with the Angels owner and the city—which Brandman and his majority holding colleagues didn’t want to discuss—belied the real reason behind the motion. Simply put, Brandman was moving to prevent the Mayor from bringing up items for discussion that the majority did not want to discuss. By the time Monday’s meeting rolled around, it appears that the council majority had the time to miraculously conclude that requiring all members of the council to place items on the agenda that they wished to discuss at the next meeting in open session during the preceding meeting would suffice. The only thing the special meeting last Monday accomplished was to remove the ability of the Mayor to set the council meeting agenda, and confirm the right of council members to request an Item be placed on a future meeting agenda which already existed implicitly, if mot explicitly.
The unfortunate result of this action is to prevent the Mayor from placing any items on the agenda, that inevitably come up between meetings. This could prove to be problematic. The action restricts the ability of the Mayor to prepare a meeting agenda, leaving that task to staff (if that is even allowed by council policy). If it is allowed there’s little doubt that the city manager can count, and knows who is in the majority. I think we can be fairly certain that if a member of the majority has something come up between meetings they want discussed, that item will make it on the agenda by way of staff.
But the politicization of Mr. Fitzgerald’s outrageous statements has moved beyond Murray and the Anaheim Council majority, making it’s way to the Chairman of the Democratic Party of Orange County. Today, DPOC Chairman Henry Vandermeir piled on, repeating, almost parroting, the language of Councilwoman Murray in condemning not only Mr. Fitzgerald’s comments, but also stating “Mayor Tait, as the presiding officer at the council meeting, has the responsibility to bar Mr. Fitzgerald from speaking at future council meetings.” The problem here is that the Mayor has no authority to do so, and Vandermeir should know that the rights of people to address their elected representatives cannot be abridged. The action that he is demanding is unlawful, and almost as outrageous as Mr. Fitzgerald’s comments were offensive.
Vandermeir adds that the Democratic Party of Orange County is calling on Mayor Tait to address this issue at tomorrow’s council meeting, and apologize to Councilman Brandman for not stopping Mr. Fitzgerald’s tirade, and announce that Mr. Fitzgerald, and any other person who addresses the council in such a manner, be barred from speaking at future council meetings.
First, Tait did take what action he had been advised by the city attorney was within his legal authority at the time of Mr. Fitzgerald’s comments. While one might argue that he could have been more forceful in language and tone, Mayor Tait was the only member of the council to actually make any statement in response to Fitzgerald at the time. Mayor Tait does not owe an apology for the actions of an individual exercising their rights of free speech, no matter how offensive that free speech is. Further, Mayor Tait is barred by the Brown Act, and ironically the actions of the council on Monday, from placing the matter on the agenda for council discussion tomorrow. He also does not have the legal authority to ban anyone from speaking before the council, no matter what their past conduct.
As a gay man, I am disgusted by the hate speech Mr. Fitzgerald engaged in at the Special Meeting last week. But I am also disappointed that the Chair of the Democratic Party of Orange County would make such irrational demands in the name of people offended directly by Fitzgerald’s comments. Mr. Vandermeir’s press release is political theatrics. It is one thing to be outraged and denounce hate speech whenever it occurs. It’s another, to simply pile on without the slightest thought towards the rationality of the actions you demand.