Mount Shasta city councilors vote 3-2 to censure one of their own

Skye Kinkade
Mount Shasta Herald
Screenshots of Mount Shasta City Councilors Tessa Montgomery and Tim Stearns, taken from the recording of the April 26, 2021 council meeting, during which a censure was approved 2-3, reprimanding Stearns for behavior that staff members say is bullying.

After an uncomfortable and often fiery discussion during the Mount Shasta City Council’s marathon April 26 meeting, a censure of Mount Shasta City Council member Tim Stearns was approved, 3-2, with councilor Jeffrey Collings and Stearns opposing the resolution.

The censure was placed on the agenda by councilor Tessa Montgomery to recognize and formally disapprove of “recurring issues” that she said staff members have brought to her attention involving Stearns’ bully-like behavior.

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Originally included in the resolution were five points that Montgomery said illustrated Stearns’ specific actions that are unacceptable. They included:

1. Interfering with staff work and attempting to influence staff recommendations to the planning commission regarding the general plan;

2. Directing City Planner Juliana Lucchesi to remove from the planning commission agenda an item relating to short-term rentals without the council’s approval;

3. Actively discrediting the planning process and the planning commission’s role by misrepresenting planning projects and creating negative narratives about Lucchesi and the planning commission; 

4. Directing city manager Bruce Pope to resign or be removed from office by the city council, claiming he failed to properly supervise Lucchesi in developing a new general plan; and

5. Publishing an unauthorized survey  regarding the new general plan and suggesting that the city was requesting answers to specific questions.

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At councilor John Stackfleth’s request – and Montgomery’s acquiescence – points 3 and 5 were removed from the resolution before it was approved by roll call vote. Stackfleth noted that Stearns has a right to his opinion about the general plan and the stricken items do not affect staff.

“If you want to censure me for trying to express my opinions, even forcefully, you know, we all have strong personalities on city council,” said Stearns. “We’ve all expressed opinions strongly. I don’t think censuring me ... is going to make this council work better together.”

Montgomery said she is supporting the censure “not because council can’t get along, but because the staff is feeling harassed and needs our help.” 

Among those who accuse Stearns of harassment are Lucchesi and deputy city clerk Kathy Joyce. Both spoke at the meeting to confirm they’ve felt pressured and harassed when Stearns has approached them personally for information or documents.

Former city councilors Barbara Wagner and Kathy Morter also spoke during public comment, saying they have felt intimidated by Stearns in the past.

Pope said Stearns’ frequent  requests, phone calls and emails created a situation where staff members “have come to me with concerns. They feel they’re being threatened ... Council is the only body ... that has the authority to address this.”

Several members of the public spoke during public comment to defend Stearns. Some said they’ve known him for years, and pointed out that he is often passionate, but they called attention to issues with other councilors that they find equally offensive.

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Resident Troika Saint Germain called the censure “a witch hunt” and accused councilors of picking on Stearns for things he did before they were on the council together.

“He wants the city to run correctly,” said Saint Germain, pointing out Stearns is an attorney and that is why he speaks and behaves the way he does.

“I don’t know what censure would result in, but this whole procedure is petty and stupid,” said Saint Germain, adding that the council is full of “a bunch of personalities that don’t get along with each other that need to learn to get along with each other.”

Resident Vicki Gold said she has disagreed with Stearns on many issues but she believes he’s being attacked for asking thorough questions about General Plan 2045.

Mount Shasta resident Betty Kreeger said she is “appalled” at the behavior of the council and pointed to Lucchesi’s recent guest opinion in the Mount Shasta Herald, which said, in part, “It is up to you as an individual to decide whether you would like to participate with love and understanding or focus on destroying the ideas and dreams of others.”

Kreeger also brought up a recent comment that Lucchesi made on Facebook, which indicated frustration that a “wave of older, white, and affluent residents” are “pushing back hard” against the general plan and the notion of eliminating single family zoning.

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Lucchesi said she understands she can be a polarizing person because of her position and said she experienced harassment from Stearns since she first started with the city in June of 2016. She said other staff members feel they can’t speak out, but she is comfortable with her experiences being part of the public record.

Some members of the public asked if human resources should be involved in the situation, rather than hashing a censure out publicly.

City Attorney John Kenny said since city councilors are  elected, a censure is the only way councilors can express their collective disapproval of another councilor’s actions.

“Censure is a strong statement of disapproval of a council member’s actions,” Stackfleth said, asking Kenny if that’s correct. But it “doesn’t necessarily stop (a councilor) from continuing the behavior.”

Kenny agreed with the definition and purpose of a censure.

During his comments, Collings said he is also guilty of contacting city staff personally. 

“But none of them is coming to us telling us you’ve been a bully,” Redmond pointed out.

Collings agreed there is a specific process by which councilors should obtain information from city staff, which is through the city manager. He said that process can become frustrating if things don’t move quickly enough. 

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“We need to be able to say, ‘Look, I made mistakes, I apologize, I’m sorry, I get it,’” Collings said. “Personally, I’m not very satisfied with council member Stearns’ apology ... I guess I’m just really sorry about this because I’m disappointed we can’t handle this in a better way. This does seem vindictive.”

In a roll call vote, Montgomery, Stackfleth and Redmond voted “aye” on the censure resolution. Stearns and Collings voted “nay.”

The entire meeting can be seen online at https://video.ibm.com/recorded/129781920

Skye Kinkade is the editor of the Mt. Shasta Area Newspapers and the Siskiyou Daily News. She is a fourth generation Siskiyou County resident and has lived in Mount Shasta and Weed her entire life.