At the Inyo County Board of Supervisors meeting Tuesday, District Four Supervisor Jennifer Roeser announced she would back out of a scheduled speaking commitment at an upcoming January 15 event headlined by Brad Dacus of the Pacific Justice Institute (PJI).
The event, advertised as a “Town Hall,” is being held at Bishop’s Calvary Baptist Church.
Her initial choice to participate in the event drew widespread criticism for a few reasons. For one, the Pacific Justice Institute, which describes itself as a non-profit legal-defense organization that specializes in the defense of religious freedom and parental rights, has also been described as a “hate group” by the Southern Poverty Law Center for its anti-LGBTQ views.
Second, critics questioned why a “Town Hall” event is being held at a church.
Third, critics questioned how a “Town Hall” event putatively open and welcome to the public would actually prove open and welcoming if those organizing the event are largely anti-mask and anti-vax, in opposition to current local health mandates/advisories.
In other words, does a member of the public who believes in the health risks surrounding Covid want to attend an “open” meeting in an indoor, maskless venue? Probably not.
As Starlite community member Andrea Pucci wrote in a letter to The Sheet this week, “The Freedom Not Fear group [aka Free Eastside, a co-host of Saturday’s event] is bringing a known hate group to Bishop to further divide our community by defying the public health order to be masked indoors and is working to proclaim religious exemption from practicing safe protocols in the midst of a serious pandemic. Is this something any of our supervisors would support in the midst of a massive Covid surge in our county? … Why would a county elected official align herself with a group which is divisive, and which supports beliefs and activities that harbor more ill will and lack of reason, especially at a crucial time in our pandemic, and in our current climate of political extremist malice that is infecting our populace? Although Inyo County has a very vocal anti-mask and anti-vaccination MINORITY – our statistics of extremely high Covid cases is evidence of how malignant misinformation and lack of concern for others is so very destructive to the well being of our county … Freedom of speech is not license to violate the safety of others.”
With that as a backdrop, the upcoming event was the topic of discussion for the first 90 minutes of Tuesday’s Board meeting.
Roeser began the meeting with a rambling statement where she said her job is to listen to constituents, and some of those constituents are in the Free Eastside group and that people need to be heard and acknowledged.
She said she’s been frustrated by the Covid-19 reports given weekly during Supervisor meetings, and that the reports are apparently too one-sided in favor of scientific orthodoxy.
She said the Jan. 15 event is not board-authorized nor county-endorsed, and that her speech would have focused on her personal journey which led to running for political office.
Would have, because she announced she would not speak at the event, saying she wished to remove herself from a situation that’s caused hurt and pain. She did not say whether or not she still planned to attend.
*The Sheet reached Roeser by phone on Thursday and asked whether or not she would attend. She refused to answer, citing a desire not to further inflame or divide the populace.
She then used a rubber-and-glue argument to discredit the Southern Poverty Law Center, which she says is full of haters in its own right.
When asked whether or not she agrees with the views of PJI and Brad Dacus, Roeser declined to say. She did say she’s met Dacus, a guest at Calvary Baptist last year [her regular place of worship], so she is certainly familiar with his views. And she had agreed to share the stage with him (until she decided not to).
Roeser insisted on Tuesday that she has close ties to the local LGBTQ community.
Similar to how she insisted last fall that she had close ties to the Native American community while trying to rewrite the indigenous Peoples’ Day proclamation, but I digress …
During public comment, Roeser was backed by Wes French, Lynette Mcintosh, Rick Klug and Josh Nicholson. Nicholson maintained that the Free Eastside group is not a hate group nor an echo chamber.
Free Eastsiders believe those who label others as a hate group are simply attempting to short-circuit free speech. That being labeled a “hater” is a convenient silencer.
Roeser said PJI leader Brad Dacus has been labeled a ‘hater’ because of his ‘traditional’ views.
Others like Harold McDonald said in public comment that “the words and actions of Mr. Dacus [the leader of PJI] are pretty telling.”
Julie Tiede expressed disappointment in Roeser’s judgement, saying PJI “doesn’t represent the values of this district.”
Tamara Cohn was confused as to why Roeser would align herself with such an antagonistic group.
Lunch plans to attend the Jan. 15 “Town Hall.” He’ll be the one carrying a camera bag, taking notes and wearing a mask.
In other county news, Both District 1 Supervisor Dan Totheroh and District 3 Supervisor Rick Pucci will not seek reelection in 2022 – both due to retirement. In Totheroh’s case, he no longer lives in the district he represents so he would be ineligible.
Potential candidates for the positions were eligible to gather signatures-in-lieu as of January 13.
Supervisors also discussed American Rescue Plan (ARP) funding and what the county plans to do with its $3.5 million handout. The first tranche was received last May and the second tranche should arrive anytime.
The money is supposed to be spent by the end of 2024.
But there’s a catch. Counties with less than 250,000 in population can designate the funds as makeup for “lost revenue” and don’t need to spend them at all if they so choose.
County Administrative Officer Leslie Chapman suggested the ARP funds be placed in a separate account, and used as augmentation for any projects that came forwarding the following categories:
-Water System Infrastructure
-Small Business Resource Center
Supervisors largely agreed with the list, though Supervisor Roeser added road maintenance and suggested that should rank #2 after broadband.