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Sparks fly at County Board meeting

Supervisors not happy with Gitlin op-ed against Finigan 

An item on the Board of Supervisors meeting agenda about reining in board member behavior was briefly derailed on Tuesday when board member behavior couldn’t be reined in.

Discussion surrounding the item, which concerned a proposed code of conduct to govern supervisor behavior during and outside of meetings, spiraled into a shouting match between District 1 Supervisor Roger Gitlin and Board Chair David Finigan about some of the issues that inspired Gitlin’s op-ed published last week in the Triplicate. That piece, which some supervisors said was an inappropriate venue for a board member to criticize a colleague, blasted Board Chair Finigan for alleged abuses of power and was a primary reason for the code of conduct proposal.

“We’re going to take a brief recess,” Finigan said after Gitlin interrupted him before a vote to direct staff to look into creating the code and accused him of trying to silence the voices of District 1. “Cut the mics.”

The argument that sparked the microphone cutting — which didn’t stop Gitlin from continuing to speak unamplified — was one of a few heated disagreements that occurred during the half-hour it took to go over the single agenda item. The passion summed up how contentious the abuse of power allegations have become since Gitlin started making them in May. 

That contention, illustrated in the past few months by numerous outbursts during public  comment periods at supervisor meetings, heated letters to the editor from county residents as well as Gitlin’s recent op-ed that detailed each instance he felt Finigan had abused his position, was what led Finigan to propose exploring the possible code of conduct in the first place.

“I’m embarrassed to even have to bring it up,” Finigan said during the meeting, but bring it up he did, since the fallout surrounding the abuse of power allegations had tarnished the board’s reputation, he said. He added that it’s important that the community as well as county staff have confidence in the board’s ability to be productive.

It was unclear what the code of conduct would look like or whether it was even totally necessary because board conduct is already governed by Rosenberg’s Rules of Order, a simplified version of the rules of parliamentary procedure. Regardless, the board ultimately voted 4-1 (Gitlin was the “no” vote) to direct staff to look into the creation of such a code as well as the potential overlap between it and the Rules of Order.

Finigan, as well as District 3 Supervisor Mike Sullivan, said that airing the board’s dirty laundry in Gitlin’s op-ed (“Prayer issue about due process, abuse of power,” Aug. 22) crossed the line of professionalism — a line that Finigan said he wouldn’t follow Gitlin across by responding in the newspaper. 

He did, however, briefly address Gitlin’s allegations at the meeting, which was seemingly what Gitlin wanted all along.

“At least now we’re talking about it,” Gitlin said.

There was nothing new, though, in Finigan’s responses covering why items regarding signs honoring veterans, Jefferson state, as well as the recent public prayer issue — all Gitlin-spearheaded programs — weren’t placed on the agenda. 

As Finigan has previously stated, the veteran signs and the Jefferson state items were premature when Gitlin asked to have them agendized and were eventually addressed by the board, and the topic of public prayer was adequately addressed when a moment of silent reflection was added as an ongoing item to the Board of Supervisors meeting 
agendas. 

Supervisor Martha McClure also addressed the prayer issue during discussion of the code of conduct proposal, saying that a moment of silence was a more inclusive approach because it would allow people “to reach whatever their higher power is.” 

Gitlin has stated that the moment of reflection, which takes place before the Board’s closed session meetings, isn’t sufficient. 

How effective the discussion and proposed code of conduct would be remains to be seen.

“There needs to be a certain amount of respect whether you agree or disagree with whatever’s going on here,” District 4 Supervisor Gerry Hemmingsen said. “I’m not sure that you can make a policy for someone to all-of-a-sudden gain respect.”

Reach Aaron West at This e-mail address is being protected from spam bots, you need JavaScript enabled to view it

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