Emotions, public interest high in Dunsmuir

Kurt Simon and Skye Kinkade

A visitor strolling along Dunsmuir Avenue on a warm spring day wouldn’t know that underneath the town’s quiet surface is a seething mass of discontent, where a city council recall is underway and fiery disagreements play out between the public and city councilors on Facebook and in YouTube videos.

Public interest has become so great in Dunsmuir politics that for the second time in a month, Thursday’s council meeting was postponed due to overcrowding in city council chambers.

With Assistant Fire Chief Ron Larue waiting in the chamber vestibule, another wave of people walked down the hallway to council chambers, only to discover the room was filled to capacity.

As per the Dunsmuir fire safety code, council chambers are rated to safely accommodate a maximum of 54 people, so the assistant chief advised Mayor Dave Keisler he would need to cancel the meeting or relocate.

City Manager Brenda Bains set the next meeting for Thursday, June 5 at 6 p.m. at the Dunsmuir Community Building, which can accommodate the expected crowd.

The same situation happened on April 17. That meeting was rescheduled for May 1, and the public filled the community building for a five hour meeting, during which only half of the items on the agenda were addressed.

Some of those same items were on Thursday’s agenda and were once again postponed.

Some in the community accuse the council and city staff of orchestrating the large crowd to stop the council from addressing certain controversial items, including the possible termination of City Attorney David Hicks’ contract, the adoption of a protocol manual, and a fee schedule for the city’s marijuana cultivation ordinance.

Those topics are the current tip of an iceberg of controversial issues facing a town that is known for its great fishing, great water and beautiful canyon surroundings.

Recall and ‘cyberbullies’

Recall proponents say council member Leslie Wilde is chasing her own agenda and sabotaging those who disagree with her. They believe she creates a hostile work environment at city hall, continually attacks Bains, and disregards the wishes of her constituents.

If the recall is successful June 3, Wilde will be replaced by one of four candidates: Dick Kelby, Linda Gnesa, Lorenzo Castro or Bill McIntyre.

Wilde accuses the city manager and former city councilors of covering up improprieties revolving around CDBG loans and a solid waste surplus fund.

Wilde said despite “cyberbullies” on Facebook, she is going to “push for a forensic audit of our financial documents at city hall.”

“I’m still going to try and disclose all the things I think have happened to the city,” Wilde says in one of several a YouTube videos she’s made to get her side of the story out to the public.

“I am still going to try and fix this city. So post anything you want, and encourage all your friends to go on there and like it and hate on me and drink hater-ade and pour it all over me. But I am not going to stop, and Tim Padula is not going to stop and Scott Welch isn’t going to stop. We are together going to try and uncover a lot of corruption.”

Wilde’s YouTube videos, available on her website, wildeindunsmuir.com, are dissected and discussed on Facebook at the “Dunsmuir Political Forum and Cocktail Hour” and the newer “Dennis’ Dunsmuir Political Forum.”

Wilde believes these forums are populated with cyberbullies, who post inappropriate personal information about her.

Those who participate in the Dunsmuir political forums believe they are sharing important facts and observations and are getting to the root of the issues facing their town.

‘Outrageous accusations’

In another YouTube video, Wilde said recall proponents will most likely tell the public things that aren’t true about her. She goes as far to sponsor a contest, which she calls the “Outrageous Accusation Contest,” which asks participants to come up with the most ridiculous accusations against her. The person who emails her the most creative accusation will win a dinner for two to Dogwood Diner, she says.

Referendums

Dunsmuir citizens have circulated referendum petitions against Hicks’s contract and the council’s repeal in April of the city’s marijuana cultivation ordinance.

Mabel Kelby, who headed the referendum about the marijuana cultivation ordinance’s overturn, said she believes the council did not consider the community’s and planning commission’s wishes when they threw out the ordinance.

Former mayor Mario Rubino collected signatures on a referendum to cancel Hicks’ employment with the city. He said Hicks’ rates are too much for Dunsmuir to afford and protests the legality of his contract.

Hicks believes the process was handled legally and the contract is binding.

Mayor Keisler and councilor Ed Steele refused to take part in the April 1 special meeting when Hicks was appointed, stating their belief it was illegal.

They also chose not to participate in an April 3 meeting, during which Hicks’ contract was approved by Wilde and councilors Welch and Padula.

Special meetings, postponements and cancellations

Some in the community believe council members are not working within the spirit of the Brown Act when they schedule special meetings.

There have been 11 special meetings called since May 1, 2013. Six meetings have been cancelled, and several times, a large portion of the agenda items have been tabled for various reasons.

Hicks said he is concerned about the latest cancellation “because this is the second meeting that has been cancelled in this manner in only my short time as City Attorney.”

Hicks said Dunsmuir residents were encouraged to attend Thursday’s meeting in order to purposefully overcrowd the chambers.

During the meeting, Wilde protested the cancellation and suggested asking those overflowing into the council’s lobby to “step out.”

Keisler argued the meeting is open to anyone who wishes to attend and cancelled the meeting due to the assistant fire chief’s concerns.

Wilde said the mayor cannot arbitrarily cancel a council meeting. “I think it was an abuse of power and discretion to cancel the meeting without discussion or consult with the other council members. There were several ways to solve the issue of an overflow crowd but it was clear the mayor wanted the meeting cancelled so the council could not address the issues he disagrees with.”

Keisler said that accusation is “ridiculous.”

“People are coming to the meetings because they are concerned about the shenanigans of the three contaminated council people. It is my responsibility to see to the safety of the people first, then to be mayor. The assistant fire chief was there counting heads, and he said I needed to get people out of there because it was a safety hazard.”

When asked what Wilde would do differently, she said, “I think the council should consider adding a few more regular meetings by resolution until we can get through the agenda backlog created by all the recently cancelled meetings.”

Keisler said the meetings are packed because “people want to see what Leslie is going to do next.”

Bains said she knew of no such effort to crowd the meeting, though she and Keisler did discuss holding subsequent meetings at the community building to support larger crowds.