Aaron West, The Triplicate

The county battle over public prayer and placing items on meeting agendas continued on Tuesday when a Del Norte County supervisor called for the resignation of the Board of Supervisors' chairman.

"Do you really want to do this?" Board Chairman David Finigan asked his colleague Roger Gitlin, who during the meeting's public comment period called for Finigan's resignation as chairman.

"Chairman Finigan, the supervisor from District 1 calls for your immediate resignation aschairman of the Board of Supervisors," Gitlin read from a prepared document. "Since 5th District Supervisor Finigan assumed the position of chairman there has been a significant erosion to the integrity of the board. The delusion of integrity and cooperative bipartisan effectiveness is directly attributable to the evident failure of objective and neutral leadership of current Chairman Finigan."

Gitlin went on to accuse Finigan of personal ill will and animosity that "contaminates a position that requires neutrality."

"Finigan's inability to put aside his personal feelings following the larger scope of chairperson responsibility is illustrated by his chronic failure to include lawful subjects be placed on the agenda for discussion," Gitlin read.

The allegations of animosity and call for resignation, which came only several minutes after Finigan called for increased civility in the community and among the nation's county boards, is the most recent move in a disagreement between Gitlin and Finigan that traces back to early May. The disagreement, which centers on Gitlin's repeated requests to place on the agenda a vote on holding public, non-denominational prayers before board meetings, has been a contentious issue in the community since Gitlin first brought it up three months ago.

As reported in the Triplicate at the time, Finigan refused to place the issue on the agenda, citing concerns about offending or excluding community members. As far as Gitlin's claim that Finigan is abusing his power as chairman by not even allowing the issue to be placed on the agenda, Finigan said that having an item agendized isn't as simple as asking for it to be put there.

"The chair will decide, sometimes in consultation with the CAO and the county counsel, whether or not [an item] is appropriate or timely," Finigan said in May.

Since that May meeting when the issue first came up, it has spilled over into the past few meetings' public comment periods, when local community members have weighed in either for or against the issue, as well as in a number of letters on the Triplicate's opinion page.

Before this most recent dramatic action, a comment made by Lisa McKeown at the June 10 supervisor meeting took the affair to a new emotional level when an angry McKeown accused Gitlin of "grandstanding" and said that his calls for public prayer were insincere and inappropriate. During that meeting, McKeown said she hopes "God pricks (Gitlin's) heart and that (he) stops all this bull crap," which Gitlin apparently interpreted as a possible "death threat."

"In a post-9/11 environment that statement would be considered perhaps a death threat, wishing Supervisor Gitlin suffer a heart attack or that he be stabbed in the heart," Gitlin read on Tuesday, going on to say that Finigan's decline to admonish that comment or allow Gitlin to respond to it damages the reputation of the board.

"Finigan's lack of response to condemn the McKeown hate speech stains the entire Board of Supervisors and passively approves these vile comments as acceptable, permitted and even invited, as long as the current chairman approves the target of such scorn. Any such attack against one supervisor is an attack on the board."

After asking Gitlin once more if he was sure he wanted to continue, Finigan, in a reference to his earlier comments on civility, had only a short response to contribute.

"I'm going to take the upper road under the guise of stability and just say no," Finigan said, amid scattered applause and a single "boo" from the audience.

Reach Aaron West at awest@triplicate.com.