HERCULES -- A resolution to censure Councilwoman Myrna de Vera for silencing a critic brought a gallery of her supporters to Tuesday's City Council meeting and a flurry of denunciations of other council members.
When the smoke cleared, the council postponed the matter 30 days into the future, after de Vera proclaimed that emails published by this newspaper between her and a Pinole city employee "don't say anything, really," notwithstanding her qualified public apology in late September.
"These are all allegations, and false, and destroying my reputation," de Vera said to the rest of the council, commenting on the resolution. "The ones to be censured are you, for doing this."
The censure resolution grew out of a June 15 blog post by Hercules resident Kent Von Aspern on Hercules Patch that offended de Vera and her husband, Manuel. Von Aspern works for HDR Engineering, which holds a design contract at the joint Pinole-Hercules wastewater treatment plant.
Pinole City Engineer Dean Allison contacted Von Aspern's boss at HDR and reported back to de Vera that Von Aspern would stop blogging. In July, de Vera emailed Allison that Von Aspern was blogging again. No Von Aspern blogs have appeared on Patch since July.
In late September, Von Aspern withdrew his application to sit on a Hercules tax oversight panel, saying he had been taken off the wastewater plant project and feared for his job.
The censure resolution, drafted by lame duck Councilman Gerard Boulanger with the help of an unnamed resident, contained serious flaws, as pointed out by City Attorney Patrick Tang and de Vera's attorney, Kristen Kerr. It called for a $1,000 fine, but the council has no authority to impose one, the two attorneys agreed. It also called for eliminating de Vera's turn as vice mayor for the year starting in December, but the present council has no authority to make such a decision for the next council, they agreed.
Also, the preamble of the resolution said, incorrectly, that de Vera had publicly admitted she interfered with the administration of the Pinole-Hercules design contract. In fact, in her Sept. 24 apology, de Vera admitted only¿ to shame and poor judgment.
"Even though I did not tell the Pinole official to silence the citizen, and the Pinole city official did not direct HDR to do the same, and there is no evidence HDR forced Mr. Von Aspern to stop blogging, my actions have caused the perception of a concerted effort to stifle a citizen's free speech rights," she wrote.
Kerr and de Vera's other supporters complained that de Vera was being denied due process and that a full investigation should precede any censure motion. Tang said the due process requirements for censure -- essentially, a governing body's expression of disapproval of the conduct of a member -- are less strict than in a criminal proceeding or one that could result in a fine.
The 30-day tabling means the resolution would not come up again until the meeting after the Dec. 11 annual council reorganization.
The new council will consist of de Vera and John Delgado, who face re-election in 2014; Dan Romero, the current mayor, who was re-elected Nov. 6; Bill Kelly, elected Nov. 6; and Sherry McCoy, elected Nov. 6 with the backing of de Vera. Kelly and McCoy will replace Boulanger and Wilkins.
At Tuesday's meeting, a string of de Vera's supporters praised her virtues while angrily denouncing Romero over an incident at the council in July in which he cut off the comments of a resident. They also denounced Boulanger, whom the council fined $500 last year for fabricating academic degrees and government experience on his resume.
"We love you, Myrna, and we support you," resident Sarah Creeley said to applause.
Manuel de Vera labeled his wife's accusers as "conspirators" and said they were "trampling on her constitutional rights."
Other supporters said HDR or Von Aspern himself should share the blame for the incident. Former Mayor Andy Paras, in a three-page letter circulated at the meeting, said de Vera's intervention brought attention to a possible waste of taxpayer money paid to a company whose employee wastes time blogging.
De Vera likened her treatment to a witch being burned at the stake and chastised council members for not asking her for her side of the story.
Romero thereupon asked de Vera, "Councilwoman, do you want to make a statement of what occurred?" De Vera replied, "Let me ask my legal counsel."
Contact Tom Lochner at 510-262-2760. Follow him at twitter.com/tomlochner